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HR People We Love

In the March 6, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who works in HR makes an impact and a great impression.

HRSometimes I fear readers think I hate HR. What I hate is what HR has become in a broad sense – highly bureaucratic; overly, counter-productively and inexcusably automated; and too distant from hiring managers and job applicants. (See 6 things HR should stop doing right now in the PBS NewsHour Ask The Headhunter feature.)

But I also see some shining lights in HR and I’m tickled to show you one in this week’s edition.

While it’s a rare company that has even a decent HR system in place, I get a kick out of individual HR people who apply common sense and business sense to the recruiting and hiring parts of their jobs. They shine! They get the best candidates in front of managers quickly, and their goal is to get jobs filled. When you encounter one of these folks, you know it because they make things happen intelligently, deftly and with a smile.

These are the HR people I love, and I love them even more when they share their insights and practices here on Ask The Headhunter.

Reader Jenn works in HR as a recruiter — and I’m going to let her discuss what I think are some of the best practices I’ve encountered in the rough-and-tumble world of HR. (Jenn posted another version of her comments on ATH. All I did was edit it a bit to fit the format of the newsletter, and to highlight her main ideas. All credit goes to Jenn.)

Jenn’s Rules of HR

Nick, in a recent column you wrote about the risk job applicants take when they wait for HR to judge them based on their resume: “The better risk for a job hunter is to deal directly with the hiring manager…”

1. Make it happen quickly

I couldn’t agree more. I’m a corporate recruiter (regional non-profit healthcare system) and my initial goal is to get the strongest candidates and hiring managers talking to each other as quickly as possible.

I care about the candidate experience and I know the best ones will have the most career options, so I want them engaging with the hiring manager sooner rather than later.

2. Avoid unnecessary screening

Sometimes I’ll have a hiring manager (HM) who is married to the idea that I must first phone-screen candidates, before the HM talks to them. Often this step is unnecessary and wastes valuable time.

I recruit for dozens of different competencies in several areas of the organization. I cannot always field in-depth candidate questions about the role and don’t see a lot of value in this. To me it’s a waste of the candidate’s time (and mine) and serves only to check a box that the hiring manager believes (incorrectly) to be important. And it means the position will go unfilled for that much longer.

3. Put the managers in the game immediately

I encourage my HMs to contact candidates of interest to them right away. I want them to start interviews as soon as possible. Especially if an HM is really excited about a candidate, it doesn’t make sense to insert an arbitrary layer into the process that adds no value, delaying a hiring decision unnecessarily.

4. Make HR’s role short and useful

What information does HR need to judge a candidate?

For me it’s only this: Does the candidate meet the bare minimum requirements? In our business that means the necessary specific healthcare license and relevant previous experience if the position is not entry-level.

That’s all that is needed before applications are turned over to the HM for review.

5. Use human judgement

However, I still read all resumes and cover letters personally. I look for the “nice to haves” that might make a candidate more desirable to the HM. I look for qualities that algorithms are likely to miss.

My goal is to identify candidates who are a stronger fit than most, for both the position and the organization. I look for qualifications beyond the minimum requirements. That requires human judgement.

6. Light a fire under managers

In my organization, the HMs drive the interview process and I don’t have any control over how quickly HMs are engaging candidates. All I can do is consult and advise, and make recommendations on the best way to proceed. It’s frustrating.

To light a fire under HMs, I rely on what applicants submit. I want to see it so I can discuss it with the HMs and encourage them to reach out to the candidates immediately, before they are no longer available.

7. Manage the hiring managers

Some of my HMs are really proactive and great at hiring. I coach the ones who aren’t there yet. My job is to help them make changes to their process that are better for the candidates and for the HMs — to get positions filled more quickly. [For an example, see Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).]

Nick’s Reply

Oh, what a relief to see a bright light in the corporate HR darkness. When companies need to have a recruiting and hiring process in place, they must remember how critical it is to have HR people who use the system rather than let the system use hiring managers and job applicants. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

No corporate hiring system is going to be as potent as I’d like because most are watered down with weak technology. But like the Dos Equis guy who says, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…”

There are HR people I love, and Jenn is one of them. Many thanks to her for sharing her rules. I’d love to add more savvy rules from more HR folks! How about it?

Who do do you love in HR? Who does a great HR job within the confines of a corporate structure? How do they do it? What makes them stand out? What rules should HR live by?

