In the May 9, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader discovers that a company’s high turnover problems start with the CEO.


In a recent column (Consulting Firms: Strike back and stir the pot) you said we should contact a company’s CEO if the HR department’s hiring process is nutty. So I did. The CEO actually called me back!

ceoFirst, a little background.

Let us bother your references

I talked with a hiring manager who, despite having my resume, told me that I was required to fill out the online application in order to go further in the hiring process. When I got to the section for references, there was no way for me to proceed until I had typed in names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and where my references work.

I called the hiring manager and politely explained that I cherish my references and don’t want them bothered until a job offer looks like a real possibility. He fobbed me off onto HR, saying it was “government regulations” that required them to ask for references. I know better. There are no government regulations that require applicants to list references.

I also remembered one of your previous newsletters which discussed how some employers are outsourcing reference checking to third parties, sending references e-mail forms to fill out instead of having the hiring manager telephone the references and talk to them about the candidate. But the manager wanted me to discuss it with HR, so I did. HR refused to budge, and the hiring manager caved to HR.

I even asked HR how they handle reference checks, and I was told that wasn’t any of my business, so that clinched it for me. I walked away since there was no offer on the table.

Come back!

A few weeks later the hiring manager called me back, asking if I was still interested! I said, “Yes, but…”, reiterating my concern about disclosing my references. He started sucking air, complained that there’s no good help out there, and that everyone has to provide their references up front because of “government regulations.” Once again, I walked away.

That’s when I e-mailed the CEO. I was shocked when he called me, but we had a very pleasant chat. You were right, Nick — he was unaware of HR’s requirements in order to proceed to an interview. But I also learned that he was perfectly content to leave all aspects of the hiring up to HR.

CEO: Out to lunch

He seemed puzzled that there are no government regulations requiring applicants to list their references and their contact information before an offer is on the table, much less accepted. He breezily informed me that he doesn’t worry about hiring because that is HR’s job, that he doesn’t believe in interfering in the hiring process, and that HR knows best because that is what they do!

That tells me a great deal about the company — much more than I could have gleaned from an interview. No wonder the hiring manager seemed so rattled! The company is small, there is a lot of turnover, and little to no guidance from the CEO. He’s out to lunch! It isn’t a start-up, but they’re flying by the seat of their pants, putting out fires as they break out — and they are breaking out with greater frequency as people get disgusted and leave.

So I thanked the CEO for calling me, told him that I was no longer interested, and wished him and the company luck in their future endeavors. (You might recognize that as standard fare in kiss-off letters HR sends to rejected job candidates.) I already have a wishy-washy boss who can’t make even simple decisions such as hiring extra help. We are constantly short-staffed and the underlings are putting out the fires.

I decided not to go from the frying pan into the fire (assuming that I’d be hired at the other place).

A stinky company

The other concern I had about the laissez faire CEO is that, when you’re that disengaged from the day to day goings-on of your business, that’s a recipe for a company to go belly-up, because the person who is in charge isn’t involved.

Although I made the decision to walk away when HR refused to let me proceed without providing my references, my conversation with the CEO confirmed my decision.  I have no regrets and don’t give it any thought. You’re right: On to the next!

I have learned so much from your comments and advice, and from the other readers’ comments.  I feel that I’m a better educated job hunter now than I was before I signed up for your newsletter.

I think you could have a whole new job educating CEOs about the importance of sane hiring practices.  Or maybe teach this subject as a graduate course in business school — then you’d get them before they become CEOs and abdicate their authority to HR.

I concluded that HR in this company does what it does because the CEO doesn’t care. Fish stink from the head down.

Nick’s Reply

Wow — what a story! We touched on the problem of top managers avoiding recruiting and hiring tasks in Small Business Owner: I’m too busy to hire help!

I’m not sure the employer in your story wins a prize for citing “government regulations” as the reason for demanding references so early. That goes to employers that demand salary history before they’ll interview anyone. But this CEO wins the prize for taking a career-long lunch!

