by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Career experts are virtually unanimous on two key points in the job search:
- Job-search correspondence -- resumes and cover letters -- should always be addressed to a specific, named individual, preferably the hiring manager for the job you're applying for.
- After sending their resumes and cover letters, job-seekers should follow up with hiring managers to attempt to secure an interview appointment.
The problem is that names of hiring managers are rarely revealed in want ads and job postings. The reason is simple. In these days in which online job-hunting makes the process all too easy for job-seekers, employers are inundated with hundreds -- even thousands -- of resumes for a single opening, some from applicants who aren't remotely qualified. Hiring managers don't want to also be bombarded with time-consuming phone calls from job-seekers. Still, most -- not all -- hiring managers respond well to contacts from qualified, resourceful, and persistent job-seekers who show their enthusiasm for the job by following up.
So how does the job-seeker find out who the hiring manager is? This question represents one of the most perplexing dilemmas in contemporary job-hunting. It can, indeed, be difficult to find out the name of a specific individual to whom to address your job-search correspondence and follow-up efforts. It's especially difficult in the Internet age, when little more than an e-mail address may appear in a job posting. But there are ways to identify hiring managers. It sometimes just takes some plucky and persistent detective work:
- Make a phone call. The most straightforward way is to simply call the company's main switchboard number and ask the name of hiring manager for the job in question. The worst that can happen is that the person answering the phone won't tell you. The second-worst thing is that the person will tell you to address your materials to Human Resources. If that happens, ask the name of the human resources director. If you get that name, don't automatically send your materials to that person, but do file the name away in case all your other strategies fail.
Also try calling after business hours. If you have a good idea what the title might be of the hiring manager for the position you seek, you may be able to match a title with a name when you listen to the employer's automated voicemail directory.
- Ask for help. Steve Levy, Principal of outside-the-box Consulting, suggests a variation on calling for information. Writing in CollegeRecruiter.com's Ask the Experts feature, Levy advises: "Call the main number and say the following in a calm, soothing voice, 'Hello, maybe you can help me out for a second?' The person on the line will almost always respond by saying, 'Sure. How can I help you?' Why? Because our normal human reaction when someone asks us for help is to offer it. And there you have it - the start of a conversation rather than an opportunity to be rejected.
"Next step is to ask for the person in charge of the function in question," Levy continues. "But what if the gatekeeper offers an objection -- 'I'm sorry, but I can't divulge the name of the manager of finance.' You're response should be 'That's not a problem.' Why? Because you've just validated what the person told you. 'I understand your position but can you suggest another way for me to contact the person?' extends the dialogue and may even convince the gatekeeper to let down his or her guard. If the person doesn't budge, say 'Thanks for the time. By the way, my name is Anita Job. What is your name?' Write down the person's name and call again the next day using the person's name as an opener, 'Hello Bob, maybe you can help me out for a second? This is Anita Job -- we spoke yesterday.' Get the picture?"
Be persistent, Levy advises: "On the second or third call (it could take many calls to develop the relationship with Bob), rather than talking to the hiring manager directly, ask for this person's email instead. The lesson here is be prepared to take the time to develop the relationship rather than expect the gatekeeper to bend to your immediate needs." See more of Levy's tips for locating hiring managers in our sidebar below.
- Tap into your network. One important key to finding out contact names is networking. If you've done as much networking as you should as part of your job-search efforts, you may find it relatively easy to get names. Joining professional organizations is one of the fastest, easiest ways to learn names of hiring honchos in your target companies. Let's say you see a job posting for Company X. If you're a proficient networker, chances are you know someone who works at Company X -- or someone who knows someone else who works for Company X. In that case, you can simply get in touch with your network contact and ask who is the best person to write to about this specific Company X job opening. Consider using your inside contact as a referral name for your cover letter:
Dear Mr. Smith:
Your marketing director, Tina Jones, suggested I contact you about the brand-management position you are currently advertising.
You could even ask your friend Tina to hand-deliver your letter and resume to Mr. Smith.
- Become a proficient researcher. If you learn as much as you can about how to research companies, there's a reasonable chance you will uncover information about the best person to contact. Check out the Quintessential Careers Guide to Researching Companies, Industries, and Countries and the accompanying article, Step-by-Step Guide to Researching Companies. Visit the company's Web site. Enlist assistance from a reference librarian at your public or university library.
You can also conduct research directly with the employer by calling the company's public relations or investor relations department to ask questions that may lead you to the name of a hiring manager.
- Try the "Top Down" approach. One trick that has worked for many job-seekers is to address materials to the president of the company since you can almost always find out the name of that individual. The president, or more likely, his or her assistant, will have to forward your letter to the hiring manager. Your letter may even get extra attention from having been filtered down from on high. Of course, that approach still doesn't provide you with the name of someone with whom to follow up, but you can try calling the president's assistant and ask to whom your letter was forwarded.
If you have little or no information on what company has placed the ad/job posting...
- Search using a fax number. If an ad or job posting contains only a fax number, you can enter the fax number onto an Internet search engine such as Google and usually find out the name of the company behind the number -- and then resort to the other steps listed here to try to find a person's name.
- Find the company Web site. If the job posting gives only an e-mail address, use it to lead you to the company Web site, which will probably have a phone number. For example, the job posting gives the e-mail address HR@CompanyX.com. Type www.CompanyX.com or simply CompanyX.com into your browser, and you will probably get to the company's site.
- Decipher that acronym. If the company name appears in the job-posting as an abbreviation or acronym, you can still find out the company name and proceed from there. In the Q&A interview Quintessential Careers did with her, career-management consultant Norine Dagliano said: "I have even found names when all I had was, for example, "FLC is looking for a mental health therapist in its city, state location." I went to the Yellow Pages under the listing for mental health and read the names of all the mental health agencies until I found one that might use the initials "FLC," and then called the number in the book to get the name to whom to address the letter. BINGO!"
If all else fails...
- Be as specific as possible. If you can't find out the name of the hiring manager, you can at least address your materials to a specific named individual in Human Resources, if you've been able to attain the name of that person. You can also address your materials to "Hiring Manager for [name of position]."
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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