How to Get the Job You Want: Vaulting the HR Barrier

The state of the economy at the moment means that many sectors have more candidates than jobs - putting employers in somewhat of a buyer's market. This is great for them, but can feel like a nightmare for you. What we need to do is to redress the balance in your favour. In other words, we need to turn your job search into a seller's market.

By this point, you've probably read a lot of the job hunter's guides out there, and might be wondering why their tips don't seem to be having much of an effect on your search for a new role. Agency Central is a bit unique in the jobs market - and in that vein, we're going be a bit different here too. We're going to give you some frank information on where you're going wrong in your job hunt - so fasten your seatbelt, because we're going to give it to you straight.

What we need to do is to find a way to reach out and grab potential employers by the throat (not literally, please). We need to find a way that you can truly sell yourself in your market - and to do that, we first need to think about some classic sales techniques that can be applied in this context.

Know your audience and identify targets

The first thing a good salesperson does when devising a pitch for a new product is to think about who's going to purchase it. Who is the audience in other words? You've probably heard this a thousand times before. But think about it - when you think of your 'audience' in this case, who do you actually mean? A stereotypical corporate executive straight out of a low-budget movie? We need to do better than imagining 'just another' Manager or Director with a nice suit and a flash car.

There's a reason that senior business people surround themselves with other staff in this way - and it's because they quite literally don't have the time to deal with every would-be candidate that walks in through the door.



We need to research. We need to identify your targets, and then, we need to learn everything we can about them - by any means necessary. Traditional face-to-face networking will be your biggest asset here, but LinkedIn and other social media sites are also invaluable. The key is to ensure that you get past the 'about us' page on the firm's corporate website - because this is going to tell you very little beyond a basic level of self-promoting information, and we need to find out exactly what it is that makes this person (or people) tick.

Networking isn't going to bag you a job interview on the very first meet. It isn't going to suddenly enable you to quit whatever job you're doing at the moment, and it isn't going to instantly help you jump five rungs up the career / salary ladder. What it might do is help you to build up some nice long to medium term prospects, gain some intelligence on what the people and firms you're interested in are looking for in a candidate, and help other people in your network by getting yourself into the position where you can bring them together to create opportunities.

Breaking through the HR barrier

What this all adds up to is the ability to do one very important thing; we're going to vault straight over the HR firewall that surrounds the people you really want to speak to, and we're going to drop in on the other side, ready to go. Now there is a reason that senior business people surround themselves with other staff in this way - and that's because they quite literally don't have the time to deal with every would-be candidate that walks in through the door. But if you can bypass their defences in the correct manner, many are likely to be impressed with your initiative.

In some ways, this is an article of two halves - because once you've found your 'target' and gone to all the trouble of getting in touch with them, there's something very important that you need to consider - what now?



Why we need to breach the outer perimeter will be a familiar tale for anyone who's ever tried to cold-call a company through its HR Department. Now we're not saying that there's anything wrong with HR - because it's a valid function of any business. But, as we just mentioned, there is a reason that senior business people surround themselves with a firewall in this way. Just think of it as a trial that will prove your worth.

There are a few tactics that you can take advantage of on your quest to speak to the right person within a company - but first, you need to determine who it actually is. This obviously depends on the way that your target company is structured, but one key thing to remember is that smaller companies tend to be easier in this regard. This is because literally anyone in the company could be answering the phone! 

We're going to go a bit left field here, and say that it is possible to be too early for a job interview.



With the above in mind, in such a case, you should familiarise yourself with the names of senior figures within the firm, and consider making a list that you can quickly consult. Imagine what you'd say to these people if one of them were to pick up the phone. You could even try ringing around lunchtime, when the office might be short-staffed - although this could also be counterproductive if people are too busy to talk to you. It also pays to be polite!

Now is not the time to be running to the shop to be buying new shoes or a belt that fits - and it's certainly not the time to be wondering where on earth the company's office is.



In many smaller firms, the person responsible for hiring and firing will be the MD - but depending on the specifics of the situation, you might be better served by going after the trusted head of a department. Whilst they might not have the final say in whether you get a job, they can probably have a word in the right places to get a role created for you if they like the cut of your jib and feel that you'd have a valid contribution to make.

Ok, so you've made contact - now what?