It sounds to me like you did the right thing. The company gave you some clear signs that it’s not worth working for.

  • Management is indecisive and powerless. (The manager had your resume but insisted that you regurgitate your work history in an online form.)
  • Management doesn’t woo good candidates. (The employer wanted you to deliver references before it bothered to invest in meeting you first.)
  • HR doesn’t know the law.
  • HR sacrificed a candidate the hiring manager was eager to interview (twice!) because there’s no good help out there.
  • Turnover is high.
  • The CEO thinks hiring is not his job!

While the hiring manager defers to HR, the high turnover suggests the problem is higher up than HR. You found the problem in the C-suite. The CEO might find another way in Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants.

Your experience highlights two key rules about picking an employer that we discuss here again and again.

  • First, judge a company by its hiring practices.
  • Second, talk to top management before taking a job.

What you see at the interview stage is what you’ll get on the job. When the CEO doesn’t care about hiring, middle managers leave it up to HR, and HR takes its cue from the CEO.

Oh, yeah: The lesson

Thanks for sharing your experience, and my compliments for drawing the right conclusions. You showed us what it means when a company pushes a job candidate unreasonably, and how important it is to talk to a company’s top management. But there’s actually a more subtle lesson in your story.

When they’re job hunting, people rationalize. They’re afraid they won’t get picked, so they tolerate all kinds of niggling abuse. Making someone jump through hoops — online forms, silly rules about when references are due, eating dust when HR serves it — is not right, smart, or good business. But job seekers will probably jump through hoops because they want a shot at a job. Or that’s what they tell themselves. It’s for a shot at the job. So they tolerate demeaning and meaningless demands.

That hiring manager who wanted to hire you so badly that he called you after you rejected the company wanted you to rationalize the company’s behavior because he rationalizes it.

The lesson is, don’t. Being asked to address a challenge about how you’d the job, or about your work ethic — that’s legit. But when an employer demands something demeaning from you, it tells you it’s a demeaning employer. The lesson is, as Marcus Aurelius once said, “to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Have you ever rationalized a company’s nutty hiring practices to get a shot at a job? Yah — I’m needling you. I’ve caved to such treatment, and I’m not proud of it. Maybe by sharing our blunders we can help one another avoid them!

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  1. Besides all the other problems, it seems like there is a big lack of critical thinking in this company. Really, HR, is the government going to care about references? The HR folks are either lying or stupid. Maybe they go to a psychic to make their hiring decisions.

  2. Nick,

    I had a similar situation happen to me recently… similar yet not.

    I was contacted by one of “those firms? people?” who look for candidates. In the contact email it was stated that a background check AND a credit check would be required. I told them that I understood the need for a background check but that I felt that a credit check was NOT necessary and was probably illegal to boot… and that I would NOT be responding for this position.

    I received another email from them, caving on the credit check but I had already made my decision and I stood by it.

    In these days of identity theft, giving out this information to someone you don’t know and whose procedures for handling this extremely sensitive information are not know, is just asking for trouble. Sigh. What a world we live in?


    • “n these days of identity theft, giving out this information to someone you don’t know and whose procedures for handling this extremely sensitive information are not know, is just asking for trouble.”

      Even when you are careful, you still get hit with crap.

      I recently just had a CC that I hardly used charged for someone’s weekend in Vegas!

    • @George: I agree. But what’s most interesting here is that they BACKED OFF their demand for the credit check. This stuff is often negotiable, folks. HR is not the cops. Push back politely but firmly. Good for you for pressing them, George.

  3. “HR doesn’t know the law.” I am 100% sure that HR knows the score and is brazenly lying. But in a police state where employers are entitled to random samples of blood, urine and hair from you on a whim that sort of authoritarian bull is to be expected. Slowly the US is converging towards the world of the Handmaid’s Tale.

