Following Up On an Anonymous Posting

Job seekers pull their hair out over how and whether to follow up on job applications posted by anonymous companies.

He was desperate.

He’d found the perfect job and applied online. Now, all he could do was wait to hear back. And wait. And wait.

It’s been weeks. Shouldn’t he have followed up by now? Shouldn’t he ask if the company has filled the position yet? How about making sure they received his resume? And what about tracking down whomever he might know at the company to leverage his professional network?

Yes to all of those, he should follow up and start networking, yes indeed. Too bad the company posted the job request anonymously and he doesn’t have the foggiest notion of who they are.

(Check out our tips on when and how to follow up.)

Career coaches agree: Anonymous ads drive their clients crazy. But what can you possibly do to follow up if you can’t figure out who should receive the follow-up call or e-mail? And if you do sleuth your way to figuring out who posted the ad, is your follow-up going to impress the hiring managers or annoy the overworked recruiter who hoped to remain hidden? To find out where to draw the line, we went to the stalkees themselves: The hiring managers and recruiters who don’t want you to call (or write, or text, or send flowers) and might think you’re unprofessional/creepy if you do.

The easy part: How to unmask them

This is not rocket science. Career coach Marilyn Santiesteban let us in on a trade secret for deciphering the company behind the curtain: Look for a distinctive bit of text in the job description, she said, then Google the phrase in quotes.

“If the job has been posted on the company Web site, you’ll get a hit,” she said.

Scott A.T. Dunlop, founder of The Bivium Group, a recruiting firm specializing in the software engineering industry, knows of several cases where that type of perseverance has landed somebody a job. The job seeker found an anonymous job posting on a Craigslist posting. Using Google he performed a Boolean search on some very specific job technologies listed in the description and uncovered the company’s identity. Using that information, the job seeker contacted the company’s founders and the operations person, who had posted the job. He made a successful pitch and landed the job as vice president of a software startup where he still works today.

“Personally, I often find these anonymous postings an opportunity,” Dunlop said. “If the job seeker is willing to do some extra leg work, they can find out the company’s identity and decision-makers and reach them directly, whereby the competing candidates may simply e-mail the resume and move on.”

The hard part: should you

So yes, you can often figure out who the anonymous company is. The question is, should you?

The world of recruiters is littered with stories of companies turned off by having their masks ripped off. One example: Linda Duffy, a recruiter for Leadership Habitude, posted an anonymous ad for a chief operating officer position in July. As a retained recruiter, she didn’t want candidates contacting the company directly.

Nonetheless, two candidates e-mailed the CEO directly. One candidate later told her that he “just kind of figured out” the company’s identity from the ad.

Maybe so. Maybe, like Dunlop’s job seeker, he was good with Boolean searches. But from Duffy’s perspective, she wasn’t interested in his ingenuity; she was far more interested in how he figured it out so she wouldn’t repeat the same mistake in another job posting.

What’s even more relevant was the CEO’s reaction. “He reacted with a great deal of suspicion and mistrust, wondering whether or not someone on his staff had leaked the opening,” Duffy said. “To him, this was a major security breach that needed to be dealt with. He went so far as to say that he would not interview the candidate unless he revealed his source.”

Why the secrecy?

The main reason companies opt to post confidentially is to avoid being swamped by phone calls from candidates and recruiters. Recruiting agencies often monitor job posting sites, Duffy said, and job postings put companies on their radar.

Even more important, however, is that companies often don’t want their competition knowing what they’re up to, she said. A new job could signal turnover problems or expansion in size or into new areas. Beyond that, the recruiter or company may actually be replacing the very person you’re trying to contact, Dunlop noted.

Consider the industry

In Duffy’s case, the company in question is in the e-commerce industry, and the company provides merchant services. Obviously, in such an industry, data protection is “paramount,” she said, making the CEO vigilant about security in other areas as well.

But flip to another industry, such as software engineering, and one job candidate’s perceived jerkiness can transform itself into perceived ingenuity.

“Most firms in high-tech are impressed that someone has figured out the anonymous posting” to discern the company behind it, Dunlop said.

That’s not too surprising when you consider the industry’s ingrained hacking culture — i.e., the innate respect for working around rules. “In general, yes, the high-tech world has a different ethos about these things, and especially for smaller startups/venture-capitalized firms (the space I mostly work in),” Dunlop said. “It’s generally appreciated, [whereas] big companies and organizations bound by HR-driven recruiting … don’t necessarily appreciate it.”

Besides high-tech, other industries that are more likely to appreciate ingenuity and rule-bending include sales and marketing, Dunlop suggested, while more buttoned-down industries such as accounting probably won’t be fans of the technique.

Will you come across as a jerk or a genius?

Whether the anonymous posting comes from the rule-scoffing ethos of hackers or a more circumspect industry, by all means don’t be obsessive or pushy.

“After they track you down, they start harassing you and asking ‘Why wasn’t I chosen for the job?’ ” said Sarah Cullins, president of Finesse Staffing, of those who track down anonymous posters. “They are usually aggressive and not very nice, and 95 percent of the time they are not a good fit for the job.”

Dunlop advises job seekers to back off after having figured out the company, making a pitch and not getting a response. “That’s a good clue,” he said. “Draw the line based upon what sort of company you are dealing with; a little extra sleuthing should clue you in as to whether or not your newfound information leads to a company that will appreciate your direct contact or automatically put you in the ‘no’ pile.”