In the April 2, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter complains about HR:

Throughout my career I have gotten new jobs by meeting and talking to managers who would be my bosses. Now I keep running into the Human Resources roadblock in companies where I’d like to talk to a manager about a job. Honestly, I just don’t see the reason for silly online application forms or for “screeners” who don’t understand the work I do, when companies complain they cannot find the right talent. I really don’t get it. Why do companies even have HR departments involved in hiring?

Nick’s Reply

Good question. Better question: Should Human Resources (HR) be in the recruiting and hiring business? My answer is an emphatic NO for three main reasons, though there are many others.

this_way_outFirst, HR is qualified to recruit and hire only other HR workers. HR is not expert in marketing, engineering, manufacturing, accounting, or any other function. HR is thus not the best manager of recruiting, candidate selection, interviewing, or hiring for any of those corporate departments.

Second, HR takes recruiting and hiring out of the hands of managers who should be handling these critical tasks. Finding and hiring good people are two of the most crucial jobs managers have. I offer employers three simple suggestions for improving recruiting:

  • Don’t send a Human Resources clerk to do a manager’s job,
  • Put your managers in the game from the start, and
  • Deliver value to the candidate throughout the job application process.

I think companies suffer when they subject applicants to the impersonal and bureaucratic experience of dealing with HR.

Which brings me to the third reason HR should be taken out of the recruiting and hiring business: HR has no skin in the game. It virtually doesn’t matter who is recruited, processed, or hired because HR isn’t held accountable. It’s hardly HR’s fault, but it’s a rare company that rewards or blames HR for the quality of hiring. HR is typically insulated as a “necessary overhead function.”

Don’t get me wrong: There are some very good people working in HR, and there may be a legitimate role for HR in many companies. But HR’s domination of recruiting and hiring has led to a disaster of staggering magnitude in our economy. In the middle of one of the biggest talent gluts in American history, employers complain they can’t fill jobs.

Don’t miss Harvard Webinar Audio: Can I stand out in the talent glut?


talent_shortageAccording to PBS NewsHour estimates, there are over 27 million Americans looking for work, either because they are unemployed or under-employed. (The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are 12 million unemployed.) I prefer the NewsHour figure because it tells us just how big the pool of available talent is. Concurrently, BLS also reports there are 3.7 million jobs vacant.

HR has a special term for this 7:1 ratio of available talent to vacant jobs. HR departments and employers call this 7:1 job-market advantage “The Great Talent Shortage!”

While the economy has put massive numbers of talented workers on the street, HR nonetheless complains it can’t find the workers it needs. That’s no surprise when HR’s idea of finding talent is to resort to database searches and keyword filtering, which are disastrously inadequate methods for finding and attracting the best hires.

The typical HR process of recruiting and hiring is most generously described as hiring who comes along via job boards and advertisements. It’s a rare (and precious) HR worker who gets up from behind the computer display to actually go find, meet, and bring home good candidates.

“The typical explanation for why HR recruiters have no time to recruit actively is that they have too many resumes to sort. This very real problem is solved easily: Stop soliciting and accepting resumes.”

Go recruit!

I could write pages about corporate maladies that arise from employers’ over-reliance on HR to recruit and hire. Instead, I’m just going to list some of the ways HR can kill any company’s competitive edge by interfering with these management functions:

Wasting money
Last year, almost a billion dollars was sucked up by just one online “job board,”, which was reported as the “source of hires” only 1.3% of the time by employers surveyed. HR could be advocating for the personal touch in recruiting, but blows massive recruiting budgets on job boards with little to show in return.

Hiring who comes along
Job boards and similar advertisements — the high-volume, passive recruiting tools HR relies on — yield only applicants who come along, not those a company should be pursuing.

Wasting good hires
Good candidates are lost because database algorithms and keyword filters miss indicators of quality that are not captured by software. And highly qualified technical applicants are rejected because they are screened not by other technical experts, but by HR, which is too far removed from business units that need to select the best candidates.

Mistaking quantity for quality
HR has turned recruiting into a volume operation — the more applicants, the better. This results in impersonal, superficial reviews of candidates and quick, high-volume yes/no decisions that are prone to error.

Excusing unprofessional behavior
Soliciting far more applicants than HR can process properly results in unprofessional HR behavior, angry applicants and damage to corporate reputations. HR routinely suggests that the high volume of applicants it must process explains its rude no-time-for-thank-yous-or-follow-ups behavior — while it expects job applicants to adhere to strict rules of professional conduct.

Failing to be accountable
Because HR does not report to the departments it recruits for, it tends to behave inefficiently and unaccountably with impunity. The bureaucracy grows without checks and balances, and the hiring process becomes dull, rather than honed to a true competitive edge.

Marginalizing professional networks
HR tends to isolate managers from the initial recruiting and screening process, further deteriorating the already weak links between managers and the professional communities they need to recruit from.

Bureaucratizing a strategic function
The complexity of corporate HR infrastructure encourages isolation and siloing. Evidence of this is HR’s over-emphasis of legal risks in recruiting and its administrative domination of this top-level business function.

Wasting time
With recruiting and hiring relegated to an often cumbersome HR process, managers cannot hire in a timely way. Good candidates are frequently lost to the competition. (HR doesn’t have to deal with the consequences, but when a good sales candidate is lost to a competitor, the sales department loses twice.)

Killing a company’s competitive edge
HR owns two competing interests, further dulling a company’s competitive edge: the hiring process and legal/compliance functions. Because hiring is a strategic, competitive function, it deserves its own advocate. If business units and managers took full responsibility for recruiting and hiring (while HR handled compliance) the daily abrasion of these competing interests would strengthen a company’s edge.

take_a_hikeThis catastrophe didn’t occur overnight. It crept up on business in the form of a smothering shroud of red tape. Today this HR bureaucracy is propped up by an industry of “consultants,” “professionals,” and “experts” who advise corporate HR departments about how to maintain their administrative stranglehold over the key differentiator that defines any company — its people. And in turn, HR funds the database-induced job-board stupor and online-application-form addiction that’s killing employers and job hunters alike.

It’s time for HR to get out of the recruiting and hiring business, and to give this strategic function back to business units and managers who design, build, manufacture, market and sell a company’s products. Who better to decide who’s worth hiring? Who better to aggressively go find the people who will give the company an edge?

In the meantime, job hunters have no choice but to outsmart the employment system.

Should HR relinquish its recruiting and hiring functions? Have you experienced related problems with HR, either as a hiring manager or as a job applicant? What do you think should be done about it? (And if you think I’m wrong, please tell me why.)

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  1. I’m glad I’ve never worked in a place like you describe. It would be hell as a hiring manager. The HR people I’ve worked with have been truly supportive. They do the paperwork, make the travel arrangements, mediate when several managers want interview slots. Any technical manager who lets HR do technical screening deserves what he gets. No HR person I’ve ever worked with would dream of doing that.
    And managers have problems too. The perfect candidate whose resume sits in a pile for a month is probably waiting for a manager with other things to do. (Another reason to pick up the phone.) And the great talent shortage is due in no small part to managers looking for that perfect match who could start work tomorrow. I know a headhunter who is very frustrated because her clients keep delaying, thinking that in this bad market they can get the candidate of their dreams. Hey guys – taking and training someone builds loyalty.

  2. Hear, hear, Nick! I have had the unfortunate experience of working with numerous HR departments who ranged from clueless to stupendously incompetent, including one department head who took a month to fire a direct report of mine who had egregiously violated several basic standards of conduct, and that only after I raised hell with my boss. The fact that I was dis-empowered to act was just the tip of that iceberg. The same dept. routinely flubbed payroll for my part-time staff, messes I had to bear the brunt of and devote substantial time to try and fix, with little success – go figure. It got so bad I actually advised my staff to seek legal counsel.

    While the individuals I’ve worked with were overwhelmingly nice people and hard workers, the policies put in place and overseen by HR generate more contempt than anything, both internally and externally.

    Last year I submitted my resume to a friend in an upper management role at the company I wanted to work for, and was told that he wasn’t allowed to accept resumes directly. Shameful.

    Fortunately I subsequently landed a good job in a small organization that has no HR “department” or representative per se. WE are the HR people.

  3. Amen. The article highlights everything that is wrong with the hiring system in America.

    We have a temp filling in for someone on leave. She is looking for a permanent job. One was open in another division–she applied. She received good recommendations from others in the company, is hard working, qualified, and ready to go to work immediately. They turned her down and the position is still unfilled. Talk about stupid decisionmaking.

  4. I remember once being interviewed for a job by an HR flunky…..who had been at the company for 6 months….and who had no experience in the area for which I was interviewing. The person didn’t even understand basic terminology I was using.

