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In the July 12, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader refuses to waste time interviewing with HR.
Your column HR Managers: Do your job, or get out reminded me that most of what HR does makes no sense, and it’s not smart to bend to HR’s will when I’m looking for a job.
HR always wants me to do a meeting with them first, before they’ll let me talk to the hiring manager, but that’s a guarantee of doom! HR knows nothing about the work I do, and rejects me before I can even meet with someone who is qualified to judge me and what I can do. I know your advice is to tell HR I won’t talk to the hand, but how do I actually say that without sounding like a jerk?
“How to say it” is a big part of Ask The Headhunter — and I know this is where people often stumble. They know they have to push back sometimes, when an employer makes demands, but they freeze up when it comes to actually expressing themselves.
I get it. I used to wonder what the problem was, but I’ve realized that unless you’re dealing with these situations all the time, it’s hard to come up with the right words. Some readers can do it; others can’t. (If headhunters didn’t know how to do it, we’d starve.)
The specific challenge you’re facing is something I wrote about in detail in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, pp. 5-6. Here’s how to tell HR you don’t talk to the hand:
Candidates don’t realize they can insist on interviewing only with the manager. (Why waste time with anyone else?)
How to Say It
If the employer insists that you meet with a personnel jockey before the hiring manager, try this:
“I’m afraid my schedule is very busy, and my time is limited. I’d be glad to meet with a representative from your HR department, but only after the hiring manager and I have met and decided that there’s a clear, mutual interest in working together. Once that’s established, of course I’ll make time to meet with HR.”
If the company balks, be firm.
”Thanks for your interest, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. If the manager decides to meet with me, I’d be glad to schedule some time.”
Then let it go. Move on to another opportunity, where the employer respects you and your time.
Is this risky? Of course it is. But so is wasting your time with someone who isn’t qualified to evaluate you. “Playing along” isn’t going to change this. It’ll just demoralize and frustrate you. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)
The approach I recommend emphasizes that your time is not free — it’s valuable. And, while you might respect HR’s role in hiring, you’re no dummy — you know that only the hiring manager is qualified to judge you. If the employer is really interested in you, HR will back off and respect your wishes and your time. If they’re just putting you through a mindless meat grinder, then it’s better to find out up front. That’s what makes this a good test of whether you’re looking at a real opportunity, or the blind leading the blind.
I’m glad you found the HR Managers: Do your job or get out helpful. But it wasn’t just a challenge to HR. It’s also a challenge to you. Are you willing to stand up for yourself, and for sound business practices?
HR’s behavior will not change as long as job seekers keep agreeing to silly demands. Why would you want to get screened by HR, when HR isn’t expert in the work you do? Would you let the gardener tell you not to knock on the homeowner’s door? (See Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?) You don’t have to talk to the hand.
If you want to optimize your chances of winning the right job, keep your standards high, and don’t do foolish things just because someone tells you to. Insist on meeting with the hiring manager first.
Are there “magic words” you use when HR confronts you with unreasonable demands while you’re applying for a job? Please tell us “how you say it” when you tell HR to take a hike. Let’s talk about where you draw the line, and about what works.
You are sounding like our overly bureaucratic government; creating more rules to address the exceptions, not the norm.
Perhaps my perspective is a little clouded because I am very good at what I do and I can’t recall one instance where a HR person rejected a candidate that I presented to them before a manager saw the resume. I have many managers reject candidates for a variety of reasons but never HR. The reason why this doesn’t happen is because I provide a level of screening that HR typically does for candidates that come through internal channels. Hopefully I do it better than HR.
The purpose of HR is to support the business managers and for you to suggest that HR people aren’t qualified to provide any level of judgement to the hiring process is preposterous. For you to suggest that HR knows nothing about the requirements of the position is pure ignorance on your part. You throw out unsubstantiated claims about how bad HR is because you know you will have an audience of applicants who applied for a job and for whatever reason did not get the job and therefore they are looking for someone to blame.
This is as relevant as the Atlanta Braves complaining they didn’t make the playoffs because of bad umpiring. The reality is, they stink this year! It has nothing to do with the umpires but instead who they chose to put on the field.
