In the July 17, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager complains that Human Resources (HR) departments are behind the talent shortage:

I don’t have a question, but I want to share stories about two candidates that I interviewed. (I am a manager.)

I am continually astounded at the kinds of idiotic discrimination I see companies engage in when they’re hiring. This simply confirms my suspicions that bad HR managers are a major impediment to good candidates getting good jobs.

I’ve been to job fairs where companies tape up signs saying “U.S. Citizenship Required” and “Must Speak English.” This puts me in mind of the “Irish need not apply” and “No Blacks” of earlier years. There are very few jobs that genuinely require citizenship (as opposed to employment authorization) and I’ve found precious few on this side of the Atlantic who come close to speaking proper English!

At my company, HR often turns away good candidates for reasons just as ludicrous as those signs. This is what happened to two people I interviewed. HR ignored both of them as “unhireable.”

One candidate had a Chinese accent so thick that I had difficulty understanding anything she said. During the interview I resorted to asking her to write or draw in order to assist communication. I saw strong technical skills through the language problems that this new immigrant had and I made the offer.

Another candidate was so nervous that he completely messed up most of the questions in the first half of the interview. I persevered, put him at ease and satisfied myself that he was technically able. I hired him, too.

Both these people have been stunning performers in my company. The Chinese candidate has improved her language skills to the point where communication is no longer a challenge. The formerly nervous candidate has gained confidence. The only downside is that either candidate could now go elsewhere and breeze through interviews with the sort of lame-brains who (I believe) routinely pass up good candidates because it takes a bit of extra effort to get to know them.

The moral of this story is, if you are a candidate, try to talk to managers, not HR. If you are the solution, prove it. If you are a manager, try to get at the candidates before HR filters out all the good ones. If you are a recruiter, drop the dumb prejudices! There is no talent shortage, just a shortage of good hiring practices and patience!

My Advice

I could kiss you. Thanks for the reality check. Employers are losing great candidates due to crappy judgments about who is worth interviewing and hiring.

I haven’t seen the sort of signs you refer to, but then again, I haven’t been to a job fair in a long time. However, I have seen good job candidates passed over by corporate representatives who had no skin in the game. That is, they weren’t hiring managers. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that a good hiring manager will dig a bit deeper to get to know a candidate than an HR manager might — because the manager needs to fill a job.

Do HR workers, in general, discriminate? Are they lazy? Your stories raise these provocative questions, and you deliver a sharp message: Companies do themselves a disservice when they keep the hiring manager at arm’s length from the hiring process.

Today HR uses software to filter candidates before any human judgment is brought to bear. The result is that excellent prospects are denied before the hiring manager even knows they exist. Why does HR do this?

HR’s answer is just as dumb as it sounds: HR has so many applicants that it has no choice but to use software to filter them!

And my rejoinder reveals just how stupidly HR behaves: HR created the problem itself! Where do you think all those tons of applicants suddenly came from? HR posts jobs and solicits any and all applicants — then complains it’s got too many?

For $50 I’ll give any HR department the solution: Stop posting jobs and soliciting millions of resumes. More is not better — so stop with the stupid excuses already. End the problem of “more applicants than we can handle.” If too many are applying, you’re not doing your job. The point is to use methods that attract the right candidates — not tons of candidates!

And here’s the rest of the solution: HR should handle the administrative process of getting new hires on board, but HR should get out of the business of recruiting, selection, interviewing, and hiring. That’s for managers – those who have skin in the game.

You didn’t ask a question, but there’s lots to learn from what you had to say. I hope employers (and job hunters) see the lessons in it.

Both managers and job hunters need to get down to brass tacks: Talk about how to do the job profitably. In How Can I Change Careers? (or jobs) is a simple method for preparing for interviews so you can prove to a manager that you’re worth hiring. It’s not difficult for managers to set up an interview to ensure the candidate will have a chance to show what they can do — so the manager can make a sound hiring decision as quickly as possible.

If you’re a manager, have you ever missed out on good hires due to HR’s “filtering” process? How do you find your new hires? If you’re a job hunter, how do you get past the HR meat grinder so you can actually talk to the hiring manager?

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  1. HR are definitely a problem having been on both sides of the fence.

    As a hiring manager, we ended up screening cv ourselves as our HR were not capable of doing the most cursory screening even when we defined very clear criteria. Big plus is that we saw and hired a somewhat atypical profile and relegated HR to what they are really which is background process pushers.

    As a job hunter, I was told by HR that they already had numerous candidates for a role. Since I was quite interested and the role description had the title of the manager, a LinkedIn search found the name and a bit of digging guessed the email address. So I wrote directly to the hiring manager and explained what I would do and how I would add value and sure enough I got the interview.

    The next obstacle was that they had retained a big name search consultant while running a parallel direct search. Since I came in directly, there was a clear conflict of interest so the whole thing blew up at the last gate as the search consultant had a different view of what type of candidate was needed. Again confusion between HR and an external contractor.

    The bottom line however is that this is a huge bottleneck for many corporates. The HR people are simply not qualified to even do the initial cv screens in most cases-they do not understand the business. In the above company 3 senior roles had been open for over 6 months! How can a business run with such a process? Why aren’t corporates not seeing this as a major issue?

