Bypassing Human Resources

Hello, Anita,

Hello, I am 56 years old and have been taking care of my mother who is 94 for the past six years. She has many doctors’ appointments, some only days apart. I haven’t been legally employed in this time, but I keep my skills up to par by doing “side jobs” now and then. By trade I’m an Industrial Spray Painter, working over the years for military contractors, sub-contractors, and factories.

Recently I’ve tried to reenter my field, trying to find a second or third shift position. This way I will still be able to help my mother out and work in the evening or overnight. Unfortunately, due to my time off I can’t get past the HR department. I believe that I’m being dismissed immediately due to the six year gap. If I could talk personally with the foreman or plant manager and take the spray and written test that is generally given to be considered for hire, I know I could win them over with my talent and knowledge of the field. But you have to deal with someone in HR that knows little to nothing about a person’s talent. They only look at the date of your last employer and write you off.

I’m always open to suggestions…

Bypass_Sign_iStock_000024740925Dear, Painted into a Corner,

You may do better with your “good ol’ boys” network than with HR managers. According to Jobvite, 4 in 10 job seekers have found their best job through personal connections. On the other side of the desk, 64% of recruiters say they find the highest quality candidates through referrals, so a savvy HR professional would be thankful to hear about you from a company employee.

Contact former supervisors and coworkers, even the clerks at the paint store to see if they’ve heard of any job openings that might be a fit for you. Ask if they know any plant managers or foremen at the companies for which you’d like to work.

After exhausting your personal contacts, log on to LinkedIn to see if you can connect to the right people. It’s like that 90s Kevin Bacon game, “six degrees of separation.” Check out my primer, Lessons on LinkedIn, to get started. Be sure to click on the “Jobs” tab and enter keywords related to your experience. Save the search and set up alerts to let you know when new jobs open up.

While scrutinizing LinkedIn profiles, pay attention to any industry associations to which your connections belong. Consider joining and attending meetings and turn your networking know-how into introductions, appointments, or key contact emails – and follow through.

Do some homework to research and identify the top 10 businesses in your area likely to hire someone in your field. Check each of their company websites see if they have a “Careers” page.  If not, even better! They may be a smaller company without a human resources department. Put them on your target list. A charming phone call to the receptionist could yield the hiring manager’s name – and more, depending on the chattiness of the gatekeeper.

Working with (not against) HR

There is a danger when trying to circumvent the system put in place to maximize an HR manager’s time and resources. While a creative, unconventional, or disruptive approach may work, there is a very real possibility it will backfire. You could be seen as someone who can’t or won’t follow directions or an obnoxious boor who doesn’t respect these professionals’ time (NOT great qualities in any employee).

businessman over stretchedWhen submitting a résumé online, be sure to take advantage of adding a cover letter if the option exists. Mention the elephant in the room – your six-year gap. Explain (without going into too much detail) that you have been caregiving for the past few years while keeping your skills current and are eager to reenter the workforce full-time. While references are often requested at the interview stage, preemptively include a glowing reference letter from a past employer or a testimonial letter from one of your freelance clients.

I saw this fitting description on a chat board: “HR screeners are rather like the wait staff in a restaurant. They’ve been given an order by the hiring manager and usually lack the flexibility to substitute one ingredient for another.” If a search term doesn’t match exactly, sometimes the screener (which may be a computer) will reject that application. Be sure to tailor your résumé using keywords found in the job listing.

Experiment with a functional format for your résumé, which may help focus the attention on your skills and away from your gap in employment.

Readers: Have you successfully done an end run around HR to secure a job? Tell us your story!


Lessons on LinkedIn
Gaps in Employment
Functional Format for Résumés

Hire for Culture

Dear, Anita,

I am interviewing for a replacement member of our team and have narrowed it down to the two top applicants. They are equally qualified in almost every way. How do I decide between two really stellar candidates?

Dear, (Eenie, Meanie, Miney,) Moe,

Square Peg in a Round HoleWhat a great problem to have! I often hear complaints that there are not enough qualified applicants for open positions.

It sounds like you have thoroughly analyzed their hard skills, but what about their soft skills and interpersonal rapport? These traits can be harder to quantify. You want to make sure the potential hire is a good fit with your company’s culture – the tacit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of your organization’s management and employees.

If you haven’t already, invite both to interview with your manager, HR supervisor, or even the company president. (If you are the head honcho, schedule another informal interview in a more relaxed setting, such as a coffee shop, to get a different take.) Here are some sample questions used to determine cultural fit:

  • Tree_iStock_000021275060Describe the work environment and management style with which you are most productive and happy.
  • How would your coworkers describe your work style and role within the team?
  • What is most important to you in making your next career move – money, recognition, stability, challenge, or environment?
  • What motivates you to come to work every day?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What is your super power?

Try to avoid nebulous questions like Barbara Walters’ infamous, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” or just plain odd questions like Stanford University’s “Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” unless you work for Marvel or DC Comics.

After the interviews with other managers, confab to get their impressions of the two candidates. You don’t want to make a decision solely on the fact that one candidate likes the same football team as the rest of you, but the applicant who is sports-oriented may fit in to your company more readily than the equally-capable bookworm.

Arrange for each applicant to spend a few hours or a half day shadowing the employee they are replacing or attending a department meeting. While they’re bound to be a little nervous and may not be able participate fully, you’ll get valuable insight seeing them interact with your team. And they may self-select out once they see what it’s really like in the trenches! Cultural fit is a two-way street.