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  1. It’s great that Jenn tries to ensure that the job applicant and hiring manager meet as quickly as possible, avoiding unnecessary screenings etc.

    Unfortunately, too many seem to believe the more hoops that the job applicant(s) have to jump through, the better. I think I mentioned the job applicant who went through 29 interviews and didn’t even get the job:

    Reminds me of this poor guy’s experience, which was due to misunderstanding, but perhaps still serves as an analogy:

  2. It’s nice to see the occasional post about someone in HR that “gets it”.

    Maybe Jenn, or someone like her, needs to put out an “Ask HR” blog to kick the industry in the pants, the way Nick has for the recruiting industry. It would certainly be an uphill battle, just as Nick’s has been. However, while the drones may have the high ground (metaphorically speaking), they don’t have the wherewithal to hold it forever.

  3. Thank goddess for a rational HR person. Do you think it will catch on . . . again? Will we begin to recognize that not every career can be computerized and/or “clerkified”? Let’s keep our fingers crossed :)

  4. I went to college in the 1980’s – and as an engineering student I was part of the cooperative education (co-op) program where I would alternate school terms with work terms.

    In those days, as well as early in my career, here is what would happen when I would be looking for a job:

    1. Find out about a job – typically from a personal referral, want ad (classified ad) in the newspaper, or applying directly to a potential employer.

    2. Write a cover letter and along with a copy of my resume, put them in an envelope and send them to the employer OR if a local employer, I might walk in off the street and apply in person.

    3. Wait. (Meanwhile look for other opportunities and apply to them.)

    4. You could ALWAYS count on an employer response. Most of the time, I would receive a form thank you letter.

    5. If an employer was interested, they would call you on your home or business phone and ask you to come in for an interview. If the interview was out of town the phone call would be followed by a mailing of instructions to arrange your on site interview.

    6. Eagerly anticipate going on your interview. Meanwhile, apply to other positions.

    7. Go on the interview.

    8. Wait. Meanwhile, apply to other positions.

    9. Feedback. You always got it. If it came in the mail it was bad news. If you got a phone call it was usually good news. The good news was a job offer, of course. The good news would often be followed up by a written offer mailed to you.

    10. Start work at your new job!

    Bear in mind that this was 30 years ago and it was for more junior level positions. The thing I miss? Always getting feedback.

    I am still being pursued by a major company that went radio silent for a week. So I pinged them. The hiring manager has been traveling. They will get back with me this week. (This company, because they are a household name, is very conscious of what the hiring manager calls “a good candidate experience.” PS: They are doing very well – they also focus on the customer experience. I will not share the company name.). Keep in mind that I like my current job.

    • Kevin, nowadays your point seven is often expanded to:
      a) phone screen
      b) panel interview
      c) another panel interview
      d) cultural fit panel interview
      e)…z) more interviews until you have met everyone except the janitor.

      Typically, in those days the interview was a one on one interview with the hiring manager which made it easier to build a rapport with the interviewer.

      Nowadays job applicants are often confronted by panel interviewers where it is difficult to build a rapport unless you are really a very extrovert type of person, such as a sales guy.

      • I agree, however, in situations where they really are interested, the initial interview may be as long as or longer than expected, but that’s pretty much it. In my current job I was interviewed by two people, and at the end of the hour they said that I was the number one candidate – they would check out a couple other candidates that week. At the end of the week the manager called me and said they want to offer me the position, but being a big company there were several steps.

        In other words, I was in. I talked by phone to my manager’s boss and to HR. My manager called me each week to report on the status. Finally, the offer was presented to me – in writing.

        If a company IS NOT interested in you, they may put you through several steps to make it seem like they were interested.

        I have NEVER gotten a job where the decision would only be made after 2, 3, or more interviews. Why do they keep interviewing you? Because they aren’t sure about you but they need to fill the position. Also, if they put you through a lot of steps without telling you where you stand, you may not be a strong candidate. You also come away feeling like they spent a lot of time considering you.

        One time, I had an interview that lasted half a day. I talked to 6 people for an hour each. I was asked tough questions and just really felt awful at the end of the day. I decided I did not want a job there. They decided I didn’t make the grade (they were looking for a purple squirrel). I got a call a week later that I didn’t get the job. The company is not doing well. I dodged a bullet.

        My current job after nearly 2 years has yielded the best performance review of my life with my manager telling me that I worked out better than expected.