  2. Nick,

    For as long as I have been reading your blog and e-books, you’ve been touting this message.

    However, something just struck me right now when reading Rich T’s comment above.

    First, and allegory: I know other parents who complain that their kids eat too much candy and play too many video games. I ask them, “Who bought the candy and the video games?”

    If hiring managers are complaining that HR folks are incompetent to find good candidates, I have to ask, “Who hired the incompetent HR folks?” If the answer is the HR Director, then that’s just buck-passing, because someone hired the HR Director. Who was that? The CEO? Then I have to throw down the gauntlet to the hiring manager:

    -Is your opinion about how to find good talent so irrelevant to your CEO that s/he would rather listen to the excuses of the HR Director than to your good ideas?-

    Nick, I’ve learned a lot from reading your materials. The most important is to not put up with BS as a job candidate, and as an employee. It helped me land my Dream Job at a Dream Company.* At this point, I don’t understand how anyone who has read your blogs for even a few months is willing to put up with any hoo-haw as a job candidate or hiring manager.

    I think the message is clear: Hiring managers – It’s *your* job to remove the obstacles HR has put in place preventing you from finding good candidates. You have to be the ones to make the efforts like the manager above who hired the person new to English and the person who was nervous. As far as I’m concerned, hiring managers who let HR bully them about who can and cannot be hired get what they deserve.

    And endorsement for Nick and for Ramit Sethi:

    How I Found My Dream Job

    1. Networking. I talked shop with everyone I knew who was doing what I wanted to do. In that way I learned that I did not want to be a hospital-based biomedical equipment technologist, but a field service engineer working on medical lab equipment.

    2. Internships. I did three. Usually students in my BMET program do only one. This relates to Nick’s idea of trying on the job to see if it’s right for you. It also expands your network.

    3. Networking. I maintained my contact with the director of my BMET program so I would continue to receive the emails she sent from hiring managers looking for BMETs.

    4. Research: The job, the company, and the people you are going to talk with. When I got the interview, the interviewer (who was a hiring manager, but not the one I was going to be working for directly) and I talked for two hours about his second career as a professional musician. I learned about that from his LinkedIn profile and it turned out we new many people in the local music scene in common (networking). I was the one who brought us back on topic. I had prepared mind-maps answering all the common questions, such as why I was the guy for that job, why I wanted to work for that company, and “tell me about yourself.” My mind-maps were directly on topic and based on the research I had done.

    5. HR not involved except for the on-boarding process. This was a clear sign to me that this was an intelligent company. The first people I spoke with were those responsible for my role in the company. It wasn’t until *they* decided they wanted me that HR got involved: Offer letter, background check, explanation of benefits and policies, etc.

    Notice the recurring theme? I’ll spell it out for you: n-e-t-w-o-r-k-i-n-g

    With all due respect, if you, Mr. and Ms. Job Seeker, don’t get out there and talk to the people who are doing what you think you want to do, how will you really know that’s the job you want and how will the hiring managers be able to get around the HR obstacles to find you?

  3. Love getting your newsletter… only wish I worked in HR so that I could take advantage of it more.

    Wanted to share a short story with you. We needed to hire a break-fix guy in our IT department. We posted the job on our web site and wherever else HR does their thing. We ended up with three candidates. We did a group interview with the manager of the area and the principle people that he would be working with. Through good questions and not only listening to the answers, but the body language we got it down to two. We had these two come back in and be interviewed by us again, but mainly by our CIO. Then I did a short technical interview in which I asked 10 technical IT questions ranging from simple ways to test knowledge to small scenario questions to not only test knowledge, but get some indication of the candidate’s thought process. The first candidate did “OK”, but I was left with the sensation of him not really knowing his craft as well as he thought he did. We did the same for the second and this man shone. He answered all of the knowledge questions correctly, and carefully and mostly correctly thought his way through the others and there was no hesitation in any of his answers. He came across as knowledgable, entheusiastic and intelligent. Until we did the technical interview we were really on the fence with them; that part of the process was a very helpful tool. We made an offer and he accepted. Only time will tell if we did a good thing, but we are all very positive about the decision.

  4. @Michael E: Thanks for the endorsement. And thanks for pointing the finger at hiring managers, who in the end are responsible for their own hiring. If they let HR control the process, then they are derelict in their duties. It’s on them. If managers don’t go to top management to complain about and fix the HR problem in regard to recruiting and hiring, then they’re not doing their job. See “Be Known For The Truth”

  5. I became a manager for the first time and put in charge of a few people. One was a inexperienced person with a thick accent. My manager told me he wasn’t very good. I did my management by walking around thing and found out he was the smartest guy I had and he had the most current knowledge. So I kept giving him easier and then harder things to do.

    Eventually it was my last week on the job and I was talking to our customer and she was explaining a bug she had just found in the software. I told her that I had assigned the bug to my guy and she said “Oh he’s probably fixed it already”.

  6. I am no longer astounded at HR folks who absolutely do not know what they are looking for.These are the ones who know a few buzz words, a few catchy technical acronyms and bunches of HR POLICIES.
    In addition, and much worse, they have no sense of urgency.
    There are exceptions.They are the ones that give a headhunter solid factual information, that understand what they are looking for, who are not threatened by the headhunter talking to the hiring manager and who react to a good candidate quickly and thoughtfully. They are serious business people oriented to the bottom line whose expertise happens to be HR.

