We’ve been talking about the goofy behavior of HR departments in your favorite companies, and its counterproductive consequences. This topic seems to expand the more we talk about it.

In a recent thread reader Nic raises a fundamental question and puts a sharp point on the stick:

What I see taking place in these idiotic HR departments, especially during this economy, is the finding of every excuse under the sun NOT to interview someone. What is really going on?

It’s a simple thing, and it escapes virtually everyone’s attention. In companies across the country, HR is no longer in the hiring business. HR is in the rejection business, and for a very good reason:

HR solicits millions and millions of irrelevant resumes for a handful of open jobs.

Of course HR spends most of its time rejecting applicants. That’s because HR spends virtually all of its recruiting budget soliciting applicants who have no business applying for these jobs — except that HR asked them to.

RIP HRHR has planned its own funeral by engineering itself out of the recruiting and hiring business. HR is now all about picking millions of burrs out of its ass after sitting down in — no, change that, after buying its way into — the job-board weed patch. HR has surrounded itself with everyone it doesn’t want, and now it’s spending precious corporate dollars to get rid of what it bought.

HR’s chief function in corporate America has become to fund the job boards and the recruitment advertising industry. That’s why HR is in the rejection business. There is no other way for HR to deal with the masses of irrelevant, wrong, useless resumes and applications it pays billions of dollars to collect.

HR does indeed find every reason under the sun not to interview someone.  It must. What else is it going to do with the millions of zombies it invites to apply for jobs? This is a corporate funeral parlor, not a hiring office.

If you don’t want to join the walking dead after you submit your resume, don’t wander into the HR weed patch. Don’t let this be your funeral, too.


  1. Hi Nick…still following your pearls of widsom and I love this post. Following your advice on targeting companies pro-actively and not just responding to job posts. Close to maybe landing. I’ll keep you posted!

  2. @Linda: Go for it! Nice to hear from you.

  3. I’m noticing something that might represent the other side of the same coin.

    That is candidates who complain about being misled about company culture, or are fearful of that happening. The gist of their questions seems to be “how can I get accurate information during an interview?”

    I feel tempted to say that leaving it until then is the wrong way to go about it – it’s too late. Why should one expect the company representatives to be candid at that point? It would be like asking one’s fiancé the day before the wedding, “Oh, by the way, can I be sure that you aren’t a controlling jerk?” Is he really going to turn around and confess all his dark secrets right then?

    But I’m sure that if I did ask that question, I’d get a response something like this: “How can I possibly do that when I’m sending out dozens of applications a week?”

    HR’s little game can only work as long as job seekers are willing to play along.

  4. Nick, excellent topic – a new perspective on the hiring business, and an “eye-opener” indeed.
    I am just writing to say thank you for all those posts and for readers’ comments, too. I have adopted a whole new approach to jobsearch, and is seems to be working.
    Thanks a lot (from Poland, recently relocated from the UK)

  5. @Malagos: I’m grateful for all the great readers’ comments, too — including yours! Thanks!

  6. C’mon, Nick! These companies are just being *selective.* It’s like those universities that intentionally recruit more and more potential students to apply. With the same size class, they can reject more students and be “more selective.” After all, who’d want to go to school A that accepts 25% of its applicants when you can go to school B that only accepts 10%. It’s obviously better!

    By rejecting more and more candidates, HR can talk about how selective they are when it comes to recruiting people. And as we all know, that automatically means only the very best candidates are selected. Obviously, the best situation would be to have everyone in the world apply; by default, you’d hire the best person for the job.


  7. @Chris: If HR sent out the kinds of rejection letters universities do, the world would be a better place!

    As for everyone in the world being able to apply — they do! It’s called the job boards!

  8. OK, I suspect that Chris is having a bit of fun here, but I do wonder: Why do people think that having more to sort through means that you’ll make a better choice? How easy is it to sort through 300 of anything in a limited time? Anyone heard of information overload?

    It reminds me of moving house. The local charities did very nicely out of me last time I moved because I didn’t have the time and energy (and, let’s face it, motivation) to make considered decisions about what to keep.

    In this instance, it didn’t matter too much, and I’m pleased for the charities, but when the future of a company is at stake, it’s a different thing altogether.