    • @Oliver: I peed in a cup once for a company. Never again. I deeply regret it. But when I think back, I was a bit in awe because it was a huge multi-national company. I have no idea why I even wanted to work there! The background form was about 10 pages and who knows what kind of checking they did or what they found. They never got back to me after several rounds of in-person interviews. Lesson learned. I don’t pee in cups unless it’s for a doctor I’m paying :-).

      • I only pee in a cup if it is for an offer that has been made.

    • @Olivier: I think it is easier to blame the big, bad wolf (aka “government” instead of taking a close look in the cold light of day at their own hiring practices. They “require” references and their contact info. upfront simply because they can. And when someone else gets blamed, they don’t have to take responsibility for it.

      • @MaryBeth: Many companies will back off these demands when job applicants push back.

      • @Marybeth I am not blaming big bad wolf. The US (and the UK and many is not averse to it. Still, that does not detract from the fact that our societies are increasingly authoritarian and that the price for pushing back keeps going up.

        • My reply somehow got mangled. The second sentence should read: “The US (and the UK and many others) are becoming police states because the citizenry demands it or at least is not averse to it.”

  4. I caved once, and it bugs me to this day….

    A few years ago i was working a government contract that was winding down and got a call from a “recruiting” agency for a possible position. Submitted updated resume, then the fun began. One of the hoops I had to jump was a “virtual interview” wherein you recorded a 2 minute video and submitted it. I’ve never had a problem with face-to-face interviews (phone, videochat, etc.) but this bugged the hell out of me. Still, I succumbed and submitted one. The more I thought about that process, the more it ticked me off. After 24 hrs of stewing, I called the “recruiter” and pulled my application, telling them why and what I thought of them and their process. The “recruiter” responded with “it was a customer requirement.” I wished them luck and went on my way.

    That’s the last time I even considered using anything but my own network of contacts for a job. I’ll never do stupid sh*t like that again for anyone.

    • Hate to break it to you, JohnBoy, but where do you think that video is today? ;-) We’ve all left trails…

      • The only career fields where a 2-minute video makes sense is broadcast radio and TV news (weather, sports etc), and it’s called an aircheck.

        Since I’m not in that trade, if they want video, I need to see a Screen Actors Guild contract.

        • My daughter used to be a member of SAG. Those folks don’t work unless they get paid. I’d make a video for union scale – and residuals. Otherwise, no.

  5. I’ve got a couple. First one was an interview with a small service company. After answering a newspaper classified (1992) and a few phone calls, I went to interview with the office manager.

    The place was empty. Locked. Nobody home. I knew I was in the right location, and waited in my car for about a half hour. This was before car phones, so I either left a note in the mailbox, or sent a letter when I got home.

    They called, apologetic, and convinced me to try again. Having nothing but time, being unemployed, I met with the owner and the office manager, asked _them_ for references, took the job against all my better judgement at a low rate of pay (rationalizing the bad into to good) and was told I could start in a week.

    Two weeks or so later, when I followed up, they were dismissive of making me wait. I started soon after, and on several of my first assignments, was questioned by clients “What happened to guy who was here last week?”

    Come to find out, I was “a verbal hire”. Applicant A was more attractive. Applicant B, me, was kept on the stringer and brought in when A saw the reality of the situation and walked, or wasn’t able to do the work. I was reprimanded in my first week for being nosy and too personal with the clients.

    Six months later, moments after submitting my resignation, the owner tackled me in anger as I walked out the door.

    “Look things in the face to see them for what they really are.”. When desperate, we can ignore the truth when it hits us in the head with a 2×2. My descretion? is much better when not fueled by uncertainty.

    If I have time later today, I can post recent examples of HR asshattery I’ve been fortunate to sidestep.

