Ask LH: How Do I Handle Applying For A Job When I Don’t Know The Employer?

Dear Lifehacker, Everyone stresses the importance of tailoring your cover letter and CV to the organisation you’re applying to work at, but a good percentage of the job ads on Seek and the like are posted by recruitment companies and specifically avoid mentioning their client’s name. They usually say something like “well-established, highly-regarded PR firm/newspaper/whatever requires a . . .” etc. I’ve applied for jobs where I wasn’t told the organisation’s name until midway through the interview. How do you approach a cover letter or interview when you’re going in blind? Is there any way to find out in advance what the organisation is? What if it turns out to be the place you just quit, or a company you’d chew your own leg off not to work at? Please advise! Thanks, Good Job Hunting

Dear Good Job Hunting,

It is a tricky problem, but it’s not intractable. The best advice is also the most basic and obvious: ring the recruiter and ask. Recruitment ads will often name a specific contact for a “confidential discussion” anyway; even if they don’t, the company name will be there, so finding the office phone number isn’t difficult.

Recruiters only make money if they find a good candidate, so if it’s a job where you match the job description, get on the phone and explain that while you’re interested, you need to know more about the position and where it is to work out whether you’re a suitable candidate. It’s in the recruiters’ interests to get you involved, and many of them will happily tell you, especially if you agree not to disclose what you hear. If you do agree to that, honour the agreement: if you’re changing jobs down the track, knowing a recruiter can definitely be handy. And don’t rely on email; that can easily be ignored. Once you’re chatting to them, you can also find out other details about the job, which can help you stand out from other candidates if you do apply.

If you still can’t find out who the employer is but you decide to apply anyway, obviously you can only customise your resume to the extent that you have information. That might lead to an interview. If it does, make it clear right up front that it’s not possible for you to answer many questions without knowing who the employer is. Be firm, but polite. An interview where one party in the dark isn’t going to produce good results for anyone.

If readers have additional advice to share, we’re all ears in the comments.


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