There is no clear-cut test for cultural congruence. When it comes down to it, you’ll need to make a gut decision between two awesome candidates. Chances are, either one will work out, but paying closer attention to the culture issue could make all the difference.

Readers: How does your company screen for a cultural fit?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

Hiring and Retaining in Your Company Culture
Facebook – A Hiring Manager’s Best Friend
Onboarding New Employees
Creating a Recognition Culture

The Poppy Seed Effect: Urban Legend?

Hello, Anita,

Is it true that eating a poppy seed bagel can cause you to fail a drug test? It’s my favorite breakfast!

Poppyseed_Bagel_iStock_000020753418Dear, Positively Negative,

Rumor-busting website Snopes says TRUE! Back in 1998, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that oversees federal workplace drug test regulations upped the threshhold for opiates (drugs produced from poppy plants) from 300ng/ml to 2000ng/ml. But not all drug testing companies that serve the private sector use this higher threshhold.

Employers use drug screening as a tool to maintain a safe workplace. I, for one, am glad drug testing is federally required in certain industries where safety is imperative. In addition to pre-employment drug screening, tests can be performed when there is reasonable suspicion of drug use by a supervisor, after an accident at work, before returning to work after substance abuse treatment, and when the company has a policy of random or periodic testing.

Most employers request the standard 5-panel urinalysis drug screen that detects street drugs such as cocaine, PCP, opiates (heroin, codeine, and morphine), amphetamines (including meth), and THC (found in marijuana, but also in lesser quantities in hemp foods and cosmetics). A 9- or 10-panel screen additionally tests for prescription drugs such as oxycodone, benzodiazepines (mood elevators like Valium, Librium, Xanax), barbiturates (downers), propoxyphene (Darvon), or methaqualone (quaaludes).

Many drugs stay in the system 2-4 days, though some drugs may linger longer. Chronic marijuana users may test positive up to 3-4 weeks after their last use. And for chronic bagel-eaters? MythBusters TV show hosts tested positive just half an hour after gorging on poppyseed pastries – all in the name of science.

What about that Medical Marijuana card? Even in states that allow marijuana use for medical purposes, the legal protection is generally construed to be from criminal prosecution, and is not considered a free pass for any positive employment drug test results. Recent court rulings seem to favor employers over employees, so you may want to switch to a cinnamon raisin bagel and avoid hemp milk for your morning meal.

Readers: Have you ever failed a drug test for non-drug use? Tell us about it.


Crimes and Misdemeanors
Disclosure of a DUI
Drug Testing – Necessity or Discrimination?

Workaholism: A Necessary Evil?

Hey Anita,

My wife is complaining that we haven’t taken a vacation in 6 years. But she doesn’t understand that I have to work non-stop to keep up with my job. Our kids are in sports and camps, and I can’t afford to be get lackadaisical. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and I need to keep pace with the pack. But my long hours are causing a lot of friction in my marriage. Can you give me some arguments to help me prove to my wife that not taking time off is the price of success in our modern business world?

Workaholism_InfographicDear, Marty Martyr,

National Workaholics Day was this past Sunday, July 5. Admit it – you checked your work email.

You are not alone. A hefty 79% of respondents to a Select Family web poll consider themselves workaholics. Gallup reports that while half of Americans work 40 hours or less per week, the other half work 41-49 hours (11%), 50-59 hours (21%), even 60+ hours (18%). The last thing I want to do is help you argue with your significant other, and these stats don’t measure success – only time spent. A Huffington Post article observes, “Many feel, with some justification, that a 40-hour week would be career suicide.”

Working hard is one thing; being addicted to your job is another. Workaholism is a pattern of long hours, working beyond expectations, and a consuming obsession with your job. Workaholics Anonymous has 20 questions to ask yourself to see if you are taking your commitment to your profession too far. Beyond the obvious (Do you work more than 40 hours a week?), there’s one that seems to apply in your situation: Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else [like vacation]?

Americans leave 429 million vacation days unused yearly, according to Oxford Economics, which noted that a heavy workload and peer pressure prevented some from taking their earned PTO. Heck, even the CEO of the U.S. Travel Association had trouble getting his employees to take more than $350,000 in accrued vacation.

There’s always one more call to make, one more email to answer. And, God willing, there will be one more day. Instead of trying to “finish” everything each evening, learn to be okay with leaving some tasks for the morning – or next week – and try to relax. The world, your industry, and your company will manage to muddle on without you for a week or two while you embark on that much needed vacation.

The consequences of workaholism are stress-related health symptoms, sleep issues, decreased productivity (did you get that one?), and an increase in work-family conflicts. If you continue on this exhausting path, you may just find yourself married to your job, and nothing else. Research by Dr. Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., reveals that workaholics are 40% more likely to get a divorce. Or worse, you could make your wife a widow. Those who regularly work 11+ hours a day are 67 percent more likely to develop coronary disease, according to a UCL study.

My advice? Have a heart and address your family’s vacation deprivation. To quote Harold Kushner, “No one ever said on their deathbed ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ ”

Readers: How many hours a week do you clock for your job? Do you feel pressure to work more than 40?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

The Importance of Vacations
What Faking an 80-Hour Week Tells Us about Work Culture
Stop Rewarding Overwork
Rules for Requesting R and R
Asking for Vacation Time


Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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