  6. My company, a large international firm, has one of those online systems. In fact, I did respond from a third party job board initially. The lengthy online form on my current employer’s web site had a place to list jobs where I said, ‘See resume.” I don’t remember if there was a place for references, but I typically say “available upon request’ on an automated form. Even though I didn’t fill out the form with all of the information, I was hired anyway. With an offer in hand, however, I was then asked to provide references and undergo a drug screening (I have no problem with either of these when I have an offer in hand). It has been about a year, and things are going well. I have even found a mentor from another location (who is 2 pay grades above me) as someone I can learn about the company from.

    Insofar as leadership is concerned, these are the principles I apply daily, and this is applicable whether you are a rank and file employee or the CEO:

    (1) The customer: Satisfy the customer, and you will get both new and repeat business. You cannot go wrong doing the right thing for the customer. Treat them like gold. (Yes, I know some customers can be unreasonable, but they are human.)
    (2) The employee: Hire people who are motivated to make great products and provide excellent customer service – people who really want to be there. Employee engagement (sorry for the buzzword) leads to producing excellent products and services.
    (3) The vendor: You need to buy goods and services to satisfy your supply chain – and you want vendors who are reliable and provide goods and services at a reasonable cost with on-time delivery.

    These principles apply whether the company is small or large, whether privately owned or are publicly traded. One might ask about the shareholders – but remember that shareholders are also owners, so the wise shareholder advocates these principles.

    If a company does not practice these principles, they may stay in business for a long time, but then their long-term success may not be as high as it could.

    Just remember: You exist because of the customer. Employees and vendors provide a way of satisfying those customers.

    • @Kevin: Thanks for posting that. It’s really simple, and your example and policies reflect the simplicity: Be a good person and work with good people. However, we all let ourselves get sucked into rationalizations. The biggest rationalization we all make from time to time when we know we’re dealing with a jerk (with whom we should part company) is: “Well, I have to do business with this person, so I just have to deal with the jerkiness.”

      No, you don’t. It’s always a choice. One I’ve blundered through too many times myself. We rationalize. We need to practice facing things for what they are.

  7. I’m the guy who had the original question about upfront references. I’m pleased to report I got hired, quickly, no references, no behavioral interview, no credit check, no online form, no cups. Then I got a call from a dithering, low-paying, online-form, hair-test employer (who could have hired me for 1/2 my current rate). What fun that was!!

  8. Have I jumped through silly hoops? Yes. There have been times when i was unemployed and it was critical to keep the cash flow positive. While I hated being in a position like that, I did what i needed to do.

  9. I think it is correct. How a CEO hire employees for the company. I am a student and I don’t completely know about the works in the company. But I guess it’s HR who recruit the workers.

  10. If the online form requires data in a field that you do not wish to input, simply write generic phrases. Examples:
    -For salary, I’ll put “market rate” or if a numerical value is required by the system I put “00000”.
    -For references or other fields, I’ll use the same principle and write “Upon Offer” (or variations of that, depending on subject).


    • @Kevin: Years ago, I was applying for a job at one of my alma maters, a private institution. They wanted to know every job I’d ever held, the names of all of my supervisors, phone numbers, education level(s) attained, when I graduated from high school and where, name of the principal and field of study, and salary history for all of my jobs. I tried entering all zeroes, all ones, all nines to indicate that I wasn’t giving them this information. Their system wouldn’t let me move forward. I tried entering my own phone number, and their system picked up that I’d entered it elsewhere, and gave me error messages, telling me to enter the employers’ phone numbers. The application was over 10 pages long, and I gave up before I finished it. The federal government provides space for you to indicate that your previous employer is no longer in business, or that your supervisor is deceased. Not so with this private institution! Same was true for the salary history space–you couldn’t progress to the next page until you had entered all of the information.

  11. So Dilbert’s CEO and pointy-haired boss really do exist!

    • YES THEY DO :( Mona. Unfortunately, Dilbert’s portrayal is more accurate than we would like to believe.

      • Dilbert is less satire and more documentary than people realize (so is “Office Space”).

        • No matter the satire or righteous indignation, the pointy-haired boss is still the boss!

        • OMG, that is soooo true.

