While many companies take pride in how they interact with the professional community from which they recruit, others are clueless about the damage human resources (HR) departments inflict on their corporate image and reputation.

Sometimes a reader’s question reveals what’s wrong with Amercia’s employment system. This is one such story. In the June 23, 2009 edition of the newsletter, a reader recounts “phoner torture” at the hands of a personnel jockey — who lays waste to the employer’s credibility during a “phone interview.” And loses the candidate. The candidate wants to know, how should she tell it to the hiring manager? Good question.

But this raises more significant questions. It kinda makes you wonder about the board of directors at this company. After spending enormous sums on public relations (PR) to create a positive corporate image, does the board have any idea that HR is trashing the company’s credibility? Do hiring managers have any idea how HR treats the professional community from which those managers need to recruit people?

My guess is no and no. The board thinks HR is handling human resources, but it’s also in the business of public relations. As an important interface to the company’s professional community, HR’s staffers are in a position to inflict serious damage to the corporate image. Maybe HR should report to PR just so there’s some oversight of HR’s behavior out in the real world.

So the reader asks, How should she tell the hiring manager what just happened?

How to Say It:

“I enjoyed talking with you last week. Thanks for inviting me in for an interview. I was looking forward to meeting so we could discuss the job, but it’s clear that’s not going to happen. Someone from your HR department called me. It was a very disturbing call. I’m sorry to tell you this, but I believe it’s important to be frank. As a result of that call, I’m not sure I’d consider a position with your company. Is your board of directors aware of how your HR staff portrays your company and how it treats job applicants?”

You can read the whole story in the newsletter along with a bit more detailed advice in the How to Say It section.

Is it too risky to take such a strong position? Or is it risky to fool with a company that doesn’t monitor how HR interacts with its professional community?

What should this reader say to the hiring manager?

  1. I read the whole story, and my take is different. The candidate had an attitude because s/he didn’t expect nor did s/he want to participate in the phone interview.

    I found his/her responses to the HR “jockey” just as snarky and rude as the “jockey’s” response to her.

    For example, it’s a common interview question to ask a consultant about his or her commitment level. In addition, it’s also a common question to ask a candidate who’s been a consultant AND has short term permanent positions (three in five years – regardless if the industry is IT or not) about whether or not he or she is looking for a long-term position.

    The “jockey” shouldn’t have to ask the question several times to get a response.

    This is not to say that the “jockey” didn’t have a tude. However, the candidate contributed to the negative tone of the phone interview from the onset.

    If s/he plans to send the transcript of the call to HR, then s/he should be ready to own up to his/her poor participation in the interview.

    Sounds like s/he felt she was a shoo in for the interview and didn’t like that she was “screened.”

  2. Too often HR folks see themselves as gatekeepers protecting the company from crooks and swindlers.They are especially good at chasing off candidates who have options.
    The good ones (I’ve dealt with both) are well informed sales reps for their company.They set up times for a phone screen, not always at their convenience.Their interview techniques are miles ahead of the rookie HR ‘gatekeeper’ in your story.They know the difference between making good hires and clearing requisitions.
    They know that”…you can’t always make a hire but you can make a friend.”
    PS:Does anyone really believe that a candidate asked about commitment for the 2nd time is going to confess,” You got me, I can’t help myself, I am a job-hopper.”

  3. Bella,

    I think you are missing the point. The hiring manager told the candidate she’d be called to schedule an in-person meeting. NOT that she would be phone screened.

    Any decent HR rep knows that a phoner (a tel interview) requires giving the candidate notice, so they can prepare and be in a place where they can talk. Calling a candidate at work without notice to conduct a phoner is irresponsible and reveals that this HR rep is compromising both the candidate and the hiring manager.

    In this case, what strikes me is that the manager made the decision to interview the candidate. The personnel jockey took it upon herself to do a screening instead. This is HR out of control. Note that the company did not reject a candidate. It LOST a candidate because of the personnel jockey’s behavior.

    “s/he should be ready to own up to his/her poor participation in the interview.”

    Again, you’re missing the point. The call was NOT an interview. The personnel jockey turned it into one.

    The candidate’s ‘tude was quickly triggered by the personnel jockey’s behavior – and it was justified. Consider that the candidate successfully gained the interest of the hiring manager. That tells me the candidate is quite good at doing business. In other words, her ‘tude toward the HR rep reveals frustration, not an inability to communicate effectively.

    The story here is not the job, the phoner or even the HR rep. The story is the damage that HR does to a company’s reputation. Forget all the players for a minute, and forget who intended what. The bottom line is, this company now has a job applicant walking around recounting how poorly she was treated. The company has a PR problem on its hands.

    When a customer hangs up on a company’s rude customer service rep, it doesn’t matter whether the customer was right or wrong. What matters is that the company lost control of its reputation.