  7. Nick,

    You raise just one problem with HR function, there are plenty more that need to be discussed. Most companies look at the HR function as an expense. This is why we see TALEO doing so much of work of the HR group. If you look to sports teams that consistently win like the Steelers, Yankees, Redsox, Lakers you’ll notice that they are great at identifying good talent. Many companies say that their people are their greatest assets but very few actually live it. It’s easy to blame the missing of talent on the HR function but this is a problem that starts and must end with the CEO taking a more proactive role in a corporations talent strategy.

  8. In the five + years (yes, that’s right) I have been seeking employment I have come across all types of situations with the one featured above being the most common. But how about this one? You find a job that perfectly meets your qualifications. You bypass the job board and go directly to the company web site where… cannot find any contact info. Nor is there any on LinkedIN. It is harder to get to this company than it is getting into the White House.
    Why on earth would a company seek a candidate and then provide no way to make contact? You see, they want complete control of the process and can’t be bothered with contact from qualified candidates.
    Who would want to work there!

  9. Several years ago I started working for a large CAD/CAM computer firm. The Engineering Manager would ask HR for 2 piles of resumes.
    In one pile all the qualified candidates and in the other the unqualified rejects. He would select and hire from the unqualified stack then hand on the qualified to the administration department. That did not turn out too well. We designed good products but had a ponderous bureaucracy choaked in red tape to deal with.

  10. I feel like Jan in the Brady Bunch. Marsha Marsha Marsha. HR HR HR. I’ve been on both sides of the fence and the truth is, the blame can be equally shared by the hiring managers and HR.
    I agree with Michael E…it’s basically a management problem. who hired HR and who calibrates HR. HR behavior is a reflection of their CEO and the management team, and the often heard corporate spin that “people are our most important asset” HR practices will tell you how much truth is in that spin. If it is real, HR is empowered to act accordingly including teaching Hiring Managers smart hiring practices.
    But it’s serendipity to think that you can have a one stop flogging at HR. Your assuming that if HR did “the right thing” in this case see past language problems to real talent, and pass that talent to the Hiring Manager, that Manager is wise in all ways and will leap at the chance to interview the person. The hiring manager frequently IS the problem. They are the ones who won’t consider people like that and will make that plain to HR and HR will act accordingly, especially in an environment where the aforementioned spin is BS.
    And this is where HR comes into play. They can roll over, or they can try to fix the problem.
    So the blame can be shared equally, in the real world inside a corporation you have permutations & combinations of dumb ass HR weenies, HR managers, Hiring Managers and executives any and all of whom can derail talent scouting and development.
    The example in the blog is truly outrageous for sure. I was an expatriate in Asia for 5 years. If you learn anything at all, if something needs to be communicated, you find a way, ranging from sign language, drawing, email, speaking slowly, but most of all to find that way. When you come back and have to sit across from some butt who’s telling you they can’t handle some heavy accent or BS like that you want to choke them. But you can’t force bonding.

  11. Read your post regarding the language barriers for some of the highly technical people who have turned out to be “outstanding” for the hiring manager. In my career I had to rely on understanding many accents in many parts of the world to survive and get the jobs done. With patience it works.

    I am astounded at how many times native speaking Americans haven’t passed muster with HR because they didn’t have communication skills.
    I support your networking philosophy, because the hiring game advantage goes to candidates who can build rapport, demonstrate competence and its a plus if somebody knows the who, what, when, where and how you did something in your life.

    Outside of that…its a digital/paper mill amounting to job creation for somebody to sift through it all.

    So much to do and so little time to do it all.

    Keep the faith and keep the good words flowing.

  12. I know from bitter experience that this kind of dreck has been going on for at least 20 years.

    Kenn Olson, compadré, my “vacation” is currently at the four-year mark with no end in sight. And this is my third “career-ending ‘vacation'”! It’s infuriating to have a hiring manager question my inability to get hired; then subsequently answer his own question, apparently without realizing it. (I have a BS-ME and a BS-PlET from a well-known, and recently much-maligned, university. Graduates with either one of these degrees are allegedly in high demand.)

  13. I once hired a young man because of his unique comments as he toured my distribution center. He started as a part-timer, and as he was a bit of a free spirit, I was nervous when I offered him a full-time position. Long story short–ten years as a top-performer, and a true joy to work with.

    More luck than skill in doing this, but allowing chance to work in your favor sometime pays off.

    Back to the subject at hand, being a professional isn’t as important as acting professionally, which means widening the recruiting net instead of narrowing the process for selection.

    People who stay the longest with a company and provide the most effective work are often not the most desirable candidates. My X-Men (and X-Women) had an average tenure of 14 years, and became the top-producing unit among 50 distribution centers after a company buyout.

    And that was during the first operational quarter after the corporate conversion of operations.

    Normal candidates usually disappointed me.

    @Omar: I had a very similar experience. The hiring manager seemed puzzled that after 40 years of continuous employment history, there were gaps in my employment. I was all of a sudden a bad risk. He seemed even more puzzled when I showed him documentation of some rather significant accomplishments in my field during those forty years.

    I described many other unprofessional things he did in a previous post, so I will just propose here that we call ill-equipped HR people or hiring managers “Rude Buddhas”, in honor of a recent Saturday Night Live sketch.