  9. We have a hiring freeze.. 2 important positions became vacant.. I guess the people finally had it with our company… What does our wonderful and productive HR dept do? Post those 2 hire restricted jobs on that incredibly fantastic site, Monster.com. Within 2 days over 400 resumes were received from all parts of America. That told me something right there about our economy. While those jobs are important to us, they may pay 40k max. I was told HR wanted to send feelers out there to see what the market looks like and as the resumes still pour in they have just made themselves weeks of busy work. There is no intention of hiring anyone, at all. I just look in utter amazement at the Director of HR and feel sad that this is what he has to resort to, to keep his dept looking busy… The followup calls from prospective employees are now coming in and they plan on interviewing people from the area knowing full well there are no positions available. This just isn’t right. After witnessing this, I just may be the 3rd person to leave. I wonder how many other HR departments post on Monster with no intention of hiring. I believe in Karma.

  10. There is no question that over the last 15 – 20 years that the “human” has been removed from the Human Relations department. HR has moved from an organization that helps and supports employees and management, to one that is entirely focused on how to not get sued. And that means avoiding even the possibilities of hiring someone because that means rejecting someone else….and possibly getting sued. I guess the 2 questions on my mind are, “how did we get here?” and “how do we get out?” What will it take for HR to return to their positive roots of helping “humans” in the organization become successful?

  11. I have a friend who works in HR. She agrees that the hiring process is broken, but the senior level staff in HR do not want to change how they recruit. It seems that HR is stuck in their current way of thinking and unwilling to change.

    For job seekers, it is frustrating.

  12. As has been said in other discussions, this isn’t an HR problem, it’s a management problem. Sr mgmt takes the human out of HR, not HR. I know a lot of HR professionals. They didn’t choose that for a career so they could downgrade the humanity in a company, tear organizations apart, outsource jobs elsewhere, blow people off. they actually took the human part seriously. All you have to do is recruit for HR positions to see there’s a ton of HR people on the street. Why? downsizing. Executive Mgmt in their wisdom has stripped organizations bare of true HR support, with the remnant unable to help anyone at all other than as a clearing house of negative actions inside and outside. The hiring managers, the managers in the trenches have likewise seen their workforce downsized, with no relative downsizing of expected work. While those who feel HR sucks may see this as justice, the hiring managers have to assume the work their HR people were doing for them. And they were, helping to recruit being one of them.
    Another factor is likely at play in the rejection game. There’s an old saying “Show me metrics, and I’ll show you behavior” The example of posting unreal jobs is likely an example. It’s highly likely that HR Manager uses the # of resumes his department needs to process to address some metric he/she must meet. Test the market my eye. Ditto on my point above, per a ratio of HR people to # of people “supported” where 1/1000 is much better than 1/100.
    If a company wants people, inside and outside treated well, respected etc. then top management has to lead by example.
    In case you wonder, by virtue of being a recruiter, I’m considered “HR” where I work, and work at times on HR stuff. But I’m not a professional HR person, but rather in my prior life an IT/Software R&D Manager. For a long long time, and you have to live in a cave not to absorb common sense (or Not) HR practices. I know enough to be dangerous about it from being on the receiving end of about all theories and practices.
    And somewhat cycnical about executive management’s views. When I see a prospectus of a F1000 company that touts how important people are, my first thought is “Run!”

  13. PS: if you haven’t come across it here’s a bit of job hunting humor that floats around.

    To Whom It May Concern:

    Thank you for your letter of [date of the rejection letter]. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me employment at this time.

    This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals. Despite [Name of the Company]’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet with my needs at this time. Therefore, I will initiate employment with your firm immediately.

    I look forward to working with you. Best of luck in rejecting future candidates.

  14. The job board/too many applicants situation represents a classic conundrum. Before we criticize posting on job boards overly much, we have to have an understanding of Equal Opportunity law and the requirements for compliance. When there is an audit, we expect HR to handle that, right?

    There is no question that the recruiting process in many/most? HR departments is broken, as DLS says. I also agree with the statement that many HR Recruiting departments are more in the business of rejecting than recruiting applicants.

    How many people have had the experience of applying via the company website and months later the job is still shows ‘open’ if you log in to check the status? That’s probably because the position was posted to meet the requirement for equal opportunity to apply. But, when 400 applications came in, the recruiter and hiring manager accepted referrals because who has time to go through 400 applicants? Unfortunately, those applicants are left hanging and it creates a bad reputation for the company.