  4. I agree with Bella. The applicant’s self-reported comments were rude; who knows how rude they were objectively. Ms. HR may well have been officious and rude herself, but that is irrelevant.

    1- The applicant should have calmly ended the discussion, telling the HR jockey that s/he did not have time at that moment for an extended discussion, and that s/he would be happy to schedule a follow up call.

    2- Under NO circumstances should one be rude and condescending, particularly with an HR jockey. It is similar in intelligence to being rude and condescending to the receptionist or the CEO’s assistant.

    3- If applicant has any hope of getting a job with the company, he should call be Ms. HR, apologize for his rudeness, and offer to schedule a call when he has time to fully answer her questions.

    4- Applicant needs to take a better tone around refusing to divulge salary. Tossing your nose in the air (“Fortune 50 ..”) won’t get a good result. Apologizing profusely while holding firm is how to handle this issue.

  5. I’d be very interested in knowing if the applicant takes Nick’s advice and approaches the hiring manager. Applicant, if you’re reading this, will you please post the outcome of this situation?

    BTW, I disagree with Bella. And Tom J., it’s NOT irrelevant that the HR person was rude. That was the whole point of Nick’s newsletter- to show how HR is in many respects an extension of a company’s PR effort.

  6. While I will agree that it does look a like the conversation was snarky on both sides, I’m a little more willing to cut the applicant a little slack.

    First, from the story as related, the hiring manager had decided to give the applicant an interview. I’ve had our HR department second-guess me during the hiring process, both committing me to giving interviews to people I knew would not be hired and trying to keep me from interviewing qualified candidates.

    Starting an interview with the intimation that I might be a waste of the hiring manager’s time would probably get my back up, too. I hope I would be less snarky, but I would probably let my frustration show.

    I’ve rarely seen good results when HR has tried to assert control over a hiring process I was involved in. This story reminds me of an experience I had when I was just a couple of years into my career. A Fortune 500 company had flown me across the country to interview for a highly specialized position. When I got there, somebody from HR had me in a cubicle doing intelligence and aptitude tests. Luckily, the CIO had the HR director hunt me down and I had my interviews. Afterwards, HR grabbed me again for a drug test, after having had nothing to eat or drink all day. The next day, HR wanted to extend me an offer, but first wanted a commitment from me before they would tell me the offer. While I had been impressed by the CIO and his management team, I could tell that it was not a company for which I wanted to work. To this day, I have no idea how much money I turned down. But my perception of that company was heavily tainted by the less-than-organized, and even unprofessional, HR behavior.

  7. From my perspective, as someone who is responsible for branding efforts, I have always felt that HR should report to marketing or at the very least, follow interaction guidelines outlined by marketing. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen HR do a 180 from what the marketing department tries to create with their branding efforts. That does cost money when HR acts rude and treats candidates so poorly, especially in a B2B environment where industries are small.

    As for the phone interview, I’ve had at least 50% of HR reps pull this nonsense, it’s a power trip thing and the example shown here looks to be the same. It seems HR didn’t like the hiring manager actually doing some hiring so they step in “own the turf.” In the end, it turned off the candidate who was clearly lied to by HR and called at work to do a phone interview. That shows utter incompetence on the part of HR. As a marketer, I want the employees of my competitors and other companies we can pull from, to want to work with us, that allows us to pull from a bigger talent pool and marketing is part of that by creating an image of the place to work at. If HR does stuff like this phone interview example, that is basically flushing money down the toilet and in this economy, that’s not an option anymore!

    I agree with Tom and Bella, candidates should not be rude, always take the high ground, however, what the HR person did in this example is relevant and high unprofessional. HR always demands candidates tell the truth, HR should as well always tell the truth, in this example HR lied.

    In the last year I can honestly say I have met one very professional HR person and her professionalism is why I was willing to work with her in an interview process and eventually ended up working for the company. HR as a function has a lot of ground to cover in terms of professional mannerisms, because that woman was the exception, not the norm. As a marketer, I am shocked at what HR does to ruin their own company’s branding efforts. An example, I was called 3 weeks ago by a Fortune 50 company to interview for a position, hadn’t heard of it but it was ideal. HR was late to the phoner, took 3 times as long as stated and the guaranteed one week follow up was never honored, I had to follow up myself. This from a company that claims to have the best customer service in their industry. Their promise clearly doesn’t extent to HR and I really lost interest in them after that. If HR can’t be professionals about keeping the brand promise, I have to question the rest of the organizations efforts. What HR does to candidates, is relevant.

  8. Ok – if anyone has ever experienced a great internal recruiter at a corporation, you’ll all know that Ms. HR handled the situation all wrong from the get go. Here is an example of how hiring managers and HR get an adverserial relationship going. Causing all kinds of things to happen. Using third party recruiters behind their back, hiring people that HR doesn’t know about, etc.