        I even took a bit of a pay cut. It was worth it.

        • I recall reading a comment that a company brought in an older job applicant at least a couple of times for an interview to make it seem that they were really interested. Then he got the reject email.

          I thought that was so cruel. I’m an older job seeker myself and job searching is already so discouraging due to age discrimination. It’s especially cruel to play with people like that. They probably just needed to tick a box that they had ‘considered’ older applicants.

          • As an older job applicant, I have found that the reason I have a harder time finding a job is due to the fact that I am applying to positions where more experience is required, and there aren’t as many of these jobs.

            If companies are deliberately rejecting older but more experienced candidates, I have to ask why they are doing that. If I were starting a company, I would seek out people across the board – and two groups that I find highly valuable are retirees and mothers with young children – especially single mothers. Yet these two groups are ignored as they may need more flexibility. A retiree is likely to have health issues, and a mother of young children may have to drop things at a moment’s notice to tend to her children (Sorry fathers – I am a father too – but mothers still bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities.)

            For all the flexibility that mothers and retirees need, they can pay you back with experience, tenacity, and efficiency.

            I don’t discriminate. Now here is a question: What about a situation where the boss is in his or her early 30’s and you are in your early 50’s? How can this work?

            • I’m not sure what you are mean. Are you saying that you can’t work for a boss that’s younger than you?

            • I have worked for bosses younger than me – and success does not depend on age. Even so, I am wondering how often this happens.

        • In my experience, the odds of me getting the job are inversely proportional to the number of people I interview with.

      • “more interviews until you have met everyone except the janitor.”

        Talk to the janitor. He may give a good picture of how the company treats people.

    • Hey, I remember those days! Good times, good times ;)

    • @Kevin: The most important step in your list is “Meanwhile, apply to other positions.”

    • Well, I was interviewed by a company that probably cares about candidate experience, but blew it (and their name is Springer publishing).

      Asked me what animal I would be?

      I knew I was not going to get the job because my initial “culture fit screen” (their word for it not mine) was done by a 20 something perky young girl.

      Not one question to determine my qualifications for the job. I cannot imagine why they called me. I was passed on to a department head but no dice. Everyone there was in their early 20s and I wasn’t.

  5. Jenn mentions “coaching” managers. That’s something that HR could do to help the company, but rarely seems to do. Managers need coaching not only on hiring, but also retaining and developing people. It hurts a company when they make a great hire, only to lose the person a year later because their manager isn’t up to the task of managing.

    I know an HR person who was contacted by a VP about a problem with a subordinate director. The VP asked to HR person, a line manager, to talk to the VP’s hire and straighten the subordinate out. The HR person tried to explain to the VP that she had to handle it herself, that it was in her job description and she needed to do it to earn the respect of the subordinate. The VR refused to have the discussion. Not a good outcome, but an example of HR trying to step up and coach a manager.

    • This reminds me of how inefficient line managers have been in my experience. Rather than my project manager (i.e., “boss”) directly giving me feedback, it has had to go through a third party “line manager” who knows nothing of my work on any given day. Results have been pretty conflicting because the line manager cannot explain boss’s feedback or answer questions. I have to go back to my boss to get answers/clarification. This is exhausting and a waste of time for all parties.

      Any chance to get a rebuttal recorded is moot because the “feedback” is considered much like a performance review, which means signed and sealed days (weeks?) ago — case closed!

  6. Regarding developing people, one of the most hare-brained ideas that HR has come up with is the so-called ‘team building exercises’.
    Many people hate them but feel obliged to participate:

    • Training in the work might be more relevant and helpful to everyone, eh? Probably costs more.

  7. Jenn.

    You are hired.

    Nick…unicorns do exist.

    • Wow thank you! There are other HR folks out there who are trying hard to fill positions more efficiently while trying to make sure the candidate experience is a positive one, but definitely the world could use more of that.

      • Thanks, Jenn, for listing the 7 points.

        This reminds me of what I went through in the late 1980s and 1990s when the HR actually got on the ball in contacting the prospective applicants for job positions. Generally, Hiring Managers were required to interview candidates immediately after a plant manager or head supervisor reviewed the resume or application. Then onward to the HR for a more in-depth interviews and then an offer letter was snail-mailed (or contacted an applicant by phone).

