I am so glad someone has finally called out the Human Resources (HR) department on its disrespect for job applicants. The sentiment seems to be that they can waste your time and keep you on hold indefinitely simply because — after all — a job hunter has nothing better to do. You’re unemployed (maybe) or in any event you have come to their company to be emotionally abused.
I am both surprised and appalled at companies that supposedly pride themselves on “great customer service” and then treat job applicants like simpletons. Don’t they realize those applicants are potential customers and can influence other potential customers and every other individual who will listen to the horror story of how poorly the applicant was treated by the company?
Sorry for venting, but I’ve got a few bones to pick. An HR manager just handed me a “dispute resolution agreement” that she requires me to sign before even considering me for a job. I am not questioning the legality of this screening method. I am asking your opinion of what type of company would demand this from an applicant even before an offer is made?
Then there are all the other types of corporate coercion that job seekers put up with, including credit checks, background checks, and other invasions of privacy, when no job offer has even been made. What happens to those credit reports and background summaries that companies require? This material stays on file. Who has access to it, and who is maintaining security?
If I am being hysterical needlessly, please let me know. In any event, I think it’s time someone addressed the invasion of privacy that applicants are subjected to.
Gee, you’re opening a can of worms, aren’t you? My compliments. I’d love to hear from employers on this subject.
Human Resources screening job applicants
You raise good questions about Human Resources practices in screening job applicants. The problem is, companies will do all sorts of things to a job candidate if they’re permitted. As you point out, the poking and prodding is all the more bizarre because employers do it before even making a bona fide offer.
I can understand a “contingent offer,” where a company makes an offer first, and the checks and tests are done after the company has put its money where its mouth is. If the applicant declines the checks and tests, the offer is withdrawn. But to demand so much before offering anything is ludicrous — yet it’s done all the time. (Employers will explain that this approach saves them time and money. But what of the candidate’s privacy if an offer isn’t extended after the kimono is opened?)
Companies are relatively free (until someone stops them) to ask job applicants to do cartwheels, pee in a cup, submit to a background check, expose your credit record, or take a cut in pay for a new job. But the decision — really – is yours.
What to do about all this? Question authority. Voice your opinion and decline whatever you don’t want to do. Perhaps more important, consider what it would be like to work for a company that wants you to sign a dispute resolution agreement in advance of a job interview. Why would you sign a “condition of employment” before you’ve seen the enticement of a job offer?
Are you worried about who will see your confidential credit report if you agree to release it, or the background check? Say so, and ask the company to sign an indemnification agreement stipulating what will happen if the company divulges your information to the wrong people. Talk to your attorney if necessary.
If a company can’t justify — to your satisfaction — a requirement of its applicant screening process, it’s your right and responsibility to walk.
Where do Human Resources screening practices come from?
The most honorable companies are doing nothing more than trying to protect themselves. You should do the same. In many cases you will find that the Human Resources department’s requirements are somewhat arbitrary and management has little idea what’s going on.
Why do employers do this stuff, especially in an economy where it’s hard to find and hire the right talent?
HR screening practices are often adopted from “advisory publications” that are circulated among companies by industry associations and “HR consultancies.” HR departments frequently adopt these without much consideration for their impact. I sometimes wonder how much an engineering or marketing department knows about the hurdles HR has set up for hard-to-find applicants. Do department managers realize they may be losing good candidates because of unreasonable and presumptuous application policies?
Talk to the decision maker, then decide
My advice is this: Make sure the decision maker — the person you would report to — understands what HR is doing and how you feel about it. The manager’s response will tell you whether HR’s presumptuous attitude is pervasive. But you may have to make a judgment and a choice. Then you can decide, do you go along, or do you walk? (Remember that if you go along, you may have to live with these people a long time.)
It’s important to note that not all HR people (and policies) are inconsiderate of job candidates. A good HR person will serve as an advocate of both the company’s interests and the candidate’s.
I’ll never forget the seasoned HR representative who stood up to make this very point in front of her company’s entire HR team in a workshop I was conducting. A junior HR rep had just upbraided me for saying essentially what I’ve written here. The seasoned HR person announced that in her 27 years on the job she never asked applicants to fill out forms in advance of an interview — even though failure to do so violated company policy. “It’s rude and it gives candidates the wrong message,” she said. “They are our guests and I treat them that way. If we need forms to be filled out, I do it after the interview process reveals mutual interest.”
Does HR have anything to say?
I don’t think you’re being hysterical at all. You’re calling HR out. Some HR folks may have good reasons for their application policies. My question is, do they really understand the implications of these policies out in the professional communities they recruit from? Especially in these times when employers cry they can’t get the talent they need?
I invite HR and other managers to comment.
Use your judgment before you agree to anything during the job application process. Keep your standards high and let others know you expect them to do the same. Avoid people and organizations that don’t.[Note: This column appeared in different form in Fearless Job Hunting. It summarizes several complaints I’ve received from job seekers — and my advice remains the same.]
Have a story about how HR went too far when “screening” you for a job? Did you feel coerced? Did you give in? What was the outcome? What can job seekers do to get more respect from HR?