    It is a tremendous challenge to build, lead, and manage a best-in-class internal recruiting department while maintaining compliance with EEO and if the company has govt contracts, the OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs).

    It is frustrating for everyone – job seekers, hiring managers, recruiters. However, it can be done better than it is done at most companies. It is not an easy job to convince leadership – and internal HR peers – that the change is well worth it. As evidenced in this discussion, few people have an understanding of the tremendous administrative burden (and cost) associated with ensuring compliance while also excelling at attracting, recruiting, and onboarding talented employees.

    I recently spoke with a colleague who estimates that only about 20% of internal recruiting departments are doing it right. I have been involved in several recruiting department transformations and can attest to the internal resistance within HR. As would be expected by all of your comments, the hiring managers almost always quickly embrace the new approach.

    I am not, however, without cynicism. My job was recently eliminated because “we’re not hiring in this economy.” Short-term thinking is abundant.

  15. @Recruiting Leader: You make some very valid points, especially about the compliance problem.

    But that’s where I part company on your position. The compliance “explanation” is little more than an excuse for inaction on the part of the HR community as a whole.

    I don’t see HR associations (which all seem to recognize and talk about the problem) stepping up to mount public campaigns to change federal law. These associations are playing patsy to the feds — because such compliance regulations create so many HR administrative positions. Why should HR associations bite the federal regs that feed them?

    So I find your explanations disingenuous.

    The HR profession knows damned well what’s going on, and it tacitly promotes the very practices (and regulations) that add unnecessary costs to their companies, and that wreak havoc on job hunters. It’s all indefensible and counterproductive. It’s unforgivable.

    If HR knows that the EO regulations are destructive, then HR as a profession should stop crying crocodile tears while it cleans up on massive salaries for bureaucratic jobs that do nothing to help companies hire good people.

    20%. That’s pathetic. The profession should be ashamed of itself. This house of cards is coming down in any case – as companies rebuild from this shattered economy, HR functions will be decimated, as they should be.

    I’ll take HR’s “explanations” seriously when I see HR associations launch a campaign to change federal laws.

  16. Sorry, Nick. You got this one wrong. And, quite frankly, your response is a bit vitriolic.

    I wasn’t defending HR Recruiting practices. In fact, I am one of the ones who is trying to do it right amidst all of the bureaucracy and running into the same entrenched issues you complain about. And do you seriously think when my colleague and I were talking about 20% of organizations doing it right that we thought that was OK? No, we were lamenting the sad state of affairs. The HR folks you are so angry at would never read your blog.

    My point was, that in any change effort, you cannot ignore what is currently in existence. So, while I as a leader I am trying to change things, I STILL have to ensure compliance with the current state OR put the company at risk of fines. Ever been audited by EEO or OFCCP, Nick? As I’m sure you well know, changing government practices is not a flip of the switch.

    You won’t get my thanks for lumping me in with all of the HR folks who tacitly comply without offering an opinion countering the current state.

  17. @Recruiting Leader: You were very forthright in pointing out the abject failure of HR as a whole (I wasn’t accusing you personally of anything – I don’t know you). It’s a situation I’m angry about, but not with out good reasons. You’ve enumerated several of them.

    But please consider the points you make. While you decry the status quo, as a “Recruiting Leader” you don’t offer any suggestions about how to change the top-level system, which comprises two factors: federal law, and the HR profession itself. If there’s leadership within HR, where is it?

    You say we shouldn’t criticize posting jobs on the boards. But it’s that very system that enables HR to post such pathetic performance, and it also enables HR to gloss over the problem regulations while it continues to feed the problem – using the boards.

    I see no leadership in pointing to the compliance problem – but then failing to suggest how the HR profession itself could lead the way to change those regulations.

    I’ve no beef with you if you have run HR operations that have tried to change things. My beef is with the deflection of responsibility.

    Elected officials create the laws. But it’s professional associations and lobby groups like SHRM that influence lawmakers. Why would any self-respecting HR practitioner not stand up and oppose the laws themselves, if that’s the source of the problem?

    Corporations and business associations should be fighting the same federal battle. But I’m really tired of the HR profession trying to explain away the problem. “We’re stuck implementing the law.” I get that, and I don’t blame HR for following the law.