    Yes, I withdrew from consideration shortly after the interview.

  5. Nick,well done. The term “HR professional” with respect to hiring is an oxymoron and Taleo stands for talented asserts lost to exceptional obstinance.

    After these twin pillars of ineptness sent me a candidate who claimed one of my signature accomlishments as their own I submitted my own candidacy under a assumed name. Taleo initially rejected my application, which would have probably had a speaking engagement later that week in front of 300 people in the area I was allegedly unqualified for revoked.

    My curiosity piqued, I had my résumé reviewed, told it was superb, and submitted it to a comparable position with an insurance company whose department should be put out to pasture.

    I received a letter from a lady in HR that was so rude I looked her up. Found an undistinguished LinkedIn profile , and a Waste err Facebook page that was frankly embarrassing.

    At a time I am negotiating major mergers this 20 something sits in judgment while exercising none – give me a break – if you don’t the mission at hand you have no business – none- recruiting for it

  6. A well-known person who dishes out fairly sound advice on how to deal with job search and interviewing (her first name begins with A and she works in HR) actually said on a call that most people in HR go into it because they ‘want to help people’. Thus they are reluctant to tell candidates who don’t make the cut that they didn’t, so that is why you don’t hear from recruiters both internal and external. Maybe consideration of their sensitive feelings is the reason why they’d rather deal with job boards and ATS rather than use tools like LinkedIn to find people, so that they don’t have to think about the people behind those resumes. Well, excuse me. It comes with the territory, along with competence. You know, I could respect this if more than 1 out of 10 were any good….the ones who are professionals really do stand out, and they readily acknowledge that they work proactively. Few corporate cultures even value this though.

  7. While I agree that there are major problems with the way hiring is done today, I’m not convinced that having hiring managers do all recruiting or getting rid of the ATS are solutions.

    First, an ATS is only as good or bad as the person setting it up; Taleo doesn’t decide whether or not a person is qualified, it evaluates based only on the criteria it is given. You can easily set up an ATS to do only the function it is named for: tracking applicants, so you have all applicant’s information in the same format in the same place for easy comparison.

    Second, how much time are you really envisioning a hiring manager spend on recruiting? Where I work, the department heads are already doing full time or more just doing their jobs. They should absolutely keep an eye open for good prospective candidates when they attend the occasional conference or event, but the idea of *not* having a full, open hiring process seems dangerous. People already have such an innate preference for self-selection; what better way to turn every profession into a good old boys club filled with the same type of people?

    And finally, I don’t have to know PHP or Drupal to be able to identify applicants who know how to use those tools. I probably shouldn’t be the *final* person evaluating those skills, but I don’t know of many places where HR makes the final decision on hires anyway. What’s so bad about having a full, open hiring process, where someone looks at hundreds of applications and passes the most promising ones onto the hiring manager to evaluate?

    (Also, for the record, I really don’t take your statistics-drop of unemployment numbers seriously. Knowing how many people are unemployed/underemployed and how many total jobs are open give you absolutely no information about whether or not certain industries have talent shortages).

    • Can you tell me if a Ubuntu developer, would be qualified to work on my Debian system?I doubt any of the programmers here, would need Google to answer that in a second. The trouble is your keyword system won’t pick that up, unless you know and have entered all the appropriate similar keywords, this is what good SEO guys understand and know, but HR does not. I would much rather hire one of them to do my recruitment for a programmer, than a typical HR person. HR should have a veto on hiring managers, not a vote. Their job is to check qualifications,legal requirements/right to work/public and hidden references,then advise department managers/CEO and handle all the dispute resolution stuff.

      Also it takes me 1.5 seconds to send a template email out to a million subscribers, so too many applicants to respond, suggests you can’t use BCC on email. Why would I hire anyone who can’t work email?

      • i agree completely, this is devastating to the economy, i had a recruiter call me about a node job and didnt even know what js was. this has left me homeless as a 20 year developer with a github portfolio of around 200 projects. im seriously thinking about suicide as im tired of living on the streets. what is going on now is the idiots in hs are now running the show. these d students haven all the power and are not giving it back. they have hired b and c level students to do the job that requires an a level student. the ceos are mainly c level students because many used coercion to get to where they are in their career by stepping over everyone else. b(eta) level students wont allow the a(lpha) students to work where they are best suited as it generally pays better and the good nuff mentality of these ppl permeates the culture as well as their entitlement complexes (participation trophies anyone). the degree of separation from the recruiter and skilled talent d-a is too far for them to comprehend, and most are lazy so they use keyword searches and ats systems. most d level recruiters are ENFJs or social butterfly personality types, this leads great engineers the a levels to fall into failures, as most likely they are INTJ or INFJ personality types which eventually leads to them going crazy and committing suicide unless by some miracle they meet another personality type that is cohesive intj or infj that has been successful enough to have a company.

        • HR is actually totally unmodern especially when you have,, and several other online courses sites which you can learn exact same thing as on traditional school or by working experience. However economists and HR i.e the ones indirectly or directly in charge of the hiring are so stupid that they dont understand this facts.

  8. First, stop running HR like an advisarial 1980’s Purchasing Department. Giving the bid to the cheapest person. Quality costs some money!

    Second, every HR candidate (interviewed or not) gets a 360 Feedback regarding their HR experience. Just like in Customer Service when you make a purchase.

    Third, p

  9. Kimberlee writes:

    And finally, I don’t have to know PHP or Drupal to be able to identify applicants who know how to use those tools. I probably shouldn’t be the *final* person evaluating those skills, but I don’t know of many places where HR makes the final decision on hires anyway. What’s so bad about having a full, open hiring process, where someone looks at hundreds of applications and passes the most promising ones onto the hiring manager to evaluate?

    The problem is that there’s a good chance you’re going to miss someone because you don’t understand things. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. You could give me a few keywords to review the resumes of doctors, and I can pretty much guarantee you I’ll fail miserably at it. I’m not a doctor and have no real medical experience, so I can’t even begin to read a resume and tell you who’s experienced at different things.

    I’ve seen this many, many times when talking to HR types and recruiters. “Oh, well you have experience in X because your resume says Y, right?” Uh, no.

    “Oh, well you don’t have experience in X.” Yes, I do. Y on my resume is another term for it, and if you knew anything about Z on my resume, you’d know that experience in it involves experience with X.

    You may be different, but there are a lot of resume screeners out there (human and computer) who think people who list LAMP in their experience have no knowledge of PHP/Perl/Python.

  10. @Chris

    You nailed it in your reply. And I would go one step further: If one has done programming in C-Like languages and has web development experience they should be able to pick up PHP (for example) in a reasonable amount of time.

    Simply querying on a single keyword like PHP is problematic.


    “(Also, for the record, I really don’t take your statistics-drop of unemployment numbers seriously. Knowing how many people are unemployed/underemployed and how many total jobs are open give you absolutely no information about whether or not certain industries have talent shortages).”

    Sure, we all understand lies, damned lies and statistics and all. Sure, the numbers may be inflated, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire. There’s still a lot of people out there who could do the job with proper training and investment.

    For example: I know people who went to school, got internships, interested in the field etc. and did everything by the book. Yet they cant move “up” from their current position of underemployment because HR claims that they don’t have “experience.”

    In other words, we aren’t talking about your Wal-Mart greeter who dropped out of HS. Instead, I’m talking about people who are educated and motivated but may not have taken the exact career path you want.

  11. @Kimberlee: Thanks for posting – it’s good to have an HR pro’s point of view. But as others point out, there are a lot of straw men in your arguments. The trouble is, as a profession and as a corporate function, HR has built defense mechanisms that are well-supported internally, but which make no sense at all to the rest of the world. I realize that’s the silo you live in, and nothing I say is directed at you personally.

    1. The problem with any ATS is that it dominates the recruiting and hiring process. “How you choose to use it” isn’t the problem. How you tend to use it, and how you’re forced to use it is. And the fact that HR lets ATSes substitute for real contact with people is the problem.

    2. I envision hiring managers spending 20% of their time recruiting and hiring. It’s their job. I agree that higher-ups give managers so much other work that recruiting and hiring are cast by the wayside. I think that’s a fatal mistake. A manager who does not have a healthy network from which to recruit should be fired. Yes, I think it’s as simple as that. Employers who hire managers without such contacts and skills are costing their company a lot. It’s time to get over it, and over the rationalizations. Unfortunately, HR feeds this problem by suggesting managers are too busy.

