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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    I often see multiple recruiters posting on Seek for the same position at the same company, all using the company's prose from HR to advertise the job - So, just look for ads with almost identical wording, but actually have the company listed.

    Obviously, this doesn't work when only one recruiter is advertising the position.

    If it's impossible to find out who the employer is (e.g. the recruiter won't tell you anything on the phone and you can't copy and paste text from the job description and Google it, etc) then just remember that nearly everyone else who is applying is in the dark like yourself. They can't possibly expect you to write a tailor-made resume if you have no idea who they are. If you can give the recruiter an awesome "generic" resume, they'll put you through to the next stage.

      The annoying part is when someone else has a resume written which, by pure chance, matches exactly what the recruiter / HR is after - you get ignored, even if you actually had better skills than the other lucky SOB.

    Call me a pessimist, but I often wonder if there is a specific job behind some of these adds or if they are just the recruiters trying to "fill their books" with candidates so when a "well-established, highly-regarded firm" comes looking for someone they can shot a couple of candidates straight off (even if they are completely unsuitable for the role).

      You aren't a pessimist, just a realist. I had one of those a few weeks ago - applied for a role, got told who the company was over the phone, came in for the interview, and the guy interviewing me denied any knowledge of telling me who the company was. It was just a fishing expedition to get my details on his books.

    I used to work in a recruitment agency.

    The reason they don't tell you who it is, is because some recruiters call up to try and find out what company it is so they can steal the 'job'.

    You'd have to push pretty damn hard to get a recruiter to tell you. It's also part of the confidentiality agreement they have with their clients. Companies may go through a recruiter if they don't want their compeition to know that they're hiring.

    Definitely give them a call and chat before you send your resume, though. They might not want to tell you who the job is with, but they'll at least be able to tell you what they're looking for, or even have a quick chat to let you know if it's worth your while applying.

    But, in my experience, they're pretty much always looking for someone that's already done that exact same job.

    Sorry, someone that's currently doing that exact same job, so their experience is up-to-date.

    Recruiters provide a confidential opportunity for both their clients and the candidates. Obviously if you apply to a recruiter for a role with the company you already work for then your details are not going to be considered for that role, but may be considered for similar roles with other companies in future.

    The best thing to do is highlight your relevant achievements to the role being advertised.

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