    The good news is that I have been treated courteously and professionally, but then, we still have farmer roots in this city-wannabe.

    I fell into depression because I thought the dreck was the rule rather than the exception. There’s still way too much of it, of couse, but the Titanic is slowly turning away from the iceberg. I’ll relay to you what my shrink made sure I remembered halfway through my therapy after being seriously drecked out of a high paying job: “I’m just checking, but you do realize that it wasn’t your fault?”

    I half-heartedly acknowledged it at the time, but three years later, I’m beginning to see her point.

    Don’t let the Rude Buddhas get you down; keep plugging away, and you might find a Real Buddha to work for. (I’m still looking for mine!)

  14. “I’ve been to job fairs where companies tape up signs saying “U.S. Citizenship Required” and “Must Speak English.” This puts me in mind of the “Irish need not apply” and “No Blacks” of earlier years. ” ??????

    Wow, what comes to mind is the old “if you are losing the game yell RACIST,” so in other words what I am taking form that quote above is instead of hiring an American (with an IQ over 50 who speaks clear English,) just go ahead and hire a non-citizen who doesn’t speak English? I am sorry, THAT is off the charts in my view in terms of PC lunacy.

  15. Let me please just air my views on this situation because all the hand wringing and whining to me is disgusting. Here is my solution to the entire HR incompetency problem in terms of internal staffing and the composition of the department itself.

    I do not operate my business in such a way. I would have senior management just remove most of HR from the hiring or screening function, beyond taking resumes, and filtering resumes to appropriate department managers. HR to me has become just a glorified modern day factory of spreedsheet minions and often-inept fact checkers. I would simplify the unit and remove the swarm of silly people I have seen in a number of HR departments from the equation.

    I know one company where the HR department has about seven people, and one is a male executive and there are five are so called female managers. I have heard too many stories of such people listing jobs that they already have friends lined up for most of which are unqualified (that is an ENTIRELY different conversation.) Why would any business worth its weight have five mangers out of seven people including the senior executive? I see one so-called “man” as a senior executive and a ton of women below him (issues clearly) all of whom are nothing but glorified secretarial facilitators.

    In my view HR people are not qualified to be screening top-talent as in high-level, highly skilled talent. When I started my first job around 1980 HR at a major corporation consisted of three women (and one was a receptionist) they took the resumes, did basic fact check and you saw the hiring managing.)

    My take is HR is only a secretarial clerical departmental function of place ads, listings, make calls, sort and screen, but now these HR departments (mostly from my experience I have seen numerous firms with rooms that made my hair stand on end, just full are silly women lucky to have a high school education, and a slew of young morons on social media all day, all being supervised by another moron who is their manager likely on her seventh job, who is managed by a female HR director another one who likely slithered into such a ridiculous position that is a waste of money to any corporation, who then reports all the dreg to a senior manager who gathers the spreedsheets for top board executives to send on likely to accounting and/or the umbrella entity for review,) have put in their minds they are themselves are all head hunters. In the sitautionss I have seen I know of NO top talent that would work at a firm functioning in such a manner.

    Bottom-line? Eliminate 99% of HR and HR functions, then the rest can be automated or outsourced.

  16. To chime in, I know someone who recently applied for a job for which she was qualified. She included past experience indicating how she did the very job functions desired by the hiring company.

    She received an automated reject letter indicating they were looking for candidates with the right qualifitications, all of which she had. She later discovered that the resumes are run through resume word search system–if you hit the “right” number of words, you have a shot; if you don’t, tough luck.

    It seems that is how much of the hiring is done.

    Meanwhile, jobs go unfilled for months (this happens where I work), temps are brought in to fill the gap, usually unsuccessfully, and the hiring manager complains there is too much work to do.

    There are lots of good people looking for jobs, but companies somehow manage to have a hard time finding good people.

    You would think it would dawn on them that their hiring process is crummy. It certainly is clear to all the job hunters out there.

  17. WOW, what an onslaught on HR. I use HR as a filtering system, which it should be. But I also build in conditions or considerations regarding the applicant. If I request a letter explaining how this person meets the job criteria, then I expect a letter. If no letter, that tells me the person cannot follow instructions or maybe is not able to communicate effectively in writing. With the number of applicants that respond to any job listing, we want the best that will fit our industry or office. An example, we listed a job that requires a great deal of detail and recording of events that may be replicated over and over. Out of 30 applicants we had 2 that responded with the correct documentation. It makes one wonder if people really read job announcements and if they truly want to be hired.

    As the job hunter, it is very difficult to find who you really should be talking with at a company. Networking is important, but so is keeping up with friends and prior co-workers who may lead you to that dream job. Even when I apply through an HR listing, if I can find the hiring manager, I’ll forward my resume to them with a professional email stating I’ve applied for the position and look forward to hearing from them. If they respond to my email I know that they are interested and will request my information from HR. It never hurts to try and put your name out there on a positive light.

    One situation that occurred, I applied for one position, was told I’d be perfect for another that was soon to be opening. Had to take a “test” and received a low score and figured I would never hear about it. The original interviewer pushed my application forward to the hiring manager and even though my score was low, it was enough to “allow” me to be interviewed. I got the job and ended up supervising people who applied for the job and had been working for the company a long time. What happened… the people scoring the “test” were HR staff that had no knowledge of the actual duties of the position. I learned that when I had to go through those same HR people to hire staff. Thank goodness that company has now turned the process over to Hiring Managers and HR only filters basic requirements.