    3. Your concern about at “good old boys club” is well taken. It can be a problem. But a far bigger problem is personnel jockeys screening engineers and programmers, and dismissing candidates who lack 5 years experience with a language that’s only been around 3 years. Sorry, but I’ll be very blunt: It is simply idiotic to perform first-level applicant filtering in the HR department. It’s stupid. Yet employers admit the number of false negatives is enormous. You can’t hire effectively that way. The counter-argument from HR is that there are simply TOO MANY APPLICANTS for hiring managers to filter through. And the solution is simple: HR SHOULD STOP DOING CATTLE CALLS ON JOB BOARDS AND WITH ATSES TO SOLICIT SO MANY APPLICANTS. When HR insists on using job boards and ATSes, it over-fills its pipeline with drek — then complains there are too many inappropriate applicants to process. DUH.

    4. “I don’t have to know PHP or Drupal to be able to identify applicants who know how to use those tools. I probably shouldn’t be the *final* person evaluating those skills”

    CORRECTION: You shouldn’t be the FIRST person evaluating those skills, because you will generate false negatives. You just admitted you don’t “know” those technologies. Is HR really so kooky that it publicly admits ignorance but demands the right to practice it? Sorry — not directed at you personally. But I’ve seen this rationalization so many times that I want to barf.

    5. I really don’t think there are “talent shortages” in many industries at all. HR has taken to talking about “talent” when it really means “keywords.” America is awash with talented people who, as Dave points out, have fundamental or related skills which, with a short learning curve allowed, can quickly come up to speed. Or, as Peter Cappelli puts it more bluntly, employers want candidates who have been doing the exact job for years already, and who are willing to take a pay cut to do it some more.

    Again, Kimberlee — this is not directed at you personally. You’re providing an HR perspective that I think is pretty prevalent, and I appreciate that you dived into this hornet’s nest. Thank you.

  12. The only jobs I have ever had in my field of healthcare have been obtained by going directly to the manager of the department I wanted to work for. That manager would then go to HR and get me hired. Even during a stretch of a reported “glut” in my field many years ago, I had many offers of employment using this method. Any time I was required to leave my resume with HR, I never heard back.

  13. @Terry: When HR handles the on-boarding process, that’s a good role. It’s administrative processing, which can require a lot of skills and judgment. Very different from selecting candidates and making judgments about hiring.

  14. I’d love to hear from managers about this — Do managers agree that they should handle recruiting and hiring themselves?

  15. @Nick

    I think HR’s proper role in hiring should be limited to supporting the hiring manager as well – like giving advice on how to interview, how to measure soft skills, etc.

    ‘CORRECTION: You shouldn’t be the FIRST person evaluating those skills, because you will generate false negatives. You just admitted you don’t “know” those technologies. Is HR really so kooky that it publicly admits ignorance but demands the right to practice it?’

    And this is one primary reason why the talent shortage isn’t real.

  16. Nick, I wish you could fit this article on a billboard sign or work it into a commercial. HR should be involved only in the legalities, e.g., background checks, etc.

    In my own experience, HR was clueless about what I could do for a company, so I retired from online applications that took eons to complete and the HR hoop. About two years ago, I had several interviews for an employer that didn’t involve the hiring manager early enough to realize I didn’t suit them.

    Based on what you said here and in Ask the Headhunter (the book), I advised a friend (and company president) to avoid using an HR department in his business.

    Bravo, Nick!

  17. @Dave
    I agree with your perspective. No talent shortage, only a shortage of wisdom in the hiring process.

    Think about what it would do for your company if you were willing to be the person who starts the conversation about hiring differently and recruiting talent, instead of using keyword searches and other non productive hiring practices.

  18. Holy cow, Nick, you’ve outdone yourself.

    I agree with much of what you’ve written, but disagree that HR should be out of the picture entirely. Good HR can be invaluable. However, some HR is utterly incompetent.

    We’re our own worst enemies.

  19. If HR isn’t to be completely out of the picture, what would you define as the ideal role for HR? You two are articulate about HR, so I thought I’d ask.

  20. HR help the business by making it possible to recruit, retain and develop the best employees. Unfortunately, HR also must (unless you want to suggest another group) focus on legal compliance issues, which take up a tremendous amount of time and energy.

    Removing HR from the hiring process would result in having to train every hiring manager in the company how to comply with the zillions of regulations about hiring. This is impractical.

    I think (and I shudder to say this because I, personally lack it) that HR people should have line experience before they come to HR. It should not be an independent career path.

    Except for me. Duh.

  21. Yup, agree with the article (although I do think HR has a role to play, which is to set the hiring process but not do the actual hiring), especially after hearing from a 20-something contract recruiter for a well-know search company in the valley that she was told to sort through the resumes based on name, i.e., they were hiring a certain “type” of candidates that is obvious from their names. Needless to say I have never looked for employment at the company ever since.

  22. @Suzanne I am a writer and editor. You have made at least 3 spelling and grammar errors in your post. Yet somehow you are qualified to recruit someone like me whose job is to correct spelling and grammar. Hmmm.

  23. Nick C has it exactly right again. In my field, there are many synonyms and abbreviations. I never know which one HR is trolling for. I could list all of them and have a many paged resume that will seem overblown and silly if it gets to the person I want to work for (manager in my field) or I can take a stab at guessing which terminology a key word screener or unqualified HR rep wants and cross my fingers that I won’t be eliminated falsely for using the wrong synonym or abbreviation. 2 choices, neither one good. Just let me talk 5 min on the phone with the hiring manager in my field and we can do so much better. If I’m not a fit, I won’t hound that manager. I’ll go elsewhere.

  24. HR certainly has a role to play in regulations compliance, paperwork etc. And HR also has a role in evaluating the personal fit of a candidate, person types, psychology etc. Provided that the HR people are trained in that, and do it in an honest way, not by the canned questions we all hate.

    I recently got a new job by calling the relevant manager (whom I know a bit from before) directly. HR was involved in the process to evaluate the personal fit (face it, managers aren’t necessarily shrewd in psychology) – but they limited themselves to that!

    In a previous employer, one candidate was once preferred before another, because they, possibly rightly, feared that the other one’s colorful personality could clash with another employee who was known to be a bit too full of herself.

    However, the technical part of the decision must be with the tecnical manager. I am a petroleum geologist. My resume thus contains a lot about petroleum geology. Geology, like any profession from carpenting to business law, is a skill that grows by experience. Only another geoscientist is qualified to read my resume; no HR person, no computer programme can do the job. Similarly, I will never be qualified to evaluate a carpenter or lawyer. And any HR person who thinks otherwise needs to learn the meaning of “hubris”.

    • “evaluating the personal fit of a candidate, person types, psychology etc. Provided that the HR people are trained in that”
      This kind of made up stuff disqualifies many qualified people from complex jobs. This kind of stuff is way overblown, but still elevated to top importance in hiring. That is wrong. Most of these psychological diagnosis by HR are just insulting assumptions, a fake science. Probably this is the root cause of most false negative rejections, not even the buzzword matching that everyone assumes. HR learns this fake science on conferences and trainings, and the damage spreads in the country really fast. The problem is, there are no negative consequences on HR people when they do false negative rejections. They always get away with this. Then hiring managers are forced to hire the mediocre candidates (who meet the psychological screening) due to project schedule and business pressure. Lost revenue and business reputation does not make HR to doubt their counter-common sense trendy ideas. Neither the conference presenters and people who train HR people or write books with these toxic ideas.

  25. @Melissa, I apologize for making errors in a blog comment.

    And if you knew anything about me (which you could by clicking on my name), you’d know that I a. don’t recruit b. haven’t recruited for years and c. write frequently about the problems with recruiters.

    So, you don’t have to worry about me making a hiring decision about you. Whew! I’m sure you’ll sleep better at night.

  26. I think there’s something Nick – for all his wisdom – missed. Specifically, the wholesale, hook-line-and-sinker swallowing of prescreening tools to eliminate (heh!) the risk in a process that has risk by definition of dealing with humans.

    Two examples.

    I interviewed a couple of months ago with a company for a position whose function EXACTLY matched something I’d done for four years. Based on the fact that the same day as the interview (!) I got a request to do a background and reference check, I’d say I impressed them.

    The way they did reference checks is to send references to a link where they are asked yes/no and multiple choice questions. These results are then aggregated into a set of scores. On the basis of these scores – and clearly I need to examine my references more closely – I was rejected. I was explicitly told this.

    Had I been a hiring manager faced with a candidate that WOWED me in person but had this questionable scoring, I’d have been puzzled at the dissonance… and requested the candidate back for a second round. I’d also have wanted to TALK with this person’s top references, and very definitely the manager at the role that matched mine.