      • I no longer see Dilbert as a comic but as simple truths :)

  12. Not every “opportunity” is worth pursuing. The CEO who doesn’t get involved in hiring / HR policies is part of the problem, quite clearly. Of course, CEOs hear little from job seekers about all of this, as most job seekers either simply walk away, or jump through the silly hoops silently. How do we get our message of dissatisfaction with the process directly to HR departments en masse? I wish Nick had a column in a publication read by HR types.

    • Well, we could start by naming names. I think I’m the only person who’s ever called out the company for their bad behavior towards me (Sallie Mae demanded not only a drug test but my tax returns in exchange for a crappy temp data entry gig — never again!). Seriously, do people think that protecting these companies identities is going to shame them into changing their behaviors? Would anything have come out of that doctor being dragged off United Airlines had the news stories referred to them as “a major airliner who shall remain nameless…”? (Perhaps I’m being a tad melodramatic, but I saw that video as an analogy of how I have been treated these past few years by the hiring world…)

      • @Sighmaster Couldn’t agree more.

      • @Sigh: Totally agree. Additionally and more specifically, that video of the dragged customer displays how the public in general has been treated by the airlines! Next in line for degradation would be the use of cattle prods. Hyperbole? I think not. :( Yet no one speaks up? Are we a gutless culture? Certainly looks like that.

      • What was the rationale for needing your tax returns for temp job? To verify pay?

        Anyway, there needs to be a law prohibiting pay verification via paystub, W-2, tax return or any other method. Same with credit checks. As I’ve said before, using drug testing as an example, companies seem compelled to widely copy bad practices so simply refusing is not always an option.

    • @EEDR: Quite a few “HR types” subscribe to the ATH newsletter and read this blog. They unabashedly write to tell me “I’m not one of those HR people!” And I’m glad to have them in our little community! Sadly, the HR profession doesn’t support outliers very well. I love ’em. :-)

  13. During my last job search, I received many wacky requests from employer firms. One in particular stands out. I interviewed for a senior paralegal position in a Wall Street law firm. Purely administrative position with zero signing authority. Yet this firm insisted that I give them permission to run a credit report before they would permit me to interview. I walked away from that “opportunity” after explaining that a credit report was not relevant to that position. “So sorry, but it’s policy.” Sure.

    I agree that the hiring process tells you most everything you need to know about a company. Now that my firm has agreed to be sold, I will be back out in this crazy job market. I am trying to keep my sense of humor intact.

    I will be back here often for your guidance and sage advice.

    • @Kathryn: Just keep using your good judgment.

  14. One thing that happened to me a recently: I am looking at changing careers – well, it’s not a big change, just it’s one sub field to another and there are plenty of transferable skills between them.

    For obvious reasons, I’m applying to jobs that don’t require a lot of experience.

    I applied to a company that is a household name and was once pretty big and profitable but is not as big as it once was. After applying, the hiring manager reached out to me to schedule a phone chat, but was insistent on knowing when I graduated college, because “he could only hire someone who graduated within the last year.” I told him when I graduated but said since I was “changing careers” that I was ok with taking a “junior” role. I got the same answer – can hire people within a year of graduation. I asked him nicely why that was the case because maybe there was something I was missing and could use in the future. He repeated his answer and just added “if anything changes, I’ll call you.”

    Now, I understand there are programs like grants, tax breaks, etc. out there to try and get new grads into jobs. That is not the issue and I support those programs to an extent. The problem I do have though, is at the very least it looks shady when you insist only hiring new grads without giving any context. If I gave these types of responses to co-workers/customers/vendors/applicants at other jobs I have/had, I would have been slapped on the wrist.

    • What that hiring manager did was code for age discrimination…

      • Yup, I am not a protected class (i.e. under 40) so I can’t purse anything legal. But, I was thinking about shaming them somehow, like getting a lawyer to write them a letter demanding that people know the reason for this policy, and that while on the surface is legal (we would consider 40+ year olds who graduated within the last year) it could be considered violating the “spirit of the law” if they don’t have a reason like a tax break.