    Clearly, the Hiring Manager (HM) and HR didn’t have a conversation of any depth. HM likely said, here’s a guy I’d like you to bring in for the interview, and HR took it upon themselves to do screening.
    No notice to the candidate, starting a power struggle and butting into a perfectly nice hiring scenario that was derailed because of HR trying to exert control.

    I’ve worked inside only ONE great company who’s recruiting team partners with HM’s, viewing them as a client and actually being a shared service who have to justify their existence. This is a great way to do it. These recruiters have so many requisitions, they are there to help. And they are also experienced at sourcing.

    The screen is important – but everyone should have been on the same team to let the candidate know it would happen. The candidate was perhaps overly cocky and most candidates I know hate HR and when prepping them for interviews, I make sure I cover how to handle them and mainly, their attitude toward them.

    All of this results in a company getting a bad reputation. And that goes for a secretary or receptionist who is snarky also. Why should people have to put up with being treated poorly, just because they want a job?
    My opinion, is that when a company is a) lucky enough to have a great candidate drop in their lap or b) spends time to source and build a talent pipeline, that there needs to be another way of handling the screen.
    Why should a cultivated candidate who didn’t ask to be recruited jump through hoops and perform like a dancing monkey when the company should be doing that to show all the ways that this person could have fun and contribute great things to the company?

    Something needs to change. We may be in a recession now, but really great people are still really hard to recruit and if companies make it too difficult to even talk to a potential hire, then they are missing the boat. Many companies have HR people doing the recruiting. Most HR people I know hate recruiting. Companies need to hire sales oriented recruiters/headhunter types and magically, people will get hired and the brand will improve!

  9. I not only am behind the applicant 100%, my response would have been, “Did I not just tell you I spoke with her already? She instructed you to call me. I do not waste my time. Good bye”

  10. All too often, HR seems to treat the hiring process as some sort of game. How many hoops can I make the candidate jump through? Instead of selling the company and job to prospective candidates, the opposite exists. I often think that HR must think that because they got hundreds of responses to the job ad they placed on the job board, there must be hundreds of qualified applicants because gosh, those resumes have all the “right” words. This seems to be especially true in IT. Need a UNIX person? Look, here are several resumes with the word “UNIX” on it.
    There are several reasons that recruiting firms exist. And yes, one of those is to exclude HR from the process. Plain and simple. It’s is not entirely all HR’s fault. After all, how can someone expect an HR person to effectively screen, interview and recruit a Network Architect and then screen, interview and recruit/sell the job to a chemist?
    While this topic is mostly banging away at HR, let us not forget the wishy-washy hiring manager who is “too busy” to make time to schedule the interview, or is unprepared for the interview. Yes, it goes both ways. In this case, if the hiring manager wanted this person to come in for an interview, why ask HR to schedule it? Schedule it yourself.

  11. Good points to & fro. some basic points jump out to me from the original question and responses.
    * the person does need to get back to the hiring manager regardless of how it went for common courtesy and to ensure he/she knows what’s going on, at least from the candidate’s perspective
    * doing so offers the opportunity to lay out his/her view of what happened.
    * pointing at the board is overkill and sounds too much like a rant.
    * the candidate only heard from ONE HR person, that doesn’t necessarily mean the department is full of like people who behave that way
    * Yet it only takes one to kill an image.
    * Yes the whole thing morphed to emotional & there’s a good point that the candidate mishandled his end, but the call came out of the blue, took an vastly unexpected direction and they fed on each other’s emotions and attitudes.
    * The candidate represents him/herself only. The HR person reps the company. They always have a PR aspect bolted to them and a professional/vocational requirement to shoulder the responsibility to be professional in their bearing. On the job, phone or in person you aren’t permitted an attitude. Of the two on the call the PR person blew it on a personal/professional level much more than the candidate. Should have known better.
    * and signaled some internal snit about direct HR/candidate dialouge. the whole scenario was past a phone screen. Done deal, set up a meeting, not throw the body across the HR’s door.
    So I’d have made the call, let the HR know a call was received from HR, what went down with that particular person, & if he/she represents the HR style in the company, no thanks. present something a HM can deal with. They can’t fix the Board, or reporting structure, but they can address a person’s behavior and their own needs.

  12. Great discussion! Lots of provocative comments. I’ll toss this into the mix, which adds the hiring manager’s obligations to the mix: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/harecruiters.htm

    Keith says it well: The hiring manager could avoid all this by calling the candidate and scheduling the interview. Let HR pick up the thread later.