    But such was not to be. It was easier to let some impersonal scoring override the intuition and judgment of the hiring manager. HR ruled the roost.

    In the other example, from a few years ago, I’d networked my way to the hiring manager of an engineering department. We had a good conversation, he loved-loved-loved my resume. But before he could have me in physically I had to go through a personality test.

    (Side note: I’ve blogged about the need for intellectual diversity here:

    Every question was either A or B, when REALITY was “it depends on the situation” as a THOUGHTFUL answer. I didn’t pass muster, because I didn’t meet their idealized profile of an engineer – despite patents, significant accomplishments, etc.

    What is the “root cause” of these slick-sh!t software programs? Convenience is one – actually calling and making contact with people is work… far easier to just send them a web link.

    The other is very clear to me: risk aversion. It’s easier to say “no” than to take a chance on ANYONE. But such tools are blunt instruments, and end up screening out perfectly qualified and eager people (as pointed out above, the question for the “perfect fit” is one of the prime reasons for the so-called shortage) (

    I just found out that a position for which I’d interviewed was closed after being open for 22 months and interviewing ON SITE almost 40 people. Are you kidding me? So this position, desperately needing filling because projects are behind, cost-savings and new products are delayed… was closed because they couldn’t find ONE person who pleased everyone.

    At this point upper management should be stepping in. (

    Wherever humans are involved, there is risk of judgment errors. This quest for perfection and the zero-risk hire is costing companies perfectly good employees, and people jobs. And the use of screening programs, key-word scanners, etc., as THE determining variable overriding the hiring manager’s human judgment will stagnate companies and the country’s economy. It is folly.

    • I had similar experience with one of the larger tech companies.
      The post interview screening had one purpose: to find out whether there is any single person on this planet who ever disliked me. The objective of this is to make sure to build a utopia of only shinny happy people who smile and are so much fun (even when their coworker sabotages the company project with his incompetence, or even while being back-stabbed by someone). They contacted 10 of my references, interrogated them aggressively, then they also contacted other people not on my list. Then they blocked my hiring, and prohibited the managers from ever talking to me.
      My friend worked at another company where they had the same practice. This is some kind of utopian ideology, it’s not science, it’s not business, not economics. It does not achieve it’s stated goals.

  27. I’ve always felt the HR was at their finest moment when making sure pay arrived on time, and benefits were there when needed or requested.

    As far as compliance and legal, given the choice of a HR “pro” and a lawyer licensed by the state and in good standing with the local bar association, you know which way I would go. With ADP and the like able to segregate and perform the pay an benefits side in their sleep, what is really left for in-house HR?

    Part of the problem (as Nick Hanauer has pointed out) is “While corporate profits are at a 50-year high, unemployment is also at a 50-year high. If it was true that the rich and business were the job creators, we’d be drowning in jobs today.”

    But we won’t cure that problem here, unfortunately.

  28. Apologies… forgot to check the “notify me of new messages” box.

  29. BRAVO Nick!!
    This is the best article I have ever read on the disparities with Human Resources and the hiring process.
    I work in IT Finance/Accounting and not even a month ago when I was contacted by a company recruiter (in the top 50 best places to work), she admitted “I really have no idea about half of what is on your resume”
    I sat on the phone stunned and immediately realized I was screwed (and not in a good way).
    HR does provide good administrative functioning in regards to legalese, implementing training, etc. However, HR should not be in the business of hiring well qualified candidates for positions that require more than the basic understanding of terminology. Unless they have performed the skill set to be hired, this should be the hiring managers function. Period.

  30. I have some great friends who are recruiters and talent spotters. One of the challenges I see is companies have mixed the role of HR and recruiting. Too many HR departments look to eliminate candidates rather than find talent. They effectively have found a great way to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    I have had several internal referrals from hiring managers to their HR based recruitment team. They were all amazed to find out the end response was they simply had sent a rejection email. When I let the hiring manager know they felt embarrassed and responded that after following up the HR team had given such reasons as; we already had enough qualified candidates, he didn’t have the skills you need and he were not a good fit. In one case after rejecting me the recruiter went back to the hiring manager and said they couldn’t find any qualified candidates.

  31. I could go on at great length about how strongly I agree with Nick’s criticisms of HR. But it would add little to what’s already been said, would become tiresome to read, and still wouldn’t do justice to the frustration that I and many others feel. (Shouting from the rooftop would be more like it.) So I’ll confine myself to new points.

    One reason the HR problem is so intractable is that, in an era of “professional management”, many hiring managers, in many industries, are as totally ignorant of the functions they themselves supposedly manage as HR people are of those same functions. These hiring managers are more than happy to cover their behinds by “delegating” the hiring function to HR. And they could never tolerate any challenge to the competence of HR to make hiring decisions, because their own competence is vulnerable to the same challenge. Even where none of this is true of given hiring manager, it may well be true of his boss, who will have more to say about HR’s role. In some fields, the higher up you go, the worse it gets.

    To a large extent, in fact, the HR problem is just one aspect of the even larger and crazier problem of “professional management”. One answer, as far as hiring goes, is for businesses to to treat ability and willingness to do the hiring as a fundamental job skill for managers, and to take the results into account when judging a manager’s performance. (Professional help will be needed for compliance matters, but I’ll argue that HR is not a good source for that advice.)

    The excuse these hiring managers give for handing hiring off to HR, is always, of course, that they don’t have time to review all those resumes. “Too busy” is always the excuse when someone in business is asked to do something in his job description that he doesn’t know how to do.

    This excuse is nonsense. In many or most situations, the majority of candidates for mid- to upper-level jobs are obviously unqualified, so that, IF the person reviewing the resumes knows the specialty, the great bulk of resumes can be reduced quite quickly, leaving only the minority that might be qualified. The proverbial 15 seconds for the first screen is quite sufficient for that. (If they don’t know the specialty, it will take a lot more time, and qualified candidates will be rejected.) It also won’t take long to do the second screening, of a far smaller number of resumes, to eliminate all but those who are definitely qualified. Very few will remain, and they merit serious time (and often an interview). At that level, there isn’t a chance in hell that HR can distinguish between them on grounds of fitness for the job, and the only other grounds for distinguishing are potential compliance issues. When I was a hiring manager, I sorted through stacks of several hundred resumes that way. It didn’t take that long at all, and in any case, hiring decisions for skilled people are so important that a good bit of time would be warranted.

    Compliance, of course, is a major issue and a major risk. It wouldn’t be that under sane, competent, and reasonably honest governments–it’s a problem of insane and insanely numerous regulations. If you want to deal with that problem, it makes no sense to rely on people who are trained to apply those regulations as if they made sense, and who, in any case, soon learn that, if those regulations didn’t pose a threat to their employers, they themselves would no longer have jobs. So HR is not the department to rely on for compliance issues.

  32. The HR hacks are telling the managers there are no candidates matching the keywords they told the managers to use.

    The managers are looking only for someone who can “hit the ground running,” for six to twelve months after the position has become vacant.

    Job candidates are posting the exact same resume to every job on every job board on the internet.

    The is NOTHING wrong with this system! I don’t know why you would even think so, Nick.

  33. I agree 100% with LisaMBA09. This is the best on the subject. I don’t want to appear curt but only one word applies to your outline FACTS across the board. The question is when are the presidents, CEOs and boards going to give HR their walking papers? Who is running these asylums?

  34. Nic, LisaMBA09, Nick C and all–don’t put too much faith in hiring managers either. You’re assuming they have the courage of their convictions and want to hire best people–well, many do not. Too good and the less confident are threatened. If they make a mistake in hiring, they don’t want blame laid at their door–not in this environment. Thus hiding behind HR’s skirts is expedient and useful, which is why it continues. Also delaying hiring looks good on the budget–that game is played as well. This goes straight up to the C-level.

  35. Hi Nick,
    Yes indeed I despise Taleo and its act-alikes. I once met a CIO at a networking meeting, then went home to apply for a job at his company. After spending over 4 hours failing to submit an on-line Taleo application, I pulled out the CIO’s business card and called him. I then received a confused call from a senior HR person who walked me through the online hiring process.

  36. I wonder if there’s something to be said for focusing on smaller organisations, the ones without HR departments, especially if your qualifications / experience don’t match the keyword crunchers’ ideal. It’s easier to get to the hiring manager, and he/she is less likely to be holding out for the absolute ideal.

    Oh, wait… I have an idea that Dick Bolles (What Color is your Parachute) said something like this years ago.

  37. Ken Dezhnev makes a very good point: Any mistake by HR is ultimately managements fault. So a crappy HR experience is likely the first sign of a crappy managed company. If HR treats you badly, the company will.