  15. Nick,
    I just gave 3 references on an online form. 2 professional and 1 personal.
    It was for a background check for my new job.
    That’s the only way I will give any references. BTW No references were asked for during my application process.

    • @Tony: That’s reasonable if they already gave you an offer.

  16. I experienced requests for drug testing and personality assessments early in my career, when I was working in retail. To me, those practices are taking advantage of people’s desperation in a litigious society.

    I now work for large technology firms, and I’m always surprised (not in a good way) by the hiring requirements for someone at my level. For example, the firm I recently joined required me to fill out an online application for a background check, which is completed by a third-party company. The form they sent to me was essentially a job application, asking for things like “supervisor name and phone number.” I called the recruiter and told him I was not going to provide the names of my supervisors from 15 years ago, as that is not only completely irrelevant at this stage in my career, it would also be a waste of my time to track down their contact information, and a waste of the background check company’s time to call someone I worked for that long ago. The recruiter got frazzled and had to escalate to his boss, who said I *had* to submit the required information for the last 7 years at minimum. I told them I would provide them with the phone number for the employment verification service used by my previous employers, and if they couldn’t make that work, the deal was off. Magically, they figured out a way to make that work. Funny how that happens.

    • @Liz: Most mindless bureaucrats will fold when they hear NO from someone they really want to hire. I think many of those “requirements” are empty, devoid of reason. In many case, HR requires all that because HR paid a lot of money to an “HR Consulting Firm” that delivered a “Best Practices” recommendation that includes the kitchen sink. It’s how they justify the fees.

  17. I interviewed with Emerson Process a few years back. They gave me a stack of background/reference/etc. paperwork that they wanted filled out before an offer would be made. The interviews went well; I talked shop a lot and got a lot of “Yeah, this seems to be right up your alley/You’ll have no problem with this” comments.

    The paperwork was handed to me at the beginning of the interview process to be completed after all the interviews. The more and more I thought about it after the interview, the more and more I came to be really uncomfortable with the whole thing.

    So I just punted. Never filled out the paperwork. Never sent anything in. They never called me back or followed up so either they found someone better, they thought I was not interested, or they didn’t want me because I wouldn’t play their game. I guess it all worked out in the end. They had a lot of offshore people who could work cheaper so the position probably was only secure until sufficient “knowledge transfer” occurred.

  18. I’m not one for saying more laws are always needed, but if I was going to write an employment law, I’d write something like this:

    “All job advertisements/listing/postings, whether by recruiter/HR/job board/etc, must contain a description of the stages of the hiring process, including all required information from the candidate at each stage. Additionally, the listing must state if withholding of said information will cause the candidate to no longer be considered for the position.”

    At least that way, people would know ahead of time and could decide whether or not the hoops were worth it.

    • @Chris: Lawyers please chime in, but I think there are more disclosure regulations involved when you buy a car than get a job.

  19. Nick,

    In my recent job search, no matter what my “in” was, eventually I would have to fill out the online form. I found that invariably if it was an international company with a non-US home office, whether tax related or not, the job applications were always more intrusive, asking for dates of birth and jobs/education back to high school, and also always demanded the prior salaries and detailed references.

    Do you have any insight as how to deal with these “mandatory” applications, bordering on illegally noncompliant, particularly the ones that refuse to let you proceed without filling out the demanded information?

    • @Hank: If you read some of the other posts here, you’ll see that many people get the job even after they decline to comply. It’s a matter of how much the employer really wants you. And if they don’t want you enough to bend a silly rule that would compromise you, well, they don’t want you enough. Move on to an employer that really wants you.

      I think the solution is simple and direct. Call the hiring manager. Briefly outline the bottom-line value you could bring to the job, clearly state your high motivation to join the team, then explain that your professional policy is that you don’t disclose certain “personal, private, confidential” information to any employer — at least not until you are hired. However, “I’d be glad to invest as much time as necessary to demonstrate to you why I’d be the most profitable hire you could make.”