    Claudia: Yah, internal recruiters need to realize they are sales people. That’s 100% true. A company has two main lines of contact with its two main audiences: customers (sales handles them) and professionals (who might take a job there, and HR handles them). BOTH require sales skills. HR fails to see that it is SELLING. Bureaucratic HR people like to think they “control the gate.” That’s like suggesting greeters at Walmart should start shaking down customers to determine whether they “deserve” to shop in the store.

    But I think Edward nails it: I wasn’t kidding. HR should report on a line to marketing or PR. Because HR has such an impact on the company’e image, it cannot be permitted to operate like a bureaucratic elephant, stepping on toes. Imagine that personnel jockey in the story worked in sales. What would the sales VP say about her behavior? She’d be summarily fired. (I don’t disagree that the candidate had some attitude here, but it’s relevant only insofar as it tips off the company that it has an image problem. I don’t believe the candidate is always right any more than I think the customer is always right. But an upset candidate or customer is like a canary in a coal mine. Pay attention.)

    It’s important to remember that HR tends to be process oriented. HR follows steps. Meanwhile, agile managers (and headhunters) are scarfing up the best candidates — while some companies are busy asking candidates to pee in a cup, fill out a form, and write an essay about “why I really love this company” before they make it into an interview.

    The whole key to this story is that the manager decided to interview the candidate. The process failed the manager. (Yah, the manager needs to look in the mirror, but the HR rep’s boss needs to be fired for not training the HR rep.)

  13. Maybe I’m a jaded and cynical, but I don’t believe anyone on the phone who says they’re such and such and asks for personal information. For all he knows the applicant could have been talking to someone inside who wanted the same the job and was skanning the competition. Or the person calling could have been an HR employee having a psychotic break. I agree with posters who said the applicant should have politely cut the call short. As it was, he gave a lot of information to someone who was essentially an anonymous caller.

  14. Nick,

    “I think you are missing the point. The hiring manager told the candidate she’d be called to schedule an in-person meeting. NOT that she would be phone screened.”

    The candidate’s perspective of the situation is suspect in my POV.

    But let’s say that she is correct. When she was confronted with an interview she could have politely ask to schedule a time. Really, it’s that easy.

    “Any decent HR rep knows that a phoner (a tel interview) requires giving the candidate notice, so they can prepare and be in a place where they can talk. Calling a candidate at work without notice to conduct a phoner is irresponsible and reveals that this HR rep is compromising both the candidate and the hiring manager.”

    I’m not excusing the HR department’s behavior. I’m pointing out that the candidate’s attitude contributed to the negative situation.

    “In this case, what strikes me is that the manager made the decision to interview the candidate. The personnel jockey took it upon herself to do a screening instead. This is HR out of control. Note that the company did not reject a candidate. It LOST a candidate because of the personnel jockey’s behavior.”

    Neither of us know whether or not the HR rep made the decision to conduct an interview without the HR manager’s consent. We simply don’t know that.

    And what you see as a loss, well…

    “s/he should be ready to own up to his/her poor participation in the interview.”

    “Again, you’re missing the point. The call was NOT an interview. The personnel jockey turned it into one.”

    As I mentioned above, we don’t know if the jockey turned it into one or if that was his directive from the manager.

    There was a communication issue somewhere. That’s obvious. Neither the jockey or the candidate handled the problem in the right way.

    “The candidate’s ‘tude was quickly triggered by the personnel jockey’s behavior – and it was justified. Consider that the candidate successfully gained the interest of the hiring manager. That tells me the candidate is quite good at doing business. In other words, her ‘tude toward the HR rep reveals frustration, not an inability to communicate effectively.”

    From the exchange, it is quite possible that the candidate got an attitude first. And it’s my opinion that is the way it went down.

    As I stated in my initial post, the rep shouldn’t have copped a tude and neither should the candidate.

    “The story here is not the job, the phoner or even the HR rep. The story is the damage that HR does to a company’s reputation. Forget all the players for a minute, and forget who intended what. The bottom line is, this company now has a job applicant walking around recounting how poorly she was treated. The company has a PR problem on its hands. ”

    I understand the point of the column. However, the story used to make that point didn’t work for me so I couldn’t help but focus on the candidate’s poor behavior. Maybe that was just me, tho.

    “When a customer hangs up on a company’s rude customer service rep, it doesn’t matter whether the customer was right or wrong. What matters is that the company lost control of its reputation.”

    To the company it may not matter who is right or wrong. But if this candidate wants another position then it behooves her to do some self-reflection.

    As I mentioned, I get the point of the article. I probably focused on the candidate’s behavior because (1) she was just as wrong as the rep and I found it amusing that she played the innocent (2) my take away was that she started the tension.

    The candidate’s poor behavior does not excuse the rep’s attitude, but as I mentioned before I was struck by the candidate’s attitude and commented on it.

    Please know that I get your PR-HR point. It wasn’t lost on me.