  18. @Shirl
    Great story about getting hired despite the obstacles–wish there were more hiring managers like that.

    I think the onslaught on HR is because many HR departments have taken over the hiring process instead of the hiring managers, so good candidates get bypassed because they are not an exact fit, resume filtering software was used so good candidates are rejected because they did not use the right key words, HR does not understand the job and makes poor decisions about who to interview, etc. And, as someone mentioned earlier, the hiring managers are part to blame for letting HR take over the hiring process.

  19. As a note, if you wish to work for the federal government you have to look at the job classification and use those “key” words in the application process to even be considered. It is a HUGE filtering system. If you are a veteran, you have a greater chance of getting at least selected for an interview.

  20. Great article Nick.

    When I was a hiring manager, HR played two functions in the hiring process.

    1. They initiated all the necessary internal paperwork to get the position opened.

    2. They initiated all the necessary paperwork after I decided who to hire.

    That was it. I did my own recruiting, interviewing and reference checking. When it was all done, I went to my HR rep and told them “This is the person I’m hiring and this is the salary.” Draft whatever legal mumbo jumbo you need to do.

    This process allowed me to hire some star performers who would probably not have passed any pre-screening done by a computer.

  21. @Kenn Olson:

    “You bypass the job board and go directly to the company web site where… cannot find any contact info. Nor is there any on LinkedIN.”

    Yah, it’s like employers have one team trying to get resumes, and another team kicking people in the face. Nobody’s thinking about the manager who needs a worker. Managers need to step up and open the door to people who want to work with them.

    You might enjoy this short rant:

  22. @Eddie: Is that for real, or are you yanking our chains?

    “He would select and hire from the unqualified stack then hand on the qualified to the administration department.”

  23. Don Harkness has grabbed the bull by the horns. We can complain about HR til the cows come home (ouch, sorry). But where is “management?” If HR is bungling hiring, why aren’t the affected “hiring” managers marching with torches? Why don’t they demand changes?

    (Answer: Nobody wants to handle hiring, any more than anyone wants to handle finding a job. Let HR do it. Isn’t this really the story?)

  24. @Tom: Goldang it, a manager that recruits and hires. Now imagine if one of you hired ten other managers who do the same. How many iterations before the problem is solved?

    How many companies even think about this?

    I stand by my rule: Every manager should spend 15%-20% of their time recruiting. That’s the biggest part of management: Being able to get enough good people to do the work so you don’t have to, because finding and hiring good people is a big job. A manager’s main two jobs: Hiring good people, and making sure nothing gets in their way.

    Just what do most managers do with their time, anyway?

  25. Nick asks. What do most managers do with their time? There are managers and there are managers. Oversimplified, those whose vocation and passion is management per se and those who love something sales, programming, finance, and get elevated to, or think they deserve to be manager, or go that way for $$. The former are likely to act as one wants…manage including a lot of attention to talent scouting and development..They are proactive in so doing.
    The latter spend their time on what they really love to do…usually way too much, usually meddling with what their team wants to do..without interference. what time left is reactive..need people? dump it on HR who likely spends a lot of time just trying to get these managers to pay attention to recruiting.
    When Nick says 15-20% time recruiting another way to say it, is recruiting never stops. never. Headcount requisitions are a license to hire, that’s all. But too many hiring manager/HR combos only start with a req. then stop when it’s filled. like a faucet on/off. Just one big knee-jerk reaction. The result of good recruiting is when you need someone …you want to reach into your deck, pick out that resume of a solid candidate you’ve been talking to ongoing and ask one simple question…Are you still interested? If yes, you’re good to go

  26. @Don

    When I was the Guy in Charge, I usually had something that is incredibly rare today–Employee Headroom. I could get away with over-hiring at times to retain talent when other talent walked away. As long as I kept the talent engaged, and didn’t “ride the gain” (analog audio terms) for too long, this kept us moving with a Sense of Purpose instead of keeping us in a Sense of Panic if too much talent left at once.

    The instructions to the people answering the phones was this: if the person was asking for a job, the answer was “We’re not hiring.”, even if we were. If the person was inquiring about “the work” we did here, the answer was “Let me connect you.”, even if we were not in a hiring mode.

    This gave me an opportunity to show the prospective talent around the place, with no pressure on either side of the hiring table.

    While it lasted, this process was SWEET.

    Now, everyone is trying to narrow the process instead of widen the possibilities.

  27. Great article Nick and excellent comments Don, UCD et al. The problem isn’t a lack of qualified people, not with unemployment still over 8% (but probably higher if you include those who have been unemployed longer than 99 weeks), not with a lot of folks being underemployed (working parttime when they want to work fulltime, not working in their fields). Yes, I think HR is the biggest part of the problem because they’ve commandeered the hiring process but are taking the easy way out by letting a computer program do the screening and selecting for them. This way they don’t have to do the work. But as Don and others have noted, management has a role in this too. If jobs are going unfilled for 6 months and longer and there’s all these unemployed and underemployed people, then you’d think management would realize that HR isn’t doing its job and start asking why. Why isn’t HR bringing in qualified applicants? Must be the computer screening process–and then why aren’t they following up with HR to find out why the computer program isn’t working or what they can do (instead of requiring perfect matches, how about taking applicants who meet 6 or 7 out of the 10 criteria and training them on the rest?)? Why isn’t management taking back control of the hiring process from HR? If the culture is such that no one wants to invest time, money, and energy in training new employees, but just wants people who can do the jobs perfectly from day one, then management and HR deserve what they’re getting–no one who meets all of the criteria according to the computer because there are no purple squirrels.