    But if HR recognizes the problems with that law, what’s HR doing about it? I see nothing. “Lamenting the sad state of affairs” is not leadership. It’s acquiescence. Is it unreasonable to point out that the HR profession benefits from such regulations? How many HR people do you know whose jobs rely on those regs? That’s what bugs me. And that’s where my vitriol is directed – not at you.

    “…all of the HR folks who tacitly comply without offering an opinion countering the current state…”

    I don’t see how tacitly complying and offering counter opinions changes anything. That’s not leadership. Going to legislators and working to change the law – that’s leadership. Where is it in the HR community?

    I hear your frustration, and I sympathize. But the next step is action. What actions is the HR community taking?

  18. Do you not agree with equal opportunity for qualified women and minorities? Do you disbelieve that discrimination and stereotyping are alive and well?

  19. I’ve been thinking for a while that “equal opportunity”, when done in the traditional resume and interview way, is merely an equal opportunity to be ground down and demoralised.

    I do know something of what I speak. A family member by marriage is from a minority group and had this experience.

  20. Recruiting Leader,

    I live in WA which houses a very very diverse work force. EO is practically a joke when I, labeled as a white, am out numbered by people from outside the US.

    You can’t fall back on that. At least not up here.

    fear of lawsuits?

    I have been snail mailed by 1 company with a “rejection” letter. ONE!

    Most complaints I have been reading are people being left out with no word at all. just left hanging. There is an irony in all this. The good solid working people that are being laid off while useless workers remain on…are being laid off by the very same inept hr personnel who refuse to do their job and send out notifications.

    Please explain that one.

  21. There is a very good article in More Magazine probably Oct issue about Equal Opportunity laws. It talks about universities in Calif. when the law was changed. It contains other good info and opinions as well… there are quotes from a lady who wrote a new book about Equal Opportunity Laws.

  22. @JaneA,
    If “equal opportunity” means “being ground down and demoralized” equally it is better to do it for the whole dollar and not the $0.77 on the dollar that women with the same qualifications as men are getting paid. This is partially based on negotiating skills or lack thereof, but it is also based on prejudices that take up residence largely in the subconscious or unconscious mind. Few people would say they are racist or sexist, but actions always speak louder than words. Within my lifetime there was “help wanted male” and “help wanted female” sections in the classified ads of newspapers. As recently as the 1970s women were inelligle for loans without a male co-signer, preferably a husband or father. In the dorms at university, women had to adhere to strict curfews. Men did not. Not sexist? Doesn’t carry over into the working world? People have completely changed? Or is sexism and racism (normally) simply less overt now? One interesting thing happening in the economy now is wage arbitrage between the sexes. More woman are working than men, because companies figured out that women could do the same jobs just as well, with the same dedication, and women don’t expect as much money as men.

    I love the letter. Companies need a heaping dose of their own medicine. Right on! I might try that. If they abuse you during the courtship when they are wooing you, how will you be treated after the “marriage?” You see, employers and employees alike have come to see companies as “giving out” jobs. Wrong! We work for the money, and they pay us a portion and keep the rest, that is the nature of a company’s “profit.”

    @Norrin (again),
    I feel your pain about EO. You are obviously in science and engineering. Same here. I have often been the lone, “white” natural born American on project teams. The rest are Indians, Chinese and a smaller amount Russian-born. (Thanks for lowering my wages and chances of hire, H1-B visa program!) It just fascinates me that companies dominated by white people are “discriminating” while many Indian-owned companies unabashedly ONLY hire other people from India. Ditto for Mexicans exclusively hiring Mexicans.

    At first glance it seems that my response to JaneA contradicts my response to Norrin. Not so! We NEED an Equal Opportunity Commission. But the Commission also need to understand that while women and minorities are often targets, other ethnicities can also be discriminated against (including whites and men.)

    I worked under a devout Mormon manager at one extremely large multinational corp. One money-grubbing, sly, young woman changed her religion in order to receive several promotions. Prayers at corporate meeting were specific to Mormonism. (No one else there was a Mormon.) The Mormon manager did not consider coffee drinkers, cigarette smokers, alcohol sippers, or other “evil-doers” to be morally fit for promotion.