    In fact, we agree on the HR issue. For you, the candidate’s behavior is a moot point. I get that. For me, however, the “story” within the story prompted me to post.

    ((I didn’t proof this post and there are probably loads of errors. Please excuse them.))

  15. Nick,

    Wow! I have to say that the title of the article puzzled me, until I opened the email a read a few sentences …you could not be more right.

    WHAT IF you encountered a situation with a recruiter that fit ALL 5 problems? What would you do? Well, if you were a mild-mannered job seeker in the 5th month of your search (that would be me), you might look up the company on LinkedIn. That’s what I did.

    Happily, the recruiting firm’s president had a LinkedIn profile …I went to the corporate website …I called the corporate number …I asked to speak to him. He wasn’t there. Then I heard, “Would you like his voicemail?” … … … “Yes, thank you.”

    I left a cordial message expressing my concern about “the encounter” which I had had with his employee earlier that day.

    Well, the CEO returned my call. I explained to him about the multiple gmail and yahoo accounts and the curt remarks and sarcasm …very cool, until — I told him that I read his LinkedIn profile and all of the groups that he has joined, etc. I just said, “I don’t believe it …you asked this person to behave that way on your behalf? I really don’t believe it.”

    He apologized. He told me that it was certainly NOT the company’s policy and that he was glad that I had taken the trouble to follow-up. He planned on speaking with the individual that afternoon …and with his hiring team about the situation to make it clear that it should not happen again, ever.

    “I appreciate your sincere concern…”

    So, now I have to admit that I have probably, significantly lowered my opinion of several companies who have had — individuals — take it upon themselves to act outside of process and guidelines in hiring, and thereby represent their employer in not such a positive way. At the time, it did not occur to me — that this person, is not behaving as requested by the company.

    Yes, after getting requests — in writing, for any URLs to blogs or social networks where I participate, etc. PR should have a look at the standard messages which represent the company.

    Moreover, Nick has found a **STELLAR** reason that companies should do their own recruiting and not pass the responsibilities for acquiring talent on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th parties.

    How can anyone beyond the corporate doors (or, even contract recruiters on the inside), work as well as a (hopefully trained, company-loyal, and brand image aware) HR employee — or, even better the hiring manager.

    One of the things that has impressed me consistently about Cisco, Nokia and Siemens is that many of their managers and executives find and interview their candidates directly — they feel that it is important enough to spend some of their time in securing the quality and personality that fit the company.

    Communications management starts on the outside with consistent PR and should be in sync with what the company represents to and wants for its employees.

  16. As someone with years of corporate PR experience, I can tell you that a “PR problem” always stems from an operational deficit that PR is told to clean up.

    Am I complaining? Hell, no. Without operational problems to handle, my skills would go to waste.

    That said, I agree with the poster who said the REAL problem here — which resulted in the nasty HR/candidate interaction — is a lack of communication between HR and the hiring manager. Identifying the crux of the problem is the first step to solving it.

  17. Bella,

    “When she was confronted with an interview she could have politely ask to schedule a time. Really, it’s that easy.”

    Good point. Even in the face of a cocky HR rep, a candidate should maintain the highest standard of behavior. Your suggestion is a good one.

    We disagree about the candidate’s attitude.

    “But if this candidate wants another position then it behooves her to do some self-reflection.”

    Good point, too, but it seems the candidate came to a conclusion following the phone exchange. Decided not to pursue the company.

    “the rep shouldn’t have copped a tude and neither should the candidate.”

    Again, I agree. Would have been better if the candidate behaved a bit differently, but I can understand getting fed up after the HR rep repeatedly challenged the candidate.

  18. Technology recruiting, specifically Information Technology (IT) is in the toilet!

    Positions always “require” way more detail than any company can ever use in the life-cycle of a project or the employee that was hired to complete it.

    Worse, the compensation, specifically pay for services has become ridiculous. Overpayment for a simple coder, to underpayment for a well-qualified, seasoned professional.

    It’s a crapshoot during negotiations between the employer’s HR representative and a potential candidate, where the HR rep has absolutely no idea of what the candidate can do or of the accuracy of its qualifications.

    Still worse, an HR rep looks upon their salary and compares their “knowledge” with the candidate’s equivalents. That’s simply human nature, of course! But, omitted from the thought processes of an HR rep is the number of years of technical training and education the candidate possesses, which they lack. This, of course is never accounted for during an HR rep’s initial phone interview. Doh!

    Bad interviewers are just plain bad; they will never go from bad to good, or good to great — pun intended! Count yourself lucky and thanks for the warning.

  19. Just to play devil’s advocate here, it’s possible the the hiring manager fully intended for the HR rep to phone screen the candidate, but didn’t clearly communicate that to the candidate.