HR’s job is to provide a first level review and that is it. If a person is being rejected, I am 99% certain that compared to other candidates, the person is not as qualified as the other applicants.
Shame on the candidate for not being able to articulate why they are the best fit for the job, either through the resume or their words in an interview. Decisions need to be made every day in business and the president does not make all of them. Some are delegated to managers, some are delegated to HR, and some are delegated to staff… Although we may not agree with all of them, we have to respect and accept them. If they make more bad decisions than good ones, they end up like the braves, and after all, who would want to be on that team anyway.
Then your HR is getting paid for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time! If I have a position open for a Technical Project Manager and a candidate walks in, HOW ON EARTH can HR determine if that person is what we’re looking for?
The only three things I care about in a candidate are:
* Can they do the work I need done now?
* Can they learn and grow as the company’s needs (and the industry) change?
* Will they fit in with the rest of the team?
HR can answer NONE if these questions. They can’t even understand how to determine the answers to those questions.
In your case, you do not have a qualified HR person. If they do not understand what a PM does and does not understand career progression and does not understand the culture of the company, then you are correct… HR can’t do their job.
I am seeing people disagree with my position and it is because they are looking at it from a specialty search perspective… I completely agree with unique searches require unique assessments and HR may not be capable. I am coming from a more typical hiring perspective. If you are hiring an AP person, clearly you will get 100 people applying for one position. Do you think the AP Manager has the time and interest to read 100 resumes? Of course not!!…
It is up to the candidate on how to navigate the hiring process. I do not think running around HR is the best strategy to begin a relationship with an employer. The fact that someone would knowingly circumvent a business process speaks volumes to how you can expect that person to behave while on the job.
My second point I disagree with Nick is that he suggests that all HR people are incompetent. I do not believe that is fair or accurate…
You say you “can’t recall one instance where a HR person rejected a candidate that I presented to them before a manager saw the resume.” Wow. That’s not the norm. I know many companies where HR is the first and sole arbiter of who gets to the hiring manager – it’s a real problem. But it sounds like you’re a headhunter and your clients respect your own screening. It’s not so for applicants who try to get in the door themselves – or for managers who never get to see them. Bartholomew Remmington says it well in the post below.
I’ll add this: “HR’s job is to provide a first level review and that is it.” I don’t think you realize that once HR does its first level review and rejects a candidate, the authority best able to judge the candidate (the hiring manager) never gets a crack at that candidate. That’s precisely the problem. Please ask an engineer to explain signal processing to you.
There are several flaws with Mr. Parsons’ post; I will get to him later, I hope, I’m kind’a rushed just now. (There’s something seriously wrong when he says ‘many managers reject his candidates’. His saying this seems to say he forwards a lot of unsuitable candidates for consideration.)
In this case, I support what you are saying and in fact, I have been told by HA’s that they wish HR would pass the incoming resumes to them, directly, since they don’t trust HR to ‘get it right’ and pick out qualified candidates and worse, not screen out qualified applicants.
I have my own two cents on this “..won’t talk to the hand…” issue and I’ll post it here in the thread. Thanks,………………Paul
Thumbs up on the new website design!
This is one of those “it depends” situations. Nick, I agree with you, in situations where the number of applicants is small and the job is specialized. When that’s the case HR not only adds no value to the process, it actively subtracts it.
But then there are all those other jobs people look for. The ones where hundreds of applicants send in their resumes and merit consideration.
Faced with hundreds of applicants, vanishingly few hiring managers will hire well. Their eyes will be too glazed and their eardrums will be too numbed to have any way to pare down the stack to a scale where they can do any kind of decent evaluation.
Do the math: Assume two hundred applicants, and that four interviews a day is the maximum before the hiring manager’s ability to pay attention starts to fade. That means 50 days … ten solid weeks … of interviews, many of which will be complete wastes of the manager’s time.
HR has a valid role to play here, to screen out candidates who are obviously unqualified, to screen out candidates who might be qualified but who clearly wouldn’t be good employees overall, or who don’t have the habit of success and aren’t likely to develop it.
