Hiring Secrets from the Human Resources Department

The Human Resources Department: where 99.9% of all job applications go to die… often, without notice or update.

Many job seekers see the HR department as an impenetrable institutional gatekeeper, keeping them from their dream job. There is certainly an element of truth to this feeling. But there are ways to successfully navigate through and around the HR hiring process!

Here are seven secrets about HR that you should know as a job seeker:

1. There are two parallel hiring processes

It doesn’t matter how frequently you check the job boards, you’re probably not going to be the first person to apply. Indeed, by the time a job is posted online the company may already be interviewing candidates. That’s because there are often two recruitment processes: one for external candidates and a more advanced track for internal and referred candidates.

Candidates referred by trusted professional contacts typically get fast-tracked in the hiring process. External candidates are brought in, as needed, to supplement the candidate pool. In some cases, organizations are obliged to publicly post a job, even if they’ve already identified an internal candidate.

What you can do: This is why regular networking within your field is so important. Your connections matter! The goal is to position yourself as one of the “internal referrals” so that you have a leg-up on people who are applying to the job based solely on a public posting.

2. HR departments are overwhelmed

Let’s be clear: HR professionals are not bad people. The byzantine processes job seekers see in HR are a product of the system, not the people within it. The truth is many HR departments are stretched thin, with huge workloads and limited resources. For any given job opening, HR can receive hundreds–and sometimes thousands–of applications. That’s a lot of material to review and manage!

What you can do: Remember that HR professionals are people too and a little empathy goes a long way! In your interactions with the HR department, always remember to be polite, friendly, and professional. Insiders will tell you that your personality carries a lot of weight in the hiring decision; at the end of the day, HR managers will always pick the person they like best.

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3. They probably aren’t reading your resume

One way that HR departments manage the deluge of applications is to use applicant tracking systems (or ATS) that manage and evaluate resumes. Rarely will human eyes make the first evaluation of your application; instead an algorithmic computer decides whether you make the first cut. No matter how beautifully crafted your resume or cover letter are, you’re unlikely to get far in the hiring process if your application doesn’t rigidly align with the job description.

What you can do: When it comes to applicant tracking systems, the most important thing to remember is keywords! Pay close attention to the specific language used in the job description and include that language, verbatim, in your application materials. You also want to prioritize clarity over artfulness in your cover letter and resume. Making these documents simple and “smack in the forehead obvious” will serve you better, both with automated systems and human reviewers.

4. But they are looking at your social media profiles

According to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management, an increasing number of HR professionals review applicants’ social media profiles as part of the hiring process. And we’re not just talking about LinkedIn! In an effort to uncover any possible “red flags” in your background, HR departments look at your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media profiles. And, for good or bad, your online presence matters. 36% of all organizations in the study report that they have rejected candidates based on information discovered in a social media review.

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What you can do: This one is simple: get your online house in order before you start applying for jobs! Dig deep into your social media profiles to remove or hide any potentially embarrassing content. If in doubt, make your profiles private, so they aren’t visible to the public.

5. They can see how many applications you’ve submitted

If the organization uses an ATS, that system probably keeps track of all the applications you have ever submitted to the company. Why is this important? Because applying for too many jobs–especially a diverse array of positions–can be a black mark on your record.

Yes… applying for multiple jobs does reflect an enthusiasm for the organization. But it also indicates possible desperation, a lack of focus,  and questionable passion about any particular job. Recruiters don’t want someone who will do any job; they’re looking for someone who is passionate about one specific position.

Simply put, applying for many jobs makes it much more likely that you’ll get rejected for all of them.

What you can do: In this case, fewer applications is better. You’ve got to be strategic about the positions you apply for. Target only the jobs about which you are most passionate and qualified. If there’s another position in the company that the recruiter thinks is more suited to your skills, they may well tell you that without you having to apply.

6. They conduct backdoor reference checks

If you advance far enough in the hiring process, you will be asked to submit the contact information for 3-5 professional references. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that these are the only people HR will speak with about your background.

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Many departments do some form of a backdoor reference check. They may, without prior notification, reach out to your colleagues, former clients, past employers, and other professional connections to learn more about you. Often, finding shared connections on LinkedIn is the primary tool for conducting these checks.

What you can do: Obviously, you want to include only your biggest advocates in your “official” list of references. Controlling for an extensive backdoor reference check – where any former professional contact is a possible touch-point – is a much more difficult task. If you know the name of the recruiter or HR professional you are working with, you can proactively look for shared connections on LinkedIn and try to prep those contacts for a possible call. Ultimately, the best solution is to have a clean, reputable work history and maintain solid connections with past employers and colleagues.

7. They don’t fully control the hiring process

In many organizations, HR is the frontline in the hiring process, advancing only the most vetted candidates to the interview stage. However, the final say in who gets the job ultimately resides with the hiring manager, who is typically outside of the HR department. Often the preferences of upper management can trump HR hiring rules and influence which candidates get through the HR screening.

What you can do: As a general rule, it’s always best if you can communicate directly with the hiring manager, as opposed to working though the generic HR process. Even if you ultimately have to submit your application through the HR portal, having a connection with the hiring manager tips the scales in your favor. That being said, the best approach is to have a positive, respectful relationship with both HR and the hiring manager. The more advocates you have within the organization, the better!