  38. I’d like to comment on Marie’s observation… it looks good on the budget when HM don’t hire. But there are hidden costs to that…

    1. Workers are stressed having to carry heavy loads.
    2. Projects get delayed
    3. Mistakes get made
    4. Customers get unhappy

  39. @ David, Nic…the only thing that matters in many companies is if it looks good on the budget! Especially with public companies, there’s little profitability to be had in this economy except by cutting costs. So when the CEO makes the investor call, the board wants to see lower costs in the name of ‘efficiency’–and that means layoffs and no hiring. Overwork, stress, errors, delays, unhappy customers as a result…hey, if you don’t suck it up or like it, don’t let the door hit you on the way out past the 100 people lining up to get in. Or you’re on a layoff list.

    Oh, and those HR ‘people person’ types get to march more people through layoffs.

    Sorry to sound so tart, but using the old corporate rules or simple logic to try to suss decisions doesn’t work anymore.

  40. I don’t see the President or any member of Congress telling businesses that they have to start making jobs accessible to people who need them, it’s their obligation as a corporate citizen.

    But with so many people clamoring for a solution, they better find one before things get much worse, and they certainly could. I had a conversation with a poster recently that went like this: “You are not entitled to a job, it’s not a right to have one. And you are not entitled to welfare on my tax dollars either.”

    Ok, what is the third option? The third option is I will do what I have to in order to survive, which means possibly taking what you have by force. So you better decide, you can pay me to work or you can pay me not to work, those are your two options, because the third
    option is the one you don’t even want to think about.

  41. I’ve followed and benefitted from Nick’s advice for many years. Never before has it been more important to have or develop internal contacts that will “introduce” you to the hiring manager who owns an open position in a company where you want to work. Even if you only have that manger’s name, you can expend meaningful, worthwhile effort to introduce yourself by phone or email with specific reasons you’re a “fit” and how you’d approach his/her job (as opposed to completing online applications, profiles and uploading resumes). A number of my friends who work in HR departments are not happy when I tell them, “Taleo is not a hiring manager.”

  42. Nick lays down the articulated historical malfunction of what HR has done to the hiring process over time in America. *Stands up and applauds* Well done!

  43. Dave Hunt,

    I know exactly how you feel with those tests.

    I once interviewed with a company and thought I had it nailed. During one interview, I essentially used the ATH technique and told the person how I’d solve a problem she was having. She was quickly writing down everything I said and said that I needed to talk to her boss who wasn’t there that day because this was exactly what they needed. How much better can it get than that?

    Then came the 30 minute online psychological profile test with the same A/B questions. Apparently, one score or answer made them hesitate. They actually told this to me in a follow up interview.

    In hindsight, I’m glad they eliminated me. I wouldn’t want to work at such a place with such stupid managers.

  44. @Chris: Well, that psych profile undoubtedly revealed correlations between your attitudes and feline mounting behavior, rendering you a risk to the company. Lucky they found out before it was too late, eh? You’d have felt terrible if they hired you, only to realize you were interfering with the business of cat herding. Wonder what happened to that interviewer and her boss?

  45. David Hunt–these tests come with a bunch of names–Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), California Personality Inventory (CPI), Myers-Briggs, Keirsey Personality. MMPI and CPI are psychopathology tests and usually not administered by experts, thus usually misinterpreted by bone-headed HR types (them again). I’ve been subjected to CPI and Myers-Briggs. Unless you’re interviewing for a Federal law enforcement job (DEA, FBI etc), refuse MMPI and CPI. Myers-Briggs and Keirsey are used primarily inappropriately (they are supposed to be coaching tools)–again as excuses to not hire by (again) HR types. Love to hear Nick on this!

  46. Yes. Managers should do their own recruiting. Ideally. Human nature being what it is, in reality, the quality time managers expend on it varies depending on their personal inclinations and priorities, and their working environment. I did a lot of my own recruiting, and worked with others who were very pro-active. But I’ve also worked with managers who at best gave it lip service and abdicated most of it to HR recruiters or agency recruiters.
    And HR’s involvement & worth varied accordingly. A wise manager makes use of resources provided. HR can be a such resource and a good one if you make an effort to let the recruiter get in your head to the degree they are pretty good at recognizing the kind of person you’re looking for. You can’t teach them to program, but you can give them a set of technical questions and correct (per your idea of correct) answers. Don’t invest the time, & you have a close to useless tool.
    Back to the point of pro-active managerial recruiting. 20% of their time in today’s understaffed, downsized world is wishful thinking. You have hardly time to think, because you’re constantly fire fighting. Why doesn’t someone fire their ass? because that manager is working for a manager who’s also not spending the right amount of time on staffing, who in turn is working for a senior manager likewise.
    For a manager to spend 20% of their time taking care of talent scouting they have to be in an environment that both appreciates it and demands it. What job hunters see and the HR people adapt to and mimic, is management teams that low ball the importance. Rarely have I sat in Status meetings with bosses above me where the topic was even on the agenda. No consequences. Show me metrics, I’ll show you behavior.
    However lest you think I’m disputing Nick’s point about the 20% I’m not. Because I once had that rare experience where I played a part in serious high priority recruiting, by managers. You may find it interesting as it was quite an experience. And it’s not rocket science. Just good management.
    I worked for a computer company that was growing like a rocket. The VP of my Division had 1000 reqs. Right 1000. Which he allocated among his Directors. He then told them that this was their top priority, which they should treat just like a new product development (this was an R&D organization). He wanted all of the reqs filled ASAP and how well they did would affect their performance appraisals..(think bonus). He created a spread sheet fondly called The Mother Of All Spreadsheets (MOAS) which tracked req allocations, offers, hires and charted same. Every status meeting started with recruitment as the first order of business with each Director reporting progress while gaping at the latest updated MOAS. Feet to the fire.
    How did it actually work day to day? Here’s how my director worked it. The others did similar. He told his Managers (of which I was one) that they were his reqs, not there’s. And he wanted them all filled, and when done he planned to go back to the well and get more. (ambition). He delegated to me req management. And we used a “Use It or Lose It” approach. If one of the managers dragged their ass, and someone else came up with a good hire, I simply reallocated the req to him/her. I also advised each manager to set expectations for a re-org as things could get out of balance that way & we didn’t fool the candidates. This went on for about a year but peaked about 9 months into it. We took him from about 65 people to 165 people in about 9 months. In a very competitive timeframe. We weren’t the only company in a feeding frenzy.
    As Nick noted. HR wasn’t shoved out of the way, their role was covering our back with on-boarding. Ensuring equity in comp packages, getting offers packaged and approved, getting the people relo’d, getting them onboard administratively.
    So the moral of the story is if management places a priority on pro-active recruiting, by managers, and their are consequences for a poor showing..You will find your managers recruiting.’s spotty depending on individuals.

  47. When companies are no longer required to comply with federal guidelines such as OFCCP, then feel free to do away with HR. When hiring managers have the time to actually screen candidates, schedule interviews, AND do their regular jobs your advice is right on the money. Until then, I don’t see your dream coming true.

  48. @Chryssa: Why is it that HR can’t stick to administration, and hiring managers to recruiting and hiring? No one in HR has ever been able to give me one cogent reason why managers can’t manage those two functions. I’m not arguing that they already do — but that they should. Why shouldn’t “the system” be altered to accomplish this? I’d love to hear some reasons (1) why HR should retain control of recruiting and hiring, and (2) why managers can’t or shouldn’t do it.

  49. Nick,

    Loved your article. If HR calls the applicant in for an interview after reading their resume, then why does HR tell that person they’re overqualified when HR doesn’t even do the job for the position they’re interviewing for in the first place?

    Is HR really looking for qualified people who don’t have to be micromanaged, or are they looking for the cheapest person to hire which costs them a lot more money in the long-run affecting the company’s profit margin? Remember, “cheaper isn’t necessarily better.”

    Doesn’t make sense to me when someone is told they’re overqualified for a job. If the applicant wants the job, the company could greatly benefit from their knowledge and/or experience.

    There’s so much to learn when working for a new company. And don’t you think that someone who’s been working for a company for a while will outgrow their position and become bored and not do their job with the enthusiasm they once had when they first got it?

    So I think sometimes, HR doesn’t look at the enthusiasm and knowledge base an applicant would bring into a company. New ideas always have the possibility of growing a company.

    Do you really think someone would take a job they’d be bored with in the first place? Most people look for opportunities to grow.

  50. Nick,

    Loved your article. If HR calls the applicant in for an interview after reading their resume, then why does HR tell that person they’re overqualified when HR doesn’t even do the job for the position they’re interviewing for in the first place? Doesn’t make sense to me. If the applicant wants the job, the company could greatly benefit from their knowledge base.

