As the former senior vice president of human resources at three Fortune 1000 companies, I oversaw the hiring of thousands of employees. To fill those jobs we would literally receive tens of thousands of résumés. My recruiters spent as much, or perhaps more, time screening out candidates as they did helping select the three or four finalists we ended up referring to the hiring manager.

In a highly competitive job market such as we continue to experience, unless you have the exact skills and experience the company is seeking, there is a high likelihood that your candidacy will never proceed beyond the human resources department.

John Paul Engel, president of Knowledge Capital Consulting, puts it this way: The role of human resources personnel is “risk management.¨ They are exceedingly cautious as to which candidates they refer on to hiring managers.

Engel advises that “if you really want to work for an organization, forget about job postings. Get to know the people in the functional area you want to work.” Engel offers the following specific suggestions as to ways you can avoid or, at least, reduce the opportunity for human resources to screen you out before you get a chance to sell yourself to someone in a position to hire you:

  • You could contact the CEO and tell him that you will donate one hour to his favorite charity for every minute he gives you to pitch yourself. You might just get hired for having the guts to ask.
  • See if anyone you know is familiar with the organization and can introduce you to someone at the company.
  • Determine if the organization sponsors a Toastmasters group. Then you can go every week, give speeches to an audience of employees in the organization, and develop friends and potential allies that will support your candidacy.
  • Determine if there is a local professional organization where you could meet people in the organization. If not, consider starting one.

Darrell W. Gurney, author of “Never Apply for a Job Again: Break the Rules, Cut the Line, Beat the Rest,” also believes that the best way to get a job is through the people you know, not through the human resources department. He suggests that you create relationships with people in your fields of interests on an ongoing basis well before you are looking for a job. Then by nurturing and maintaining those relationships, one stays “top of mind¨ when these contacts become aware of an opportunity. To do this, of course, you have to be out there meeting people (at conferences through professional organizations, through charitable organizations, etc.).

Meeting people when you are not seeking employment enables you to become known, and liked, before those inevitable opportunities arise. When they do, these connections will be able to refer you to someone who is hiring.

John Fleischauer, a manager at Halogen Software, points out that with the availability of the internet individuals have the ability to connect with individuals virtually. He notes that an ideal way to get noticed and to set yourself apart is to connect with the hiring manager via social media. “Get in touch via LinkedIn or reach out to them on Twitter to make your name recognizable and demonstrate that you are engaged and interested in the position. If appropriate, bring a sense of humor,” he adds.

Todd Horton, CEO of KangoGift and a former human resources executive, notes that many companies have employee-referral programs that reward current employees if a candidate they recommend is hired, giving them a financial incentive to promote your candidacy. Horton suggests using LinkedIn or other means to connect with a current employee at a company in which you are interested.

He suggests asking them if they would be open to a brief informational interview about what it’s like to work there. Mention that you are thinking of applying for a specific job, but want to learn more about the company first. If the conversation goes well, the employee may be willing to make a referral.

While it doesn’t hurt to apply for a position through the human resources department or the company’s website, doing so will require you to be selected from among possibly hundreds of other applicants. If you can avoid that initial screening process and get referred directly to the hiring manager, your chances of getting hired will improve dramatically.

Keep in mind that human resources executives are not immune to referrals either. They are likely to view your candidacy favorably if it is supported by someone they know and trust as well.

A veteran human resources executive, Lee E. Miller is a career coach and the author of “UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective — The Art of Getting What You Want.” Mail questions to