      The manager has to make a decision.

      If you’re facing an online app prior to talking with a manager, then I think you’re going about this all wrong. Identify, get introduced, and talk with the manager first and establish a mutual interest and respect. Otherwise, filling out that app makes you nothing more than another fish in the sea.

      No matter how you come at this, the reality is that managers tend to hire people who come to them via trusted contacts. No online application required.

  20. I’ve read several of these ‘war stories’ and they all point to the same truth- it is better to have a search consultant/headhunter/recruiter presenting you directly to a HA than going through a company HR department.

    I see where it is said that an HR department reflects the mentality of a company but that is not one hundred percent true.

    For thirty plus years I’ve been ‘going around’ HR and will continue to do so.

    I get more done this way and my candidates are not subject to the abuses of poorly-run HR departments. (Even the HA’s hate their HR departments, LOL!)



    • > For thirty plus years I’ve been ‘going around’ HR and will continue to do so.

      In your experience, do you find that HA’s still are beholden to HR, despite your best efforts to short circuit the process?

      I am just curious how things get done on your end, because I think many people have the experience that the OP has – they bypass HR because of all the red tape and lack of feedback/communications, but then are re-directed back to HR, like the OP.

      • @Dave: I think it depends upon how much of a spine the hiring manager has and the company itself. If the hiring manager is a spineless wonder, then you often get re-routed back to HR. That’s how my current interim dean operates (unlike the one who retired last year)–he’d rather let HR, which knows less than nothing about the needs we have or who would truly be qualified for a job, screen all candidates, make their decisions, then pass along those who made the cut to him. And if they dawdle or screw up, he doesn’t care. The previous dean was a bypass HR kind of person, and that makes a difference. The thing is, you often don’t know which kind the hiring manager is until you’ve wasted some time.

      • @Dave: What MaryBeth said. It’s a very good thing to encounter a spineless hiring manager who defers to HR. Those are the easy ones. You know not to pursue a job with them. Move on :-).

        Like Paul Forel, I almost always made it my business to deal directly with the HA. If HR got in the way too much, I’d move on to another client. I’d still “do business” with that company – but instead of placing people there, I’d recruit people out of the company instead. (But my policy has always been to never recruit from any company that’s my client. It’s unethical.)

        I’ve always found that when the HA always defers to HR, I’m going to wind up wasting my time – and so will the candidate. A new hire does not report to HR. They report to the HA. If the HA is too weak to control the hiring process, the HA is not worth working for – or the company itself is unworthy because it lets HR run the show.

        Many, many HAs will insulate the candidate and the headhunter from HR. They go to bat to get the hires they want. I’ve had HAs hand-walk job offers to the CFO, around HR, to get the hire done. HR finds out later. It’s sad when a HA has to do that – it reveals deep management problems. But as I said above, if the HA doesn’t control the hiring process, what does he or she control as a manager?

        Consider this a filter. Weak HA? Move on.

        • “…instead of placing people there, I’d recruit people out of the company instead.”


          If a company isn’t a client, it’s a source.

          HA’s that defer to HR should immediately raise a red flag. C-suite dwellers that cave to HR’s whims are like bright flashing red lights. Danger Will Robinson! As already indicated, these types of companies have persistently high turnover – go figure.

          If it appears that HR calls the hiring shots proceed at your risk. Drama is already on the menu.

  21. Actually, this CEO sounds like a good boss.

    He sets objectives for his HR team then lets them work out the “how”

    He doesn’t micro-manage. It’s not his role to determine the HR process, it’s his job to set the HR objectives. The HR manager then identifies the right “how” to deliver the “what”

    So I think the criticisms of the CEO are unwarranted

    • If the writer is to be believed, that “there is a lot of turnover, and little to no guidance from the CEO,” then the CEO is doing a poor job. High turnover is not an indicator of a healthy organization.