    There’s so much to learn when working for a new company. And don’t you think that someone who’s been working for a company for a while will outgrow their position and become bored and not do their job with the enthusiasm they once had when they first got it?

    Is HR really looking for qualified people who they don’t have to be micromanage, or are they looking for the cheapest person to hire which costs them a lot more money in the long-run affecting the company’s profit margin? Remember, “cheaper isn’t necessarily better.”

    So I think sometimes, HR doesn’t look at the enthusiasm and knowledge base an applicant would bring into a company. New ideas always have the possibility of growing a company. Why miss that opportunity of hiring that person?

    Do you really think someone would take a job they’d be bored with in the first place? Most people look for opportunities to grow.

  51. Nick,
    Just listened to the Gil Gross audio. I’m in the 50+ age group looking for work with 30+ years in Technology. Now I know why there is such a lack of responses from submitting online applications. I’ve had some success (getting interviews)through recruiters and personal networking. I am amazed that businesses are putting so much trust in their HR staff to “thin” the applicant pool. Thanks for the great insight.

  52. @Evelyn: I agree with every single point you make. The trouble is, HR is not hiring anyone. It’s processing them, and pretending it’s hiring. That’s why it all seems so irrational. HR tries to “add value” to the process, but in fact does damage.

    People sometimes take jobs they don’t want, to pay the rent and buy food. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as they deliver 100%. As you point out, people leave jobs for various reasons. HR acts like it can avoid that by not hiring the over-qualified. HR should be asking itself, If I hire this person with such great qualifications, what’s the best way for our company to capitalize on that? Because it’s good news, not a reason for rejection.

  53. @Evelyn Gray

    Well stated! I agree 100% with all of your points.

    I get “harassed” by recruitment for jobs that are merely a slide over (at best) instead of a step up. These jobs would be a nominal pay increase at best, and I would end up losing current benefits at my current job. In other words, you are not offering me enough to leave.

  54. In the end, talking to candidates on the phone or in person is how you make decisions on adding them to the candidate pool. More resumes is not the answer. More job postings is not the answer.

    Since a resume can’t be an indicator of a great candidate, the process of recruiting relies on phone calls, meetings, and hard decisions. no key word search or ATS can overcome a real interaction with another person.

    And while we’re at it, here’s my plea to recruiters, HR Professionals, and Hiring Managers everywhere:
    it’s time to start giving candidates that get dinged from the process real feedback on why they didn’t get the role or give them some performance suggestions on ways to make a difference in their job search. Stop worrying about legal implications or awkward moments. I’ve always felt that a top level recruiter leaves candidates in as good or better shape than they found them.


  55. I read a comment on another site relating to a news story…

    To summarize, part of the problem you get a ton of resumes (and claim to need ATS) is because in the current system it’ll take many tries to at least get a pair of eyeballs to look at your resume. So, people apply to jobs that look “reasonable” (i.e. in your field, have some of the requirements, etc.) because they simply don’t know what your looking for, etc. What’s the worst thing to happen, you get no answer?

    HR/Recruiters/Head Hunters/Hiring managers have to break the cycle.

  56. @Dave: That’s exactly what’s going on, and it’s exactly what needs to happen next. Break the cycle. But getting off the ATS teat is virtually impossible for employers. I think job hunters have to break the cycle by refusing to play the game.

  57. I agree–we do have the break the cycle. The challenge lies in convincing others (meaning employers) to do so. For example, I was recently told about a job opening and given the name of the hiring manager. I researched the company, talked to my contact about them (and the people working there), and decided to try for it. I contacted the hiring manager, mentioned my contact’s name (he told me to do this), and after having a productive conversation with the hiring manager, gave him a preview of what I can do for the company (you have a problem, here’s how I’d solve it). The hiring manager was interested, but then came the kiss of death–he told me that all applicants have to fill out an online application/download a résumé to their site so HR can decide who is qualified. Yeah, I know what means–it means my résumé gets scanned by a computer looking for keywords, impossible skills, the right age, whatever without ever having a pair of HUMAN eyes read it. If I don’t perfectly match whatever criteria the HR dept. selects, or if they deem I’m too old, my application will be spat out and I’ll be informed 1.5 seconds later that I’m unqualified for the job. In the meantime, the job goes unfilled and the hiring manager stated that they NEED someone to do it. But they’re going to be stupid and wait for the perfect candidate because they’d rather rely on a computer than on the hiring manager. And I’m not just blaming HR–the hiring manager & management have some ownership in this mess too.

  58. marybeth:

    Pardon the cynicism, but that sounds like one of the worst cases of corporate cranio-rectal inversions I’ve ever heard told.

  59. marybeth:

    As a followup… I understand that HR wants to play a role. But if a hiring manager likes you and wants to bring you in – TO NICK’S POINT – the hiring manager should be the final decider, NOT HR.

  60. @David Hunt: I’ve gotten very cynical too, and with good reason. Nick has given us great tools for getting around this problem of HR commandeering the hiring process, and, to add insult to injury, using a computer software program/algorithm to screen out candidates. I’m very frustrated; I finally found a job (part-time, so I’m in the ranks of the under-employed, but it is better than being unemployed) last fall after being unemployed for nearly 2 years. I’ve learned from Nick and from others’ posts that the best way, indeed the ONLY way to get hired is to do my research (do I want to work for this company or agency, what is it like to work there, etc.), network with the hiring manager (if you can find out who that is–some companies and agencies make the CIA look like gossipy blabbermouths because they hide the names and contact info for their managers so well), and if there is interest, then SHOW the hiring manager what I can do for him (rather than what the company can do for me). Nick is right–HR usually knows less than nothing about the open jobs, yet they’ve commandeered the hiring process in many companies and agencies. Only if I pass the computer’s screening will they deign to contact me. The problem is that a computer can’t tell the hiring manager, based upon the online application I’ve filled out or on the résumé I’ve downloaded, that I can do the job. HR can’t tell either, unless I happen to be applying for an HR job (which I’m not).

    So yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Nick–HR should be banned from the hiring process; all they’ve managed to do is screw it up so badly that jobs go unfilled for months while millions of qualified people remain unemployed and/or underemployed.

    But management has some ownership in this too. HR wouldn’t be involved in the hiring process if management didn’t let them get away with it. And what I learned is that if I meet and/or talk with a hiring manager who is “desperately” looking to fill an important position but then turns over the process to HR, that means the hiring manager isn’t really serious about hiring ANYONE, even if I come to him with the name of a contact we share and who can vouch for me.

    I agree with you–the hiring manager should be the one to decide and inform HR “I’m hiring MaryBeth: here’s her contact info, so please get in touch with her to have her come down to fill out whatever paperwork you need.” The hiring manager who hides behind HR is as much a part of the problem as HR.

    Nick’s advice is great, and now we need to get employers on board.

  61. @marybeth:

    I had an interview last Friday. I got comments from 3 of 4 managers I met (two engineers were less forthright in their feedback)… all to the effect that they were impressed. Here’s hoping.

    This Friday I’m having lunch with a VP of one target company; next week, tentatively, lunch with the Controller of another company.

    The issue is that so, so, so many managers STILL do not understand the benefits of networking.

    For example… there’s a company where a friend of mine works, and he’s hand-delivered my resume and portfolio to any number of people for specific open positions. Apparently this company is very big on personal referrals like this. What have I gotten? SQUAT.

    The job descriptions are written tighter than the proverbial gnat’s hindquarters. And while I’ve got 90% of what they want, I’m missing one or two things… so instead of hiring me, and getting someone hardworking and enthusiastic and able to learn that last little bit, they’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting for that perfect fit to stumble into their lair. I could have been there and being productive already. This scenario plays out time and again with many people I know.

    So it’s management, and HR. The question, then, is how do we – with essentially no pull whatsoever – get through to these people?

  62. @David Hunt

    I wonder if there was ever a case study done to say how much revenue/profit was lost due to a job going unfilled.

    For example, I’ve heard at least 50% of new college graduates are unemployed/underemployed. You can’t tell me that hiring some of them, sending them to “boot camp” for a few weeks is any worse than letting the job remain open for a few months?

  63. @Dave:

    I remember, back in the 1990s, when I hired into Ford Motor. My then-boss said that he didn’t expect me to achieve anything significant for the first SIX MONTHS.

    Nowadays companies are running so lean that hiring managers are obsessed with someone who can “hit the ground running” – and they’ve become so obsessed wih this quest that they’ve ignored reality – and the true needs of the business.