        Like Kevin said about the feedbacks in the interview process, I had a very good interview with a senior HR and a trainee who asked me intelligent questions which I enjoyed answering very frankly. The offer letter came two days later and I accepted this job at a reputable company in the mid 1990s. From the resume drop-off at the front desk to the senior plant manger’s desk and short phone interview via the TDD to the hiring manager interviewing me in person and passing on the recommendation to the HR who then interviewed me (in person) in less than a week.

        This interview process always stayed with me, as I find it harder to have a similar interview nowadays.

        • That’s a really great process. Imagine if all jobs were filled with such efficiency. Good things happen all around when everyone is committed to getting things done and filling positions fast. When there’s a vacancy, it puts a strain on remaining employees, and if a job is vacant long enough that can sometimes encourage more attrition, compounding the problem. When I have hiring managers who aren’t really doing enough to move the process along I usually recommend to them that we put the position on hold until they’re ready to start contacting and interviewing candidates. When I do this one of two things will happen: either they will get busy with the interview and selection process, or they will agree and I put the position on hold and notify candidates so they aren’t forever in limbo wondering if the job is really available.

          • Jenn, what I can’t understand is HR not contacting those that have taken the time to go for an interview, to let them know that they have decided to hire another candidate.

            Just a couple of days ago I followed up with the HR contact regarding a position I interviewed for. Within an hour I received a response that they had decided to hire another candidate. I think if I hadn’t followed up I would probably still be waiting for an update.

            It seems to be that almost half don’t bother letting you know, even after one has gone in for an interview.

            • It’s incredibly rude when HR does this. Waiting to hear back whether not you got a job is nerve-racking enough. How soon some people forget what it’s like to be on the other side of the table as a job seeker. I doubt they would appreciate if they were treated the way they treat candidates.

            • To add to this: I think there is a common assumption made that companies are a “job coach” to people they reject for jobs so they give feedback that is so generic and worthless.

              But, then companies will turn around and complain about a talent shortage. Maybe if they gave people actionable and timely feedback, candidates could actually do something about it and apply at some point in the future.

              Oh, and maybe this would also get finally realize that their recruitment process is a steaming pile of you know what if they can’t give any feedback other than subjective feelings?

            • Too many HR departments compartmentalize hiring as a “just in time” task. The smart ones realize that every rejected candidate (especially if they did well in interviews) is… still a potential hire later on, if you stay in touch with them and behave respectfully. More important, rejected candidates who feel they were treated respectfully are potential sources of other good candidates.

              Yet too many in HR “lose” those contacts and waste the time they’ve invested interviewing them. Recruiting is a long game. I’ve placed people more than once over a 10 year period (and not because I “stole” them from my own clients). And most of my placements were referred by candidates I never placed but stayed in touch with and helped in any way I could.

              My mentor in headhunting always taught me to do favors for people. “That’s where business comes from in the future.” That’s where more great candidates come from, too!

          • @Jenn: “When there’s a vacancy, it puts a strain on remaining employees, and if a job is vacant long enough that can sometimes encourage more attrition, compounding the problem.”

            I often refer to Wharton labor expert Peter Cappelli. He points out that corporate accounting systems have no way to account for the cost of a vacant job. I think it explains a lot about why there’s not always a rush to fill vacant jobs.

      • @Nick

        “The smart ones realize that every rejected candidate (especially if they did well in interviews) is… still a potential hire later on, if you stay in touch with them and behave respectfully. More important, rejected candidates who feel they were treated respectfully are potential sources of other good candidates.”

        One personal example of this: I was once turned down for a job at an organization but had a good experience and got honest feedback on how to better my candidacy.

        Guess what?

        I did what they suggested and got hired there a year later.

        Why would you essentially p*ss away candidates, especially if there was nothing really wrong with them just there were people out where that were better at the time?

        • Which is why I will always post about my bad experiences. I don’t know if this does any good, but if they care as much they say they do, then I guess I can feel good about getting even. If not, it allows me to vent.

          The stupidest interviews like “What animal would you be?” always get posted to “Glassdoor.”

  8. It helps to have a sense of humour when job searching :)

  9. @Nick: The step “Meanwhile, keep applying to other positions” is the one thing that has not changed since I first searched for jobs when in High School.

  10. I can keep applying or not. The results are the same after 10 -15 years of relentless searching. There simply is no way to get past the obsession with “culture fit.” I don’t fit and that is that.

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