How to follow up with corporate employers?

While many smaller firms and companies’ application process seems to entail emailing the hiring director or whoever’s email is associated with the job posting with a resume and work samples attached, applying at much larger corporate employers seems to involve going through an application process unique to the company’s site. It seems that in order to handle what I am sure is a large number of applications for various jobs all the time, companies of this size have potential applicants fill out premade forms and upload resumes to some sort of profile you build. They also seem to share a pretty small file size restriction for attachments (1MB or less) which prevents attaching any sort of portfolio or work sampler you would normally attach to an application email.

Does anyone have any tips for making your application stand out from the crowd in such a controlled environment? I typically include a reference to my website in my cover letter, which I hope can act in the place of my portfolio should they visit it. It also makes it difficult to follow up on your application since you never get anyone’s email address.

Is there a way to break through the structured application process and set yourself apart from the crowd or are you basically at the mercy of the corporate machinery if you don’t know anyone at the company?

EDIT: In addition, would it be smart to try to make a <1MB version of your portfolio with either low resolution images (yuck) or only a couple of pages as a sort of “preview of a preview”? Typically the portfolio I would attach in an email is not the whole book so that I have more to show someone later, so this 1MB version would be an even further abbreviation of that one. Is that too little to be worth it?

References can go a long way and are the best way to get through the “corporate machinery”. It also depends on whether or not you are applying for a position that the company has a posting for or if you are just submitting your resume and materials to find out if there is an opening. Largely, there is an HR barrier between the applicants and the hiring managers.

I personally would not bother with a 1mb version of my portfolio, but I would send them a link to it. If they like what they see on your resume then they’ll take the time to click the link. Honestly, as a hiring manager, I look at portfolios before resumes, which is why I only have our HR filter out candidates that don’t submit any method for viewing their previous design work.

This can be a problem, and one I’ve experienced a few times. I tailor my application to take most advantage of what the site allows you to submit.

The last application I submitted stated I already worked for the company in question! No matter how many times I went back and changed previous options this option kept appearing on a drop down menu. Bit of a nightmare, and the only way round it was to mention the discrepancy in my covering letter, trying not to look an idiot, but at the same time trying not to overly imply their process was flawed.

As Greenman has mentioned, include a link, and if necessary and you’re able to, at least submit a page showing a collection of sketches, renders, product photography etc etc to give them a taste of what you’re about. When sending files, bear in mind they will probably be viewed on screen in the first instance, so I always limit myself to an A3 72dpi size. These can be pretty small in file size and still look fine.

If you do not have a specific contact, you will be at the will of HR. And HR is as only as good as the manager telling them what the manager wants to see. HR certainly doesn’t understand the voodoo of NPD, as well as most of the company. So the manager needs to be very clear on what they what to see. HR will do a good job of passing along specific requirements.

If you are cold-calling a corporation, don’t waste your time. Head count is strictly managed in corporations. Either they are looking or they are not. Somewhat limiting, but it is what it is and your chances getting through when they are not looking are slim.

And if they are not looking, they won’t open an attachment (if it gets through the firewall) or a link. IT (the friggin’ megalomaniacs) has drilled it that you do not open unsolicited attachments or links.

I hope I am not thread-jacking here, but relating to corporate applications…

How many other people hate the Taleo application system that so many of these corporations have?

That is actually one of the systems I was talking about. I feel like when you’re applying as a designer, you are always trying to showcase your creativity and talents. With systems like Taleo, even when it works correctly (which isn’t always), I don’t think it is built to be very friendly to creative professionals.

In my experience, most corporate systems and their resulting bureaucracies are not.

Taleo is the worst thin to happen for perspective employees and the best thing to happen for HR.

I’ve been emailed that I don’t qualify for a position 10 minutes after submitting my application because I didn’t fit the screening criteria. When you’re dealing with Taleo, you almost have to have a resume full of keywords just to get in the door. But, once you do that and am HR manager actually reviews your resume, it reads like gibberish because its all keywords. Insane.

I had a similar experience. I filled out one of those, got bounced back right away, a couple of months later a recruiter called me for the same job, which I then got right away and ended up negotiating for more (coming from the position of power, being recruited vs applying) and they had to pay the recruiter fee. Those systems are odd. We don’t use them. I think the sheer scale of some corporations forces them to use such things, but for design they should always go around. When I was at Nike they had one of those screener systems, but they also had a small team of internal recruiters who only worked on design positions (when you have 350+ designers you can do that).

I managed product development group in large engineering company for years, next cubicle to my group was our in-house human resource group, an actual wholly-owned separate corporation. After working with them my best conclusion is that HR staff are the project managers of hiring, i.e. they were enablers of a process but not the actual process problem solver workers.

I had to fill in a position description and job duties form including keywords. It was obvious based on sheer numbers there was no way the HR staff actually read the resumes, instead relying on whatever screening tool to preselect likely candidates. They did read those resumes and make further judgmental screening selections based on obvious content suitability to my hiring form. At later scheduled meeting one of the HR staff would come with folder of resumes and a few brief comments. Up to this point there was absolutely no use for a portfolio, the HR ladies found it humorous that some designers included images on their resumes, to the HR staff a picture was not worth 1,000 keywords.

To your specific question, if going through a dissociative HR screening process at a large corporation, and you do not know anyone there, I don’t know of any way to advance your cause. The HR staff don’t want your calls or emails, they can’t process such things through whatever screening tools they use. This is why networking - conferences, seminars, lectures - is the best way to find work, with the name of someone you can completely ignore the corporate HR screening process and communicate with someone who understands the importance of your information.

It’s difficult to say definitively how to stand out in such a process because, as you say, companies seem to use different processes. I suggest being somewhat descriptively generic to hit keywords. Remember, it’s a robot reading your resume first, then maybe a human who has read 37 other resumes that day, and they’re both, ignorantly, keyword and then phrase matching. How to do some of this is with generic terms: medical product, athletic footwear, consumer electronics, contract seating; brand names may not be important at this time as HR staff may be ignorant, the robots not programmed to pick up “Steelcase”, or it may be intentional.