  64. @David Hunt: Good luck! Having an interview is positive (I can’t even begin to count the number of jobs I’ve applied for, the number of people I’ve talked to, etc., and like you, I’ve had ZERO response.)

    Please let me know how you make out!

    I think Dave is right–employers today expect new hires to be able to do the job perfectly with no training, no mentoring. I read an article recently in which a hiring manager bemoaned the “talent shortage” and wrote that businesses such as his couldn’t spare time from onerous training of new employees, including such time-consuming tasks such as showing them where the bathrooms are.

    I think Nick would tell us that that is a huge warning sign–any employer that can’t be bothered to show new employees where the bathrooms are (and considers such a thing dumb and a waste of time) is not an employer anyone with half a brain wants to work for.

    @Dave: I think you’re right, and it would be interesting to see the bottom line results of what it costs businesses and government when jobs go unfilled. What doesn’t get done that will eventually impact the bottom line? (That means maybe it won’t be felt until later in the year or even longer–not all decisions are felt in the current quarter) What about the costs to the employees who are already there? I bet a lot of those tasks (from the unfilled job) are distributed among those who remain, and eventually they get burned out because they can’t continue to do their jobs plus one or more other jobs. You can do it for a little while, but at some point you end up doing nothing well because you’re over-extended and burned out.

    I think businesses and government have forgotten that no one, not even those who decide to make a lateral move, come perfectly trained, even if they’ve done that job before. Cultural differences between employers still mean that it does take new hires time to get up to speed. And at one time, businesses and government understood that training was their responsibility. There’s only so much college or vocational programs can do.

  65. @Dave: thanks for the link. Interesting article, and it merely confirms what I’ve suspected and heard–no shortage of talented STEM grads, but a shortage of talented American STEM grads who will work for two rupees per week.

  66. @Marybeth:

    I was at a conference on outsourcing some years ago. I heard two “suits” – executives – talking about white collar jobs going to India. One said “Why should I hire an American when I can get two Indians for the same price?”

    This was in a low voice, obviously not meant to be overheard. But it exactly captures what you said.

    I’m facing a similar thing in my job search right now. I’m barely able to ask for what I was making two jobs ago.

  67. @David Hunt:

    What I wonder is whether those who are so anxious to hire Indian and Paki STEM graduates because they’re “cheap” compared to American STEM graduates have taken into account cultural differences. At my last job at a large state university, whenever we needed to pump up the numbers in our faculty pool, or even if we decided to do a legitimate faculty search (i.e., rather than having a pre-determined person in mind for the job and doing a fake search), we would advertise in the professional journals and online. The dept. sec’y would be swamped with CVs from what looked like the entire Indian sub-continent. Many of them didn’t bother to read the requirements–they had degrees in fields that bore no relation to our dept. Many others made all kinds of demands–they “required” us to buy homes, pay their sons’ school fees, buy cars, pay their bills, buy them the latest computers and software, and, here’s the kicker–they’d demand that we sponsor and pay for bringing 5,000 of their closest relatives to the US, and pay for their living expenses. It got so bad that the faculty heading the search committee would have the sec’y pre-sort through the CVs, and anyone who was from India or Pakistan automatically got nixed because they were such pains in the butt if the slightest interest was expressed. The demands they made far outweighed any benefit of having them on the faculty. And for the online program, trying to tell them that we expected them to stay in India and teach from there, and no, we would not be sponsoring them or anyone else to come here, nor pay their living expenses, food, sons’ school fees, buy them the newest computers, etc.

    If part of the “cost” of hiring these folks on H1B1 visas includes bringing over not only their wives and sons but in-laws and their extended families, the costs increase, don’t they?

    A friend of mine has a son who graduated two years ago with an engineering degree. He still can’t find an engineering job because he’s competing with Indians on H1B1 visas who will do the same job but will accept a salary of $25,000 per year. And I’m thoroughly disgusted with our Congress who plan to bring in more “guest” workers to do the “jobs Americans won’t do”. They’re waiting for the Chamber of Commerce to finish the draft before voting on it. My friend’s son would love to work as an engineer–it is what he went to school for, thinking it would be more practical than a liberal arts degree and that it would pay more than teaching. He never thought that he would be unable to get a job despite employers saying that not enough American kids are majoring in STEM. The only job he’s been able to get, and he just got it a few weeks ago, is a part-time job in a deli, where he says he’s losing IQ points every time he goes into work.

    I’d like for Nick to be able to get the heads and hiring managers of companies and industries in a room, lock the door, and smack them silly.

  68. @David Hunt and marybeth

    A thought experiment:

    Let us assume that H1B’s are a Good Thing(TM).

    Why do we need more skilled workers in a time of high unemployment/underemployment? Unless you’re bringing in PHD’s from IIT and paying them 6 figures, isn’t the program pointless right now?

  69. @Dave and @David Hunt: re your thought experiment–you’re right, and it is just another example of cranial-rectal inversion. It is also about being as cheap as possible. They want highly skilled and highly educated workers for the lowest prices. If you can get two Indians for the price of one American, as per David’s two “suits”, then doing so drives down salaries, to the benefit of companies, but not to workers.

  70. @marybeth:

    My late father, a Harvard Business School professor, once said that truly free trade is a transfer of wealth from the richer country to the poorer country.

    Now, sooner or later, things will stabilize. Look at China – although still far, far less expensive than the US in many things (e.g., production) their wages are rising… so companies are looking at Vietnam and other SE Asian countries.

    When those start rising, they’ll look elsewhere – Africa? (Though the corruption there makes Chicago look saintly.) Things will catch up, but how long will it take, and at what level will things stabilize?

  71. @David Hunt:

    Your late father’s idea is a novel one, in this day and age of wealth transfers upward (to the already wealthy). I hope that he was right, and that you are right, and that things will stabilize, sooner rather than later. Countries with huge disparities between the wealthy and the poor, particularly those with no middle class and/or a minute middle class, tend to be very unstable. At some point, people decide that they have nothing to lose, and that is when revolutions (a bad case) occur. Governments can also fall, even without revolutions. At worst, you get events like the French and Russian revolutions, with the ruling classes executed and killed. To be merely banished, or have to flee like the deposed shah of Iran in 1979 (though that was a little different–not economics or war-driven) or Kaiser Wilhelm II at the end of World War I still created instability and political vacuums. Not good, either way…I’ve always thought it is better to have a large(r) middle class, to provide opportunities for jobs, careers, education, housing, and more. It doesn’t mean entitlement, but opportunities to better oneself and to provide for your family.

    I, too, have read that some wages in China are rising, and as a result, companies are looking for even cheaper places…Bangladesh (where there was a collapse of clothing factory, killing over 600 people, but wages are the lowest of the low among the countries that make clothing and shoes, and there are no regulations, no safety standards. Shades of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, isn’t it?)

    Employers have always sought the cheapest wages, but as you said, if wages rise everywhere, then at some point it has to become more costly to keep outsourcing manufacturing jobs.

    The other issue here in the US is the cost of living. It isn’t cheap, so if wages continue to fall for workers, they won’t be able to afford the basics such as housing, food, utilities, let alone health care, education. My parents bought land and built a house (1500 square feet) in 1969 for $30,000. That same house (no additions, just basic maintenance was done) is now valued at $550,000. My father has already sold off some of the property, so there’s less “yard” than there was when he purchased the land 44 years ago. Both my brother and I have more education (we were lucky enough to be able to go to college–not the typical go away/live on campus for 4 years experience–and both of us have earned more than our father, yet neither one of us can afford to buy the house we grew up in. It is priced way out of our incomes in a generation. So while wages did increase a bit, they started falling while costs of living went up. And that’s the challenge today, here in the US. Lower wages are fine provided that the cost of living goes down too, but that hasn’t happened.

  72. HR keeps finding creative methods of getting in the way. Here’s a new one: if your previous salary was lower than market then apparently you’re damaged goods because you should’ve been able to get a job for more money. Honest to God. That one knocked me out of the running at a large silicon vendor, where I was exactly the trouble they were looking for, when the HR guy refused to go any further until I coughed it up. That was the last I head of them. Six months later my contact told them “If you’d hired Francois when he interviewed, your project would be finished by now.” “Yeah, we know.”

    To this day I haven’t figured out what value these HR shenanigans bring to any company. It’s a mystery.

  73. What a great set of competing views. Where we see HR and Line managers working best together, as a joint team, we see each tribe having the same level’s of accountability for performance. Critically, they all rate eachother through 360 degree feedback and they have a believable/transparent/well followed process for giving/receiving/jointly learning from feedback. Earlier poster’s identified HR with 360’s or performance fedback on themselves as a bedrock to building a “performance reputation” inside their organisations. I agree. Having been across feedback on HR and Line Management over the years the process is critical. Here”s what we have learned in terms of the steps to gain greater self-ad joint-awareness through 360 degree feedback.