    A couple of weeks ago I saw a job posted that stated that there would be no training, no backup (no one to take your place if you should get sick), no one to ask questions if you should get stuck or don’t know what to do, and because it is a sales job, you’re required not only to retain the customers the company already has but to bring in new ones. If you don’t please the customers, you lose money for the company, and that’s grounds for termination. Wonderful. Who would want to work for a company like that, even if you already had a sales background? There’s still the time it takes to learn the product, to learn about the customers, to figure out who might be prospective customers and to how to keep everyone happy. So if you took the job, you’d get no training, there’d be no one to ask if you had questions about the products, about the amount of time between orders and delivery, what to do if the customers aren’t happy with the products, and you should all of the blame if customers aren’t satisfied and if you don’t bring in new customers. No way would I ever want a job like that.

    If management has off-loaded the responsibility of hiring new people to HR, then it is management’s fault because HR will take the easiest way out possible. Post the job and let a computer do the work, and if there are 500 applicants but not a single perfect match, then there must be a talent shortage. And if the case is that HR has commandeered the hiring process but management isn’t happy, then it is up to management to get the CEO or whoever the big kahuna is involved and get HR to get out of the way. I’ve applied to companies where HR has taken over and management is too much of a wimp to object. Then I really don’t feel sorry for them. And the other problem is expectations–both management and HR should lower them a little–there are no purple squirrels out there, and they’re not likely going to get someone who is perfectly trained for the vacant job because it is a duplicate of what he’s already doing. Most employees who look for new work do so because management at their own company has changed, because they’re looking to move up/learn something new/go in a new direction, because they’re looking to make more money/get better benefits (which might include better, less crazy hours). Most don’t want to the same thing they’re doing now.

  28. @Mary Beth.
    I’ve worked in some companies where HR had a lot of clout..Even so there’s two things HR won’t do no matter how powerful they appear to be..or if they appear to commandeer the hiring process. They don’t write the job qualifications or duties and they don’t pick the candidate.
    If you are looking at purple squirrels, or some scenario where a perfect candidate seems to be the objective..i.e they HAVE to hit 10 requirements exactly…you’re not dealing with HR…you’re dealing with a Hiring Manager and a management chain letting them do that. That kind of requirement is the sign of a risk adverse manager. Who thinks this stunning candidate will “hit the ground running” etc etc. Which is a crock. Even resorting to software that scans resumes can’t totally be laid at HR’s door..The keywords trigger the search originate from the hiring manager via a job description. That’s what I mean when I say there’s plenty of blame to go around. Hiring management who asks for the unrealistic and a spineless/lazy HR who fails to call them on it where it counts. Purple Squirrels needed in volume and yesterday should throw a red flag on the play. An HR organization that can’t address dealing with stupid requests eventually pays the reaper anyway when the Hiring side whines that “HR isn’t sending me good people”.
    HR is supposed to facilitate people development (by Management) and that includes management development. HR is supposed to know the market, talent compensation and Availability, and HR facilitates the search. The key elements of defining need, budgeting for it, selecting the talent and developing it is a management responsibility. The biggest fault I’ve seen from HR Depts on the inside is not that they commandeer the hiring process, but stand agog while management gums it up.
    One sees this kind of behavior in a buyers market, when there are more people than jobs. Corporations (HR & management alike) thinks they can raise the bar, head for hiring Utopia, finding the legendary perfect low risk, instantly productive candidates, which they seldom find after lengthy searches.
    They act like they can’t function without nirvana, yet if you’ve been through up and down business cycle you know they can. I’ve been through several up and down cycles. Including the opposite of the aforementioned where there were way more jobs than people. Guess what. Pragmatists, lower the bar, and learn to do true spotting good potential. You can lay out 10 “musts” if you want, but in that kind of environment it’s highly competitive and you get on with it. If you find someone who meets half your perfect list..but you believe has the potential to quickly learn. You hire them. When you’ve done this just once you know that paper perfection isn’t necessary. You don’t need it.
    On the surface one might argue that this makes you sloppy, poor recruiting and hiring result etc. But I think actually it provides the challenge and excitement for truely good recruiting, spotting and recruiting for potential. People you believe have what it takes to quickly ramp up.
    I had a rule of thumb which I preached to my bosses when I recruited.. I recruited worse case, as if there was a shortage. And I believe that if the length of your search exceeds the time of a bright hire to ramp up, you’ve just wasted a lot of time and money.. Not to mention your credibility. Because if I were your boss and you “can’t find anyone, HR’s fault or not” I’d have to believe your either burning out your current team…or you don’t really need the resource and you’re BSing me. And I’d take your req & give it to someone else, who could get off their ass and recruit. That means what a # of people have been saying. If HR isn’t sending you what you need, then do it yourself.
    Hiring on the inside is a matter of priority. A lot of managers simply don’t give it a lot of priority until it’s an emergency then they knee jerk a reaction. HR watches then do it, with their thumb up their nose (I cleaned that up)until they are blamed. That low priority goes up the food chain to higher levels of mgmt who also don’t give it a high priority. In this environment, nature abhors a vacuum and HR commandeers it…most by default, because management chooses to let it happen.
    I once had a really good experience. One time where the opposite was in play. The company was growing like lightening. And this is an actual #, the Division I was in had 1000 reqs (a computer company so you can assume a lot of techies in there) My VP had 250. The Division Head passed the word that by God he wasn’t going to lose his reqs so his VPs better get cracking. Show me metrics I’ll show you behavior. He said he wanted them on Board ASAP, set a goal by when (9 months) and let his management team know that Hiring was their #1 project and he was counting. A spreadsheet was set up that traced every Hiring Managers allotment, offers, accepts etc. One more thing..since it was treated like a project their performance appraisals and their bonuses were tied to it. HR was behind the curve so any sensible manager just shoved them out of the way, hiring temps, assigned their own manager point man to drive their recruiting and get on with it. The only thing we couldn’t do was make a legal offer, and unilaterally lay out the comp..for equity reasons that had to go through HR. My day job was QA Manager. My side job was to recruit for my Director. In 9 months I helped take him from 65 people to 165 people and we didn’t crap around. And every VP staff meeting the 1st order of business was tracking recruitment and reviewing the spread sheet. (loving called the MOAS (Mother of All Spreadsheets)) I can say with some pride we blew everyone out of the way.
    The moral of the story is..if management places a priority on recruiting, it will get done, and there won’t be a lot of purple squirrel BS involved.

