Get a Job: Break Rules

03/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Getting a job might require you to step outside of the rules ...

She (a job-seeker): Liz, I know you tell us to avoid the "Black Hole" when we're job-hunting, but you know, the smaller the company, the better I feel about my Black Hole chances. So, if it's a small company, I usually go ahead and send my resume into the Black Hole rather than skirting it.

Me: I am curious why you do that. Do you feel that your chances of getting an interview are better going through the Black Hole than writing to "your" hiring manager directly?

She: I wouldn't say that my chances are better, but I'm afraid of not following directions.

Me: What could you imagine happening if you didn't follow directions, and wrote to the hiring manager directly?

She: Well, they might not like it.

Me: The hiring manager might not like it?

She: I'm thinking the HR person might not like it. I might be blackballed.

Me: Let's play it out. The hiring manager gets your letter. Does the hiring manager like the letter you write to him or her?

She: Let's say it's a woman, and let's say she likes it and wants to interview me.

Me: Okay, she likes your letter. She's excited to meet you. You went outside the velvet ropes by writing to her directly. She knows her HR colleague won't be crazy about that. Does she say, "Hey Mary Jane, here's a candidate who colored outside the lines, let's blackball her?"

She: I guess she wouldn't do that.

Me: Probably not, because she has some type of pain and you're talking in your letter about how you've solved that pain in the past.

She: What does she do, interview me at midnight in the alley so the HR person doesn't find out?

Me: In my experience, she says to the HR person, "Here's a great-looking candidate who wrote to me directly, and I'd like to interview her."

She: What if the HR person says, "She didn't follow instructions and you can't interview her."

Me: Imagine a small company with that culture, where the HR associate can forbid a manager from interviewing a candidate. Would you want to work there? Heck, forget small company, can you imagine working at any company where that conversation could happen? What if you worked there, and were promoted into management, and the next thing you know you have an HR person telling you, "You're not permitted to interview that talented person." Do you remember the movie "Brazil?"

She: Okay, let's take another scenario. Let's say that the hiring manager doesn't like my letter, or tosses it in the garbage by mistake.

Me: There are decent odds that either of those things can happen. The question is, are those odds better or worse than your odds of getting an interview through the Black Hole?

She: Are the Black Hole odds really awful?

Me: They are dismal. When's the last time you got an interview after sending a resume into the Black Hole?

She: I've gotten two interviews that way. I've been job-hunting for five months and I've probably sent out seventy-five resumes.

Me: The Black Hole problem is not just about resume volume. Very often, many or most of the resumes lobbed into the Black Hole don't get read.

She: At all?

At all, because there are too many of them. If they want to phone-screen ten people, why would they look at 150 resumes?

She: But if my qualifications are perfect ...

Me: No one is going to know that until they read your resume.

She: Keyword scanning?

Me: For sure, and how many people come to the top of that pile? A lot of people do. It is easy to get through those gates. There are still too many resumes to read. Applicant tracking systems are not friendly to applicants. Too many people pass the test, so a human scan is still required -- and that doesn't always happen, because everyone is short on time and because there are plenty of decent-looking candidates in the first 20 or 30 resumes off the top of the stack.

She: So sending a resume into the Black Hole is sort of like throwing it away.

Me: It is. You can do it anyway, as a backup, but don't rely on the Black Hole to get you an interview. Its track record is horrendous.

She: I have all these "Be a good girl" tapes playing in my head.

Me: When you write to the hiring manager, or reach her via LinkedIn, or through a friend, you're being a good girl. You're helping her solve her problem.

She: I have all these tapes ... I was a Girl Scout.

Me: Dig it. Me too, until eighth grade. How nerdy is that?

She: Did you have a Marcia Brady crocheted vest with tassels?