In some ways, this is an article of two halves - because once you've found your 'target' and gone to all the trouble of getting in touch with them, there's something very important that you need to consider - what now? We don't want all our hard work to go to waste, so you need to have a game plan in mind.

Let's assume that you've spent some time networking with this prospect now, and you've managed to get yourself an interview at their company. They request to see a copy of your CV. The first thing to do is obvious - you need to make sure that your CV is up to date and properly customised for the job in question. It makes sense to update everything as you move through your career as a matter of course, but don't forget to customise it for the job you're after. 

You can actually use this situation to your advantage - because when everyone looks the same, it's easy to set yourself apart!



Next up, you should carry on with your research. Looking at the wider company, you need to know exactly what it is they do. At this point, you should have a really good read of their website -  as well as anything else you can get your hands on. If you have any questions, or there's something about it you think they could improve, then don't be afraid to offer constructive criticism either - but tread carefully, as you never know who was responsible for it! We published a guide to researching a company which you should check out for a few more ideas. Don't forget that research is useless if you can't remember it - so make notes. 

Interview day - what to do, what to wear?

When you wake up on the morning of your interview, you should already have everything prepared from the night before - even if the interview isn't until the afternoon. Now is not the time to be running to the shop to be buying new shoes or a belt that fits - and it's certainly not the time to be wondering where on earth the company's office is. 

Your interview outfit should be all nicely ironed and laid out - shoes polished if they need it - and you should already have visited the place that your interview will be taking place to scope it out.  You need to know where you can park, and how much it is, if you're driving, or exactly how you're getting there (and again, the cost) if you're using public transport. If you can't do this in person, then tools like Google Street View are your best friend. Make sure that you eat a decent breakfast / lunch beforehand, to help keep your brain focussed on the task at hand, and avoid an embarrassing rumbling belly! Best to avoid anything garlicky!

Soon it will be time to attend your job interview - and of course, you should be there early. But how early is the big question! We're going to go a bit left field here, and say that it is possible to be too early for a job interview. Think about it. Imagine you're in charge of a department which is interviewing more staff. You're probably a bit overworked and don't want to be making chit-chat with a candidate before their interview actually begins. In this case, you don't particularly want a candidate to be showing up 20 minutes early whilst you wait for other members of staff to arrive at the interview.

For this reason, we recommend announcing your presence about five or ten minutes before you're due in for an interview. It's early enough that it will be noted, but not so early that you're going to mess up anyone's day. We wouldn't advise trying to actually arrive on site five minutes early (unless you live very close by) - so it can be nice to grab a quiet spot such as your car or a nice park bench, to sit and relax before you enter the building. This is a great opportunity to listen to some relaxing music (a bit of Ludovico Einaudi perhaps?) and get yourself in the right state of mind. You could even try some simple meditation

Final tips for job search and interview success

Far too many people take the orthodox 'speak when you're spoken to' approach to job-seeking - which means that it can be a long and frustrating road to travel. Quite simply, the market is saturated. What we've hopefully shown you with this article is, that with a dash of insider knowledge and a slice or two of lateral thinking, you can actually use this situation to your advantage - because when everyone looks the same, it's easy to set yourself apart!

We're not going to go into actual interview techniques here, as that's a whole other subject in itself, but suffice to say that good preparation will make for a good performance when you actually get in there. Being thoroughly chilled out before you go in will assist you with everything from your demeanour to the type of body language you use - which is often involuntary unless you've specifically trained yourself - so this can certainly pay dividends.

I'd like to see a numbered "steps" section if possible at the end, as a summary / quick reference. It would be useful for someone skimming the article to see if it's useful for them.

There are a number of other articles on our site that will help you to get through the interview and everything that comes afterwards. We cover everything from ways to set yourself apart in the interview itself to how to stay in touch once it's over, and there is much more on its way. In order to stay up-to-date, don't forget to bookmark our recruitment blog (which is updated weekly), and check back regularly to stay in touch with the latest developments in the world of job seeking. Good luck!

In brief: five steps to victory 

  • Identify targets - influencers within companies that you'd like to work for.
  • Know your audience - you need to go beyond business stereotypes and think about individuals.
  • Contact and network - home in on these people to network and bypass gatekeepers.
  • Research the company - find out exactly what they do, prepare questions about it and think about offering constructive criticism.
  • Check out our guides to interview success.

By Matt Atkinson