  29. My own Dream Job story is very much like Don’s last story above. The company I work for now needed quality people ASAP so they looked for 75% matches, especially since they knew the manufacturer was going to do some training (2 weeks instead of the normal 5 for this product line).

    From discussions I had with the other new Field Service Engineers, most of us came via referrals, and one came via a headhunter (which is more like a referral than like a job board, isn’t it?), and a couple were internal hires.

    I wonder if the management at my company reads Nick’s blogs? ;)

  30. “I’ve been to job fairs where companies tape up signs saying ‘U.S. Citizenship Required’ and ‘Must Speak English.’ This puts me in mind of the ‘Irish need not apply’ and ‘No Blacks’ of earlier years”

    Your kidding, right? There is a huge outsourcing / insourcing epidemic in the USA— anyone with access to the internet, TV, radio, magazines or newspapers should get this fact. It is about time American corporations started employing Americans again!

    Obviously the writer does not work in science and engineering. The last time I worked with an American-born scientist, in America, was 2002. There are unlimited numbers of H1-B visas for foreigners while Americans with the right skills are unemployed. The purpose of H1-B visas— the real purpose— is to increase the supply of qualified workers to erode the negotiating power of individual applicants (exploitation of supply and demand.) It is hard to demand a high salary when there are many more bright people from China and India willing to do the work for less. During my interview with my last American employer, my Asian coworkers-to-be were so stunned to see a Euro-American that they all physically got up and looked! I felt like a zoo animal! So, no, foreigners are anything but discriminated against. If anything, it is the other way around.

    If the writer is not getting consideration, instead of crying “racism” or “nativism” —during a huge outsourcing / insourcing epidemic no less —-look deeper for the real reason.

    One more thing, the fact that we speak American English in America does not mean that people on “this side of the Atlantic” don’t speak “proper English.” American English is a recognized language with its own spelling / grammar / punctuation rules and it does differ from British English. Go to England if you want the Queen’s English.

    Perhaps the writer’s attitude is the reason he / she is having a hard time getting hired, not the fact that he /she is from somewhere else!

  31. I have to agree with Don.

    There is some responsibility on behalf of the Hiring Manager. However, HR tends to be an enabler.

  32. @Don Harkness: thank you for your thoughtful, detailed follow up. You (and Nick) give me hope that there are hiring managers and companies out there that don’t take the easy way out when it comes to hiring new staff. Unfortunately there seem to be a lot of companies that do prefer the easy way, which really isn’t the easy way because it isn’t working–not if jobs are going unfilled for 6 months or longer because HR can’t find qualified people (“there’s a talent shortage!”) because they’ve set the bar too high (expecting candidates to meet 10 out of 10 criteria rather than interviewing those who meet 7+ out of 10 and accepting that they’ll just have to train them on those criteria they don’t meet).

    Yes, you’re absolutely right–there is plenty of blame to go around, and if HR is getting “don’t bring me anyone who doesn’t get 10 out of 10 criteria” from the hiring manager, then it is only fair that the hiring manager shares the blame. Nor should management be letting HR get away with commandeering the hiring/recruiting process. If that’s happening, then I wonder why management isn’t stepping back in to take back control over the process. Is management lazy? Or has upper management told the hiring managers not to interfere with HR….