Is this what most HR recruiters do? Some yes, some no. For that matter, some HR recruiters do a fine job of learning the area they support so they can screen on skills at a more sophisticated level; others lack the curiosity gene and can’t be bothered.
That many HR organizations do it wrong doesn’t mean they should just dump all applicant resumes on the hiring managers desk and call it a day. It means HR needs to do its job better, which is a very different matter.
Oh … even if you agree with all of the above in principle, if you’re trying to get hired, you still shouldn’t go through HR. That means ignoring HR completely, not contacting HR so you can have an argument about HR’s process.
Find a way to make the hiring manager’s acquaintance first, and bypass HR entirely. If the hiring manager likes you, he/she will make sure HR doesn’t screen you out when you eventually do submit yourself to their process.
“Faced with hundreds of applicants, vanishingly few hiring managers will hire well. Their eyes will be too glazed and their eardrums will be too numbed to have any way to pare down the stack to a scale where they can do any kind of decent evaluation.”
That’s exactly the problem, but I think you’re missing it. When there are too many applicants, we must ask why. The answer is glaringly clear: HR solicits them, and must stop. Managers would be better able to handle a few good candidates if that’s who HR delivered. But HR turns on the fire hose, then complains there are too many applicants for hiring managers to talk to.
Hmmm. Smacks of job justification to me, more than doing the job properly. HR is merely protecting its role, and I’m stunned the C-suite doesn’t see this.
“Do the math: Assume two hundred applicants”
I can’t assume that. It’s insane, irresponsible, and stupid to process 200 applicants. It’s the classic Zen problem: You can’t get over the mountain. And the Zen answer: There is no mountain. (HR is the mountain, and managers need to realize it isn’t really there – it’s a fabrication designed to “deal” with those 200 or 20,000 applicants.)
Employers need to stop the insanity. 200 candidates is insanity. The “system” being used is the problem.
HR recruiters need to stop screening and start recruiting the right kinds of candidates to begin with. Diddling LinkedIn and Indeed databases is not recruiting. And – as you suggest – applicants need to realize there is no mountain by going direct to the hiring managers. There we agree!
Well stated Bob…
Couldn’t disagree more with Ed Parsons. My workplace has a thousand employees, three quarters of whom work at jobs requiring academic or highly specialized knowledge. Here there are specializations WITHIN specializations, and loss of an employee can be harrowing. Hiring managers routinely tweak job descriptions AND departmental organization to fit applicants with experience/knowledge, especially if these overlap specializations. HR could never deal knowledgeably with these complexities, and we follow their rules mostly for administrative positions. Unless you’re placing robots, I can’t think how Ed Parson’s rule bound approach could work even in a simpler workplace than ours. People here forward resumes they receive from contacts and word of mouth referrals first to hiring managers, not to HR. Hiring managers review resumes before HR receives them. Hiring managers then contact HR, telling them what candidates they’d like HR to screen. HR is thus included in the process, conducts the first interview, but knows the candidates must proceed to the hiring manager unless HR finds something egregiously wrong.
Addie: You’ve described an HR role that works. But I think it works this way only when hiring managers demand that HR support them, not supersede them, in the hiring process.
Nick, you’re right, and this demand from hiring managers evolved after years of frustration with HR and the long last hiring of a truly professional HR Director.
Suggestion: wherever you work, try to influence from inside to improve the hiring process. When you know there is an opening, take every opportunity to promote smarter hiring.
Ah, Karen – That’s exactly the lesson I hope we’re all learning here!
I just made the mistake of wasting one hour of my time on the phone by HR. The person was reading from a list of questions and writing down my responses, she had no understanding of the role or responsibilities of the job and no background in the profession. At the end of the interview she told me that the position had not even opened up.
This could have been avoided had I insisted on speaking with the hiring manager.
“Shame on the candidate for not being able to articulate why they are the best fit for the job, either through the resume or their words in an interview” You are also assuming that the candidate is begging for a job and the organization is not starving for talent. Most of the job descriptions are so vague or all encompassing no outsider would actually understand what the day to day responsibilities of the role entail. HR is so out of its depth interviewing engineers or managers it should embarrass them. Asking vague questions like “Why did you apply here?” or “Why did you leave your last job?” don’t add much value in the hiring process.