    It doesn’t really matter though, because if the account of the phone call is correct, the HR rep handled it poorly. I do think that the candidate should have said early on, “It sounds like this is a phone interview, which I wasn’t prepared for; the hiring manager had given me the impression this call was simply to schedule a meeting. Did she ask for a phone interview first? If so, let’s schedule a time to talk.”

    The HR rep sounds like a real tool though.

  20. Just read your column on HR & PR (responding more to the article, than the blog that follows here). I was floored. You recount one side of a pre-employment conversation as told from the perspective of the applicant. You also say the HR person demanded to know whether or not the applicant was ready to commit to a “permanent” job. Lastly, you gloss over some potentially important facts in the matter as though they’re irrelevant. (For example, If this company is a government contractor with an affirmative action plan and – as such – finds itself subject to OFCCP compliance audits; just hiring this guy without input form others in the organization and a measurably inclusive selection process exposes the employer to much worse than a lost candidate. Even if he’s top knotch.) Don’t knock a process because you dno’t like it unless you understand the reason for its existence.

    As a “real” HR person, I glean several things from this transaction:

    This was likely a recruiter, not an HR person, who conducted this screening. A trained HR professional knows that there is no such thing as a “permanent” job and wouldn’t be foolish enough to refer to the opportunity as such in an initial phone screen.
    My contention that this phone screener was a headhunter or other recruitment specialist. This is further supported by the hiring manager’s prior knowledge of this person — no fee involved if the headhunter didn’t hunt the head in question and, thus, no motive to represent the candidate favorably in the process.
    As you concede, it’s possible this was a polite blow off. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s not even the passive-aggressive rejections that get this kind of courtesy intervew by a recruiter. It’s the ones to whom the hiring manager overcommitted who get cycled back to the beginning as though they’re brand new to the process. Usually because the hiring manager doesn’t know how to gracefully say “I’m sorry Mr. Candidate, I got ahead of myself with this. We have a process for all new hires that I need to ask you to undertake. It’s no big deal, it’s just our hiring process. I can help you with it.” What the hiring manager more likely said was “HR, I know a guy — he used to be a contractor here. Can you call him?” Often a candidate who feels he or she is a shoe in for a job because they were misled on their chances comes off as smug because he thought he was already hired. The miscommunication started well before this recruiter got snippy with the guy.

    As your column has previously stated — It’s reasonable to ask what the candidate expects to earn in the role. We differ on whether it’s appropriate to ask what the candidate currently earns, but this recruiter attempted to frame the conversation as a matter of expectation and preference — not current pay. She then clearly became frustrated and resorted to “well, just tell me what you make now.”
    We’re both recounting this other guy’s story from the shading of our own perspectives. Here’s the reality. Neither you nor I know if this guy is full of crap, telling the truth, or somewhere in between.

    HR and recruiting aren’t the same thing. Despite the conclusion I suspect you are already drawing about my own position on this transaction, as a “real” HR person, I’d take blame in this case for reasons different than I think you may suspect. It’s not the PR message I’m troubled by, though there’s a vein of truth to that position. As a “real” HR guy, I see an organizational ineffciency, an interdepartmental communication problem, and a hiring process that is not transparent to all applicants. It’s ineffecient to have two people working toward the same goal who don’t compare notes. This guy is a good candidate, right? Well why is a recruiter calling from a sheet of paper? Even in a carmaking facility the guy who bolts on the tires talkes to the who just put the doors on. Here’s how it could work:

    Joe Hiring Manager to recruiter — “Sally, I just hung with Justin. I’ve already briefed him on what we do and he’s worked in our department before so he’s shown he’s qualified for the job. If you can just determine if his salary fits in our grade for the role and let me know if you see in red flags with his work history, I would appreciate it.”

    Joe Hiring Manager to candidate — “Justin, Sally HRChick, from our HR group is going to call you soon. She’s going to want to talk work history and salary expectations with you, so just be prepared to give her what she needs. She can get you general answers on our benefit plans and company history. After you and she speak, you and I will get together again with some of the folks with whom you’d be working so you can ask questions of those who currently do the job and your potential team members can learn a little bit about you.”

    There’s a failure to communicate on the part of the hiring manager or his recruiter. Clearly he didn’t impart his expectations on to HR. Or the recruiter didn’t hear him. Or the applicant heard something different. Doesn’t matter who misstated and who misheard. The message was inconsistent. Where HR failed was in not ensuring that the organization insists on those lines being open. Everyone says they’re flat. Everyone says they have open door policies. Few actually do and they’re really not that hard to implement or maintain if you just make sure all new managers get some traininig on what they are and more experienced managers are reminded periodically!