    ALL discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, etc… needs to be rooted out and culturally seen as wrong. If the wheels of justice didn’t turn so slowly and cost so much money, I would have considred a lawsuit. But, I moved on instead.

  23. EDR,

    Correct on my background.

    the interview that brought me to this site happened to be run by 2 middle eastern lead engineers. There is a McDonalds here that fit the description of only hiring Mexican.

    My personal background has/is non racist. I’ve grown up with about everyone and harbor no racist thoughts. I didn’t even think that there was a possibility of the 2 leads to be looking for another middle eastern. Am I being naive? Perhaps. I’d still rather give the benefit of doing what is right.

    luckily they aren’t the only company around that hires.

    The Mormon thing is kinda funny to me. The most evil people I have ever met were church goers. Some very heavily.

  24. Norrin,

    Please go back and read my post. I am not defending most HR recruiting organizations nor am I saying they are doing it right. As a matter of fact, I am a change agent for internal recruiting departments.

    It is true, however, that even if you are advocating change, you still have to follow the law. Most people don’t understand the candidate tracking that must take place to be compliant. It is a huge burden.

    In this economy, we sometimes see 1000 applicants for a single position. I don’t believe in sending letters via snail mail to all of the applicants – too expensive

    However, what I do believe is that recruiting departments should use the technology they have. Most require an email address in order to apply. I advocate sending email status to anyone not receiving a phone screen. If you get phone screened, I think you deserve a phone call telling you whether you made it to the next round. If you are interviewed, it is absolutely inexcuseable if you don’t receive a phone call about your status.

    I think too many businesses don’t pay attention to or realize the reputation their recruiting practices create for the company – both positive and negative. Hiring manager experience and candidate experience are two metrics I believe in measuring. I think it is important for the candidate to feel respected whether or not they get a job.

    As a recruiter, it is my belief that any candidate who doesn’t get hired this time around could very well be the top candidate for a future position. If they had a good experience, they will still be interested in working for the company.

    As a candidate, I have experienced some really nasty situations myself. Most companies just don’t get it.

  25. Nick, your take on the unholy union between Federal law and HR departments is dead on. Bureaucratic red-tape serves bureaucrats, and many in the HR field are exactly that. Most know damn well that these laws serve to encapsulate their positions against competition and (being the gate-keepers that they are) so have become no more trustworthy than lawyers.

  26. SERIOUSLY???
    Posters here truly believe that we in the HR profession do not lobby for change to compliance laws in order to KEEP our jobs?

    I don’t know a single person in HR that wouldn’t love to have less compliance to deal with and have more time to actually develop programs that help employees.

    Recruiting Leader perhaps said it best. IT isn’t usually an HR problem, its a senior management problem.

    I spend a LOT of time working with management teams to stop treating employees like crap. When a new policy comes out giving you more rules to follow, believe me when I say someone in the C-suite saw a behavior they didn’t like (usually because its a random Tuesday) and decided “we need a policy”.

    I won’t argue that job boards are the black hole of hell in the job search process, but turn the idea around…. if a company doesn’t have the courtesy to respond when you submit a resume, do you REALLY want to work for them? Won’t they be non-responsive on other issues as well once you are employed there?

    Food for thought.

  27. @tcolson: Tasty food. Thanks for supplying. Love your point about job hunters who don’t get response from employers. People can vote with their feet.

  28. Hi Nick,

    I am looking at this article a year later and things have only become worse. I hope to follow the pro-active approach now.. hope it works – because I am already unemployed for over 1.5 years. Have significant experience and a top 25 MBA, top performer etc, however UK market has given me only auto-rejects. Out of 500 applications, I had 2 interviews. Isn’t that something?
    Your article made me feel a little better- just had another robotic HR email, was quite pissed, but what’s the point trying to talk to the walking dead huh?

  29. @Sowmya: When you submit 500 applications, what do you expect? Put yourself in the employer’s shoes — the n-th employer who receives your resume. Suppose that person knows you have sent out 500 applications. How would you feel? Like just one more “target?”

    Employers are aware that people zing out their resumes by the dozens, just because they can. Idiotically, they continue to request resumes by the thousands! In the end, the employer is very likely to hire someone referred by a trusted source. Someone who truly is motivated to work for the company.

    I’m glad you’ve been thinking about this!