      Perhaps the CEO needs to reaccess his objectives for Recruitment and Operations (like “do not chase away or lie to potential employees” and “make a workplace where people want to stay”). But not taking corrective action when subordinates are failing hard is not leadership.

      • But is the subordinate *failing*?
        The subordinate is following a process that may be suboptimal, but if overall the recruiter is getting sufficient quantity and quality of recruits, it doesn’t matter.

        • We have no objective proof that the subordinate is failing (or succeeding).

          What we do know is the Recruiter/Hiring Manager called back a few weeks after his initial failure with the candidate. This is a strong indication he was unable to secure anybody else for the position between the first and the second contact.

          While we do not know for certain, it would be a reasonable assumption that there was not a “sufficient quantity and quality of recruits” for the organization during that time.

          • Yes, you are probably right, but the correct approach is not for the CEO to micromanage the recruiter on process, but to hold him/her accountable for results.

            The CEO is responsible for recruiting in so far as recruiting delivers sufficiently qualified staff to run the organisation. The CEO is also responsible for manufacturing in so far as ensuring manufacturing delivers products of sufficient quality and at a low enough cost. However the CEO should not be determining the settings of tooling machines – nor the recruitment process itself.

            • I agree that the CEO should not be micromanaging either recruiting or manufacturing. However, if someone alerts him of problems, getting off his butt to do something about it is not micromanaging. With regards to manufacturing, which I something about, if customers are calling him up to complain about poor shipped product quality, do you think his response should be that he leaves it up the manufacturing folks?

    • @Zhivan: there’s a big difference between letting people do their work without being a micro-manager and being disengaged. I’m the OP in this week’s Q&A. I wouldn’t expect a CEO to micro-manage HR or any other department, but when things are falling apart, then the CEO does need to get more involved. The hiring manager is complaining that he can’t find qualified people to work there, but when good people try to apply, they find nutty hiring “processes” and a hiring manager who has ceded all authority to HR, which relies upon lame excuses as to why they can’t bring him anyone. I refused to provide my references at such an early stage. I didn’t know how they’d treat them (do they outsource reference checking to third parties in India, sell their names, put their information all over the internet?)and HR told me, when I asked, that it was none of my business. How a prospective employer treats MY references is very much my business, and if they’re going to sell them, or be careless, then I’m not giving out that information. The other issue was that there was no offer on the table. I’d had a couple of short telephone conversations with the hiring manager, but no interview, and was told there would be no interview until I filled out their online application and got screened by HR. The hiring manager already had my résumé. Their system wouldn’t let me proceed until I filled in all of the required information, including names, addresses, contact information for my references. The CEO is content with the status quo, despite complaints from the hiring manager, and that confirmed my decision to walk away. If the CEO knows the hiring manager is having difficulties filling positions and a candidate tells him that the reason she walked away was HR’s nutty practices, you’d think he’d be concerned. There are no laws regulating this, so it is the company’s own policies, not government. The CEO should be concerned.

  22. As mentioned uptopic, if someone (past-me) is unemployed for long enough and not independently wealthy, then that person will jump through lots of hoops. Not necessarily all hoops–I most certainly rejected the ethical ones, but I did provide more info than I really wanted to.

    • @Carl: If a person needs to put food on the table, pay the mortgage and has no income, then I’ve got nothing to say about anything they might do to make that happen. More power to them. My goal is to make sure they nonetheless understand the difference between selling themselves out so they can eat, and working with an employer that respects them. We do what we must so we can survive to play another day. But when that next day comes, it’s important to know the difference between sh*t and shine-ola.

  23. I’m also wondering how often they really look at these references or if they do at all. I’ve heard of reference mining before (use your references to get other leads for the company or things like that). If you think it’s not likely they’ll look at them (as is, I believe, often the case with these online forms), then you could put “Donald Trump” as your reference in order to get past the automated crap.