    I believe anyone who wants to work for a company should know exactly what the hiring process will look like and exactly who will be involved in the decision making process. They should almost get a syllabus (we actually call ours the applicant syllabus!) If people know what to expect, they don’t get freaked out when the process looks different than what they’ve experienced in the past. That’s innefficient and you can prevent that with a simple sheet of paper or e-mail.

  21. A “real” HR Person. You appear to be very full of your-self to make this kind of reference. So I guess everyone who is not a “real” HR person is not truly qualified to provide their thoughts. Sorry to burst your bubble, but HR exists to serve the company and its managers. The Talent (applicant) is necessary for a company to have a competitive edge in today’s global market. HR is process oriented. They do not generate revenue and are not held responsible in generating profit for the company, the managers and board of directors are. HR IS an important part of a company, but they play a very small part in daily operations. Understand your roll in the company and represent it well or look for success elseware.

  22. The “real” was in quotes for a reason. But thank you for your insight, Mr. Thumbs.

  23. Actually I should amend that — “real” was in reference to the recruiter vs. the HR practitioner. They’re two different things. A network engineer, programmer and CIO are all “IT guys,” but it would be neither fair nor accurate to describe their roles as interchangeable.

  24. Mr. Thumbs:

    While I generally agree with most of your thoughts, such as:

    “HR exists to serve the company and its managers” TRUE

    I strongly disagree with a couple
    of things.

    1. “They (HR) do not create revenue”

    2. “. . . they (HR) play a very small part in
    daily operations”

    When an HR department is trained and functioning in a professional manner they DO
    create revenue through the strategic people
    they source and present for employment to the

    And…they play a very significant role in the
    ongoing operation of the company. It is the
    HR department who DOES protect (as far as they are legally capable)the company from potential employees who could retard the operation of a company.

    Through their work of asking significant interview questions, employment references and background checks a company’s future could be
    very strongly influenced.

    Perhaps you weren’t thinking aobut these issues
    when you made your comments, that would be understood. But I thought this needed to be

  25. Volkswagen,

    Ssssssssssss….. Wow! Someone in HR with a strong positive attitude. You’re welcome here any time! Now if we can get:

    1. HR
    2. The board of directors
    3. Hiring managers

    to start looking at HR the way you do, something might change in the business world…

  26. Nick makes a very good point about some HR staff and their passion in sourcing the most qualified candidate(s).

    However, the story under discussion may have more to do about a recessionary economy, where companies have tight-to-no hiring budgets. Thus, the bean counters rule the day. Consequently, good candidates because of these bean counters pass up good companies.

  27. Wow! I found it amazing to read this article. I’ve run into this wall more times than I can count in the past 5 years.

    I had worked at one company for 8 years when I was laid off in 2001. After that being in IT, I’ve found it nearly impossible to find anything but contract work. Luckily, my skills run in .Net and database development so I don’t have any trouble finding work.

    In the past 5 years, I’ve tried hard to find more permanent work and to get away from contracts as more things have opened up. The article I just read is almost word for word what it has been like when I talk to HR about applying for a permanent position. When I try to explain to them that the contracts were only a matter of necessity and yes, I am looking for a permanent position, it goes in one ear and out the next. It didn’t matter that my resume only showed contract work for a few years. I have been stuck in contract work ever since 2001. Every place I’ve tried to land a job since then has only been willing to offer a contract to hire and those have always ended when the contract ended.

    Yes, I believe whole heartedly HR can be that rude. I met my share of them. There are quite a few companies in my area that I won’t even apply to because their recruiters are so bad I know I won’t get past first base.

  28. Um, sorry Volkswagen, but HR does NOT contribute to revenue and is not a significant part of operations. You obviously needs a lesson in business to understand the HR is a cost center, not a profit generator.

    HR, in my experience, should be fully outsourced. All their tasks can be done by other, more effectively and
    Managers should hire their team. There is a case for “talent acquistion” folks, who can smell a success/failure, but other than that, they just slow down the works. It can takes months and even years to hire people…it’s insane. If you can’t close the deal in 30 days, you just don’t have an organization that is dedicated to getting talent and success.

  29. Joe,

    A thoughtful reading of my note said . . .

    “. . . when an HR department is trained and
    functioning in a professional manner…”

    Hope some day you will have the opportunity
    to work with an HR department like that.

    Unfortunately, there are stereotypes that can
    be very difficult to overcome (for all of us!)

    Have a great week!

  30. Volkswagen,

    I could read it 100 times, but the fact is HR can be “trained and functioning” and it makes no difference.

    I’ve seen 100s of HR depts. They run the spectrum of horrible to severely mediocre. There are no “good” HR depts in mid to large companies. (Please go ahead and name one.)

    I really hate to burst the bubble of all the HR folks out there, but the HR function is a drag on most companies out there, and there is ZERO tie back to the bottom line.

