HR departments.  Will they hurt you or help you in your quest for a new position?  Are they nothing more than evil gatekeepers, sadistically shooting down the resumes of candidates without rhyme or reason?  Or are they instead misunderstood martyrs, merely taking the heat for the flaky behavior, bad decisions, and confusing directives passed down to them from higher up in the org chart?

Obviously, the answer lies somewhere between these extremes, and a lot depends on the individual HR professional in question — as well as the culture of the company to which they report.  But if you want an inside look at how things often work in HR, in a hiring regard, take a look at the great article you’ll find here, written by Chris Russell of the excellent Secrets of the Job Hunt blog.

Chris whipped up this article last week, based on candid interviews with a sampling of HR managers, asking them to specifically comment on whether it’s appropriate in today’s world — and productive — for a job seeker to contact the HR departments at companies that interest them, in order to solicit their help in exploring opportunities.

I highly encourage you to read this article in full, at the link above, but Chris was also kind enough to give me permission to reprint a few snippets of the conversation from the piece.  Here are a few direct quotes from the article that I think sum up the general gist of what the HR leaders had to say on the subject:

“As a candidate approaching an HR Manager, you have to be what they want, when they want it.”

“I don’t recommend they approach the HR Manager directly. They should apply directly via the company’s preferred way of receiving applications or reach out to the appropriate recruiter at the company. If they do contact the HR Manager or anyone else at the company out of the blue they could be hurting their chances of getting hired.”

“They need to follow protocol for each company. They may ruin any chances of getting an interview if they try to side step the policy.”

“Many of us will delete candidates who are bold enough to try and make contact. We are so busy protecting ourselves against being approached by someone who wants to get past the electronic hurdles that have been put up to keep the have-nots out.”

“As an HR Manager I’d say: Don’t call me. Don’t email me. Don’t snail mail me. Come to the door and ask for me. Its the only way to keep me from using the ‘delete’ button.”

“I think the answer for this one is to get into the STAFFING organization, not Human Resources…unless you are an employee and have a personnel issue, HR is not the right tree to be barking up.”

“Much as I hate not thinking “outside the box”, I have to agree that contacting HR directly, depending on the situation, can be detrimental to being considered at all .. especially on-line .. since most sites specifically state NOT to contact the company or HR directly.”

“Another thing to keep in mind as an applicant is that there are reasons why a specific company protocol is in place (filling out an online application, etc). Calling repeatedly, filling out multiple applications for the same position, etc do not improve your chances, in most cases, it hinders them.”

While on one hand, I realize the above perspectives don’t represent the most positive news job hunters have ever heard, at the same time, I salute these HR professionals for having the guts to “tell it like it is” instead of sugercoating the issue and leading job hunters astray with yet another batch of inaccurate, politically-correct information.  As the old saying goes, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

And they’re telling us how the game is played these days.  Don’t bother bugging HR, outside of special situations.  They’re not usually going to be the right people to help you.

So while this collection of 8-10 HR pros obviously can’t speak for an entire industry, and I’d certainly be open to posting some rebuttal views on the subject, I think many folks in transition would be wise to take the above words to heart and apply them to their search strategy.  Respect and follow the hiring process that companies spell out.  Be crystal-clear on how you meet the requirements of the job in question.  Seek out conversations with recruiters and hiring managers, not necessarily the HR staff, when you’re doing proactive prospecting at various companies that interest you.

Remember, there are hundreds of other creative ways that motivated job hunters can track down and create work opportunities.  But at least with regard to this one possibility, of banging on the door of the HR department, we’ve now got some hard evidence that this option may be an extremely low-return strategy…