    @Erika: it depends on what kind of job it is re the “must speak English”. At my last job, a big state university, my dept. had a job opening. I was on the hiring committee, I carefully read the resumes and CVs that came in, and we decided to interview 5 people. One woman looked great on paper, and had the process been solely a paper one, she would have been hired. She was a Chinese national, and while she was obviously qualified for the job in many ways, the interview illustrated one big obstacle–her spoken English was very poor (she was very hard to understand), and a large part of the job involved oral communication–with faculty, with university administrators, with other depts. on campus, with students, with alumni, and with prospective students. The vast majority of people calling about the program and those who ultimately enrolled in it were Americans (there were a very few who were born elsewhere and who emigrated to the US), but no guarantees that any foreign students would all be Chinese. We the committee members had such a hard time understanding her that when we discussed her we decided not to ask her back for a second interview because her English language skills were so poor and she was so hard to understand. If we couldn’t understand her, and 70% of that job entailed communicating (speaking) with prospective applicants and students, with faculty and other university staff, and with alumni, that was a major problem. Now if it had been a research job with minimal contact with other faculty, staff, and students, then she probably would have been fine.

    I know what you mean and why you’re appalled that anyone would be so blatent re their language requirements, but sometimes the reason isn’t racism or zenophobia but just common sense. If the person needs to be able to communicate clearly in English, then hiring someone whose first language is not English or who can’t communicate is not an option.

  33. @marybeth

    I completely agree with your language assessment. If a good grasp of the English language is needed for a job because 90% of the job is speaking with folks, then it should be a primary concern.

  34. I worked with people who can perfectly understand english but just plain can’t speak the language. They put the correct words in correct order but have an overpowering accent that I have to ask several times to repeat and rephrase then I end up correcting their diction. Is this realistic? or am I just a zenophobe.

  35. @Edward: No, I don’t think you’re a zenophobe at all. In my opinion, communication is both understanding what is being said to you AND being able to get your point/question/concern/information, etc. across to your audience. That audience might be 1 person on the phone with you, asking questions about a graduate program. That audience might be 35 faculty members in your dept. at a meeting. That audience might be another large or small dept. on campus, or it might be the wider, outside world. English is a challenging language for non-native speakers (and for a good many so-called native speakers). Poor English language skills result in lost time and money (i.e., profits) and energy (i.e., employees having to re-do projects, tasks, etc. because they either didn’t understand what was required or because those needs were not communicated clearly to them). This is a challenge even when all of the parties speak English–you can easily increase the chances of misunderstanding (and lost time, money, and energy) and errors if one or more of the parties cannot communicate effectively. If you have to ask your colleagues to repeat and rephrase several times then it is a problem. I don’t know what you do, but if you’re the quality control guy, then you’re right to make sure that what they’ve written matches what they’re saying, and if there’s confusion, then you have to sort it out. I think it would be worse to let it go.

  36. As I go through my current job search, I am, once again, astounded by the people I encounter through HR departments and their application processes. Having been a manager, I understand that often times HR reps DO NOT have a clue what a manager is looking for, so it’s best to sit down with them and have them understand the specific skills and qualities that will help THEM find what YOU’RE looking for. In my experience, let’s just say that the individuals who populate HR departments aren’t especially knowledgable or deep – and usually the dead giveaway is names like Brittani, Tiffany, Courtney, Kristi, Aimee, Tami, ad nauseum.

    In addition, the websites companies are using are byzantine, bug-ridden and are only good for requiring replication of one’s resume information. Unfortunately, another wall around the castle seems to be the document scanners looking for specific keywords that align “perfectly” with those in the job description. How many times have individuals been told that their resume needs to use keywords found in that job desription? How many versions of a resume does one need to create?

    I’ve had issues where, during an application online, the site threw errors and when I called an HR rep, I was told that it was “probably my computer” causing the problem, or to “apply on another day.” As a matter of fact, I detailed one such episode on my LinkedIn page –

    Last but not least, HR staff need to remember that an important function of their job is customer service. If, after an interview, or series of interviews, a candidate is not selected, it’s up to HR to politely let that person know. Upon follow up calls, I cannot BELIEVE how many times I’ve heard “Sorry…we’ve been REALLY busy,” or “I haven’t had a chance to follow up with the hiring manager,” or “If we hear anything in in HR, we’ll call you back. Seriously? If customer service reps told that to customers, that business would be shuttering its doors faster than flipping off a light switch. I recently had one rep tell me, “We’re sort of leaning towards an internal candidate, but if we change our mind, wel’ll call you back.” Where do these people COME from?

    I truly believe that having a conversation with the hiring manager over coffee is typically the best way to interview or be interview. My fear, however, is that companies are so paranoid about existing in a litigious environment, that managers’ hands are tied to a process that alienates and eliminates potentially excellent candidates.

  37. Good Lord! You actually tried to get to know your candidates and evaluate whether or not they could perform the job? What a concept. If only all employers hired people in this manner. Unfortunately, it’s not only HR. I once read a post by a manager who wore, as a badge of honor, his “ability” to make up his mind about a candidate within five minutes of meeting them.

  38. HR is generally useless and lazy.

    Proof and point.

    “Writing a accurate job description is hard.”

    How f***ing hard is it to go to the BLS website and elaborate a bit more on the job descriptions and necessary skillsets they provide?

    Lazy is asking the hiring manager.

    How hard is it to look at the candidates educational background and compare the degree/program curriculum to the skill sets required to complete the job?

    Lazy lazy lazy lazy lazy.