  31. I have to agree with Joe. I have yet to meet a large corporation HR department that is good.

    I once worked for a large Fortune 10, we hit hard times. I was a product manager and of the 6 of us, I was one of two still making money. They decided that they had to lay people off, HR made the decision, not our managers. I got the ax, not because of performance, not because of profitability but because I was the politically correct one to lay off. I have to say it was the first and only time I ever had a boss cry while letting me go, she knew she was kind of screwed because I was also one of two people who had a background in marketing, the others didn’t and it kind of showed.

    HR trying to make decisions based on political correctness so they can’t get potentially sued rather than who makes the money, great example of how HR doesn’t contribute. When I run my own company, HR won’t exist in my firm.

  32. Another example of creating bad PR and missing good candidates: Some years ago I got a call out of the blue from a recruiter at a local company. I went through their hiring process and to this day tell stories about how badly they treated me.

    Now the company is looking for people. I am extremely well matched to their current requirements and am even happy to do the 100% travel they require, but I’m damned well never going to go anywhere near their HR department again.

    I wonder if their management knows the real reason why they can’t find good people.

  33. Edward,

    I hear ya – I agree, if I ever run a company, there will be no HR dept. I seen dozens of instances where layoffs are done and the highest performers are let go (not necessarily the most expensive, either!). HR makes decisions completely detached from the business.

    And to G’s point, yes, I have seen some very poor hiring processes, and years later when companies try to recruit those folks, they tell them no thanks. It’s still very hard for companies to understand why someone who not work for them. Often, the way you treat people on the way in and way out is more important than what happens in-between.

  34. Everyone hates HR until they get a 7 figure settlement request in an age discrimination suit. It’s not political correctness. It’s the law. But let’s not get hung up on inconvenient stuff like facts and precedent.

  35. Joe is right on — there is no need for an in-house HR department. Just as it is ludicrous to have a payroll dept (that’s what ADP or the others are for).

    @scotthekyhrguy, I’m not saying HR is not necessary; it is. A business needs HR to make sure that it is following the law, all the right forms and documentation are filed and people are terminated in a way that will minimize risk to the company.

    That being said, there is NO REASON (except laziness) why HR should be involved in the hiring decision, except at the very end, when all the forms must be filled out. Any company where HR commands so much power that all candidates must go through them to be “interviewed” or pre-screened (as if anyone from HR could ever competently interview anyone) is losing good people.

    Absolutely, let HR do the “drug test” and “background check” dance so those two boxes can be checked off on the form. Let them fill out the I-9 and all that other junk.

    Guess what? These tasks can ALL BE OUTSOURCED.

  36. An enormous part of the problem is that managers do not do their own recruiting, interviewing or hiring. They “let HR do it.” The other big part of the problem is that HR lets managers get away with this, and cozily retains the recruiting, interviewing and hiring function.

    HR should not be involved in recruiting and hiring. As Genesis suggests, HR should handle all the necessary compliance functions. I’m not saying this to knock HR. I think this would be a huge boon to HR.

    But managers have to be put on the recruiting, interviewing and hiring line. http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs41managersjob1.htm

    Every manager should spend 30% of his or her time on these functions. I know, I know — they don’t have the time. They’re too busy.

    So corporate management needs to step up and change the typical corporate structure so PEOPLE really DO become OUR MOST IMPORTANT ASSET.

    Right now, HR in general permits people to be treated as a fungible commodity, and it shows.

    Time for HR to get out of the people business, and into compliance. And it’s time to change the “title.” Human resources is a joke of a name. HR should just be renamed COMPLIANCE and tacked onto the legal department.

  37. Nick: that last comment is dead-on.

    I came here from the “stupid interview questions” post. I have long resolved to walk out of any interview where such questions get asked — and over time, came to the conclusion that interviews with questions like those invariably happened where HR handled the interviewing.

    Fortunately, in my line of work (visual FX for TV, film and now games), I have always been interviewed by those who would be my immediately supervisor or department head — and sometimes by my potential colleagues. These interviews always focussed on the two things that mattered: my job skills, and my personality, *only* to the extent that it might affect how well I would fit into the team.

    One place had the *entire* team of about 15 people interview me in groups of three, and I could tell that everyone had been asked to come up with just a few questions of their own. It took a long time, but the interview was extremely thorough as a result, and I still felt good about it afterwards — as there weren’t any of those stupid sort of bullship interview questions, I came through it all just fine.

    So, without exception, I haven’t dealt with HR until after the interviewer(s) have given the thumbs-up (except for things like arranging for travel to and from the interview, and related reimbursements, where applicable), and such interaction usually pertain to the nitty-gritty of the compensation package and checking for any remaining possible “gotchas” before the official offer comes.

    I have many reasons to love what I do; this is one.