  74. Yesterday I got a rejection call from the manager for a job that was suppose to be my dream job. I worked hard for it and did excellent on all my interviews. Managers liked me. But he sounded hapless on the phone as he mentioned it was HRs decision and they can do nothing about it. They wanted me to work for 36 months without sponsorship, but my OPT allowed 29. Hence they didn’t hire me. What a shame, for my passion for that job was extraordinary.

  75. @Marybeth: I fear we are facing a situation where the drain of jobs from the US to other countries is going to reach a “breaking point” of the patience of a majority of people. What happens after that, G-d knows. But it won’t be pretty…

    @Francois: You have GOT to be kidding me. I am becoming more and more convinced that everyone working needs to lose their jobs – if only to inculcate into them a sense of empathy.

    @Savit: So you could work the majority of the time, and who knows what might happen in 2 years… but no, they don’t want you? This is madness and a sign that the insane are in charge of the asylum.

  76. I had a phone interview with a large mining company’s HR representative a few months ago for a geologist position that i was fully qualified for. Asked me the usual stupid questions about what do i like and dislike about being a geologist. She had zero technical understanding so i’m sure anything i mentioned in that regard went over her head. I thought the interview went alright until i mentioned that i was taking an advanced part time course at a University which i was confident would benefit the company once i completed it at my own expense. Also mentioned that the couple weeks that it would take could easily be scheduled around. She ensured that the company supported professional development such as this but aparently not.
    Never heard anything back. Another position was advertised a few weeks later so i wrote back to say that i guess i didn’t get the last one so i’d like to apply for this position as i’m even more qualified for it and a friend of mine was working at the site. Didn’t even get an email reply.
    All this experience has accomplished is that i will never apply for a position with this company again and i am half tempted to write a letter to senior management letting them know how poorly it reflects on their company.

  77. @Anonymous: You SHOULD write to the President of the company. If it’s a publically-traded company I recommend finding out who the board members are and CC them on the letter as well.

    Tell them that while you understand that you’re not going to get every job for which you apply, the treatment you received in being rejected is being echoed through the professional community… and WILL damage their brand as an employer.

  78. @Nick,

    I’m no management guru, but, everyone should read this article

    Why We Hate HR

  79. I went to the “Why We Hate HR” article; skimmed it. Very astute and perceptive.

    There was, though, a section “Stupid HR Tricks” that reminded me of two incidents related to me.

    The first, told to me by a person I know personally, was an incident when they were a floor supervisor. After a dispute with one of the hourly people, a union committeeman confronted my friend. In front of witnesses, including an HR representative, this committeeman told my friend he would “kick his ass” outside after work. What happened? Nothing. (Another incident at the same place, told N-th hand, was that another floor supervisor was knocked to the floor by an hourly employee – again with witnesses; again, nothing happened.)

    Another incident related by an internet contact was of how they had had a pellet gun pointed at them – straight at their face. He complained to HR, who (as I recall) wrote nothing down. A few days later their cubicle was riddled with pellet holes. And everyone around this person was, apparently, amused. No action from HR, of course.

    This is not to disparage all HR people; in the one incident where I was harassed, action was taken, first by my supervisor to whom I complained, and then by HR who ended up firing the person in question.

    But it’s clear from multiple experiences and stories – both personal and related and read – that HR is a VERY political animal; it does morale and retention NO GOOD when one sees that “some animals are more equal than others”.

  80. Good article. The author nails the issue.

    Here is the problem: There are people who can do something, and people who can’t do anything. The former graduate in the sciences or tough humanities subjects like history, language, or philosophy.

    The latter graduate in Education, Psychology, Gender Studies, and so on, and end up teaching primary or middle school and in HR departments.

    The catch being that a person who knows “Education” doesn’t know anything. A person teaching mathematics should know mathematics, not “education.” A person teaching French should know – yes – French, not “education.”
    And likewise, a person hiring engineers should know engineering, and a person hiring statisticians (“analysts”) should know statistics.
    I mean imagine an HR person hiring a computer programmer. The computer programmer’s resume contains the following section: SAS, PHP, SQL, Perl, C++, C, Python, Linux, etc etc. The HR person has no idea what any of these things are. How can the HR person make a reasonable evaluation of the candidate’s qualifications? She can’t.

    The reality is that there are a lot of people out there who come from a nice middle-class background, want a nice comfortable job with a nice comfortable salary, and who can do absolutely nothing useful such as writing code, lifting heavy weights, fixing appliances, writing reports on technical issues, and so on. And these people have colonized the HR departments, the educational system, and various other such territories, and are sucking dry the lifeblood of the national economy like a massive smiling parasite.
    Here’s another infested realm: Social Services & Counseling. Complete and utter bunkum the whole thing. Also university administration.

  81. I’m sure there are great and fantastic individuals who work in HR; I’ve just never met anyone like that. In over 3 decades of successfully working around the globe, I’ve had to deal with a large volume of incompetent and inept HR “professionals”. Of the best and most talented employees I ever worked with or met; none were discovered or hired through HR.

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  83. AGREED!

    HR has use in a company, but recruiting/hiring isn’t one of them. Look at how many badly-written job ads are out there, asking for applicants to know way more than they honestly need.

  84. HR people are not nice at all, in general. There is a woman named Susan M. Heathfield on a website called “The Balance”. Her attitude is snarky, totally over-the-top and crude, always on a “devils advocate” approach toward job candidates. Google her and you will see what a really nasty HR person is.

    Why am I saying this? Because I got a Masters degree in TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. I worked abroad much of the past 15 years. HR people like Heathfield would look at my resume and immediately get “suspicious” because I had merely worked overseas and maybe she couldn’t verify a few things that she likes to use to eliminate candidates, even though I might hand her actual letters of recommendation (oh those could be forged) etc. I haven’t worked since September because there are too many people out there who say I am either overqualified to work in the business world, or that I can’t do anything but be a teacher here in the USA. I don’t really want to be a teacher here because of all the violence and evil going on in our schools – besides, I’m not licensed. Maybe I want a change, taking all the good crossover skills I have from teaching and the sales/customer service I have also done, and use those for the good of a strong company. But oh no, Susan Hatterfield and her ilk would shoot me down just based on a wrong word on a resume, etc., without even bothering to speak to me, right? I need to work because I need to EAT and hve gas in my car. HR has forgotten how to kindly treat people! Give folks a chance.

  85. We used to have Personnel Departments that were responsible for payroll, benefits management, the grunt work of the hiring process (background checks, etc.), and, of course compliance. The advent of HR, which usurped hiring managers has hurt companies in innumerable ways. When I was a hiring manager, I beat HR at its own game. I insisted that the HR “recruiter” give me all resumes from her sources (I deliberately use “her” because I haven’t met a male HR staffer in years) and *I* would screen these and do my own initial and subsequent interviews. This made for a better process for both my and my candidates, but it didn’t eliminate serious issues, such as really poor candidate souring tool and the horrible automated applicant management systems (none of which are good). Over time these tools have lead to dumbed down resumes that are designed to game the systems rather than provide valuable information. Even when I did my own foot work and sought recommendations from colleagues for potential employees, I often hit road blocks. A promising candidate in whom I was interested had to first submit the resume I had already read to HR. Almost invariably that resume was not selected for further review and if it wasn’t, I couldn’t hire that candidate! It was maddening. Worse, I cannot count the number of times an HR clerk has attempted to cajole me into hiring some candidate SHE likes even though the candidate isn’t qualified – just to meet her quota.

    HR should be excluded from the termination process as well. It is almost impossible to terminate a bad employee and move on. Rather one must jump through the almost infinite HR hoops to “justify” a termination, when all that is really needed is an opinion by a employment security attorney as to whether the termination is justifiable. It should not take a year or more to terminate an employee who simply isn’t up to the job. Managers spend way too much time jumping over unnecessary HR hurdles.

    This article was written in 2013 – a year in which we were reading that HR departments were on the way out. Well here we are in 2019 and HR is still well entrenched. They aren’t going anywhere and they aren’t improving.

    • @Willam S: Thanks for your blunt comments. It will be 2025 and nothing will have changed because boards of directors and other C-suite execs want nothing to do with the work of HR. Big mistake.

      • Upper management believes that personnel below management level are all the same, dumb drones, and management runs the show. They have no motivation to fix what they don’t think is broken.
        Sometimes lower management is also inclined to believe these new fashionable hr ideologies (like cultural fit), then even cutting out hr would not help.