@Michael: “You are also assuming that the candidate is begging for a job and the organization is not starving for talent.”
While HR apologists make just that assumption, out of the other side of their mouths they’re crying there’s a talent shortage!
In 35 years of hiring I’ve been lucky enough to have dealt with only helpful HR people. That comes from looking for people whose talents they don’t pretend to be able to evaluate. But a hiring manager who can’t winnow 100 resumes down to a reasonable number should get out of the game. If they are truly identical, pick one at random and interview. If you are looking for a generic candidate, you can find one quickly.
But the whole problem goes away if a candidate follows Nick’s advice and contacts a hiring manager directly. No HR and you get in front of that pack of 100 resumes. It takes more work than spamming your resume all over the place, but it is worth it.
Hiring managers have drunk the Kool-Aid! Those who I convinced I was a viable candidate for their job opening or to whom insiders recommended me would still not consider me unless I was referred by HR. Gah! (Hence the admonition to get there before there’s an open position…)
I think too many people are blaming HR for managers lack of involvement and action. If HR supposedly does not know anything about the job, then why don’t managers screen their own applicants? Unfortunately, too many times they are lazy and push the task to someone else, usually HR. And, how do you ensure if managers are screening that they are not being discriminatory in their efforts (either knowingly or unknowingly)? Unfortunately, some managers are not ethical and do things like this. I have worked in HR for 18 years and have always been direct and honest in my efforts. I always make the effort to directly reach out to candidates who have interviewed but not been selected and provide feedback if requested. So, I think this general blame against HR is wrong. Also, instead of complaining about “problems”, a much better approach would be to look for effective solutions. As an applicant, if you don’t like the way the recruitment process works for a company, then why do you keep pushing to obtain an interview??? Seems to me that may be a signal to someone that they may not be a good fit for the organizational culture.
DG: Your comments are valid — managers often love pushing recruiting and interviewing tasks to HR. “It’s HR’s job!” But here’s the bigger problem: If HR professionals are going to say they manage HR — including recruiting and hiring — then HR needs to assert itself in the C-suite and change the way things work. I know HR teams that teach managers how to interview and handle their own process — but most of the time, HR lets this role be pushed back to them.
Who’s going to get change started?
Enough with the hogwash. HR is in place because the C-suite needs a team to deal with employees. If organizations were truly efficient and truly cared about their employees, managers would take ownership of employees and their product/service. This would include recruiting talent. However managers in most organizations are overworked, underfunded, understaffed and lack the trainings and tool to acquire talent as part of responsibilities.
If organization truly cared about getting TOP talent at ALL levels this recruiting model we have would not exist. Instead most organization just want good enough. Good enough means I can give the recruiter a list of key words and phrases to match on resumes. And let us not forget how flawed the interview process is. When do I know I hired the right person? Two to 3 weeks afterwards. For the most part a lot of this is a show and dance that produces mediocre results at best.
HR does what it does because the company allows it to. How do I know this because I am in HR. I have to listen the blab from HR gurus and HR haters. Listen at the end of the day, all departments and all business are expected to create value for their customers, and I feel most HR dept and businesses just create trend dejour.
“…du jour…”. It is spelled, ‘du jour’.
“And let us not forget how flawed the interview process is. When do I know I hired the right person? Two to 3 weeks afterwards.”
This seems odd since I have not yet met an HR professional who actually does the hiring except for their own department. Are you saying you make the hiring decision for your company’s department heads?
Also, you leave yourself open to criticism when you say you don’t know if you have made a “right” hire until a few weeks go by. This suggests you don’t know how to assess people or perhaps you are saying that in spite of your best judgment, you still have bad hires?
…and there’s this:
“For the most part a lot of this is a show and dance that produces mediocre results at best.”
There are those who would take this to mean your processes are flawed and you live with them. And that the majority of your “results” are mediocre.
How is that possible and how is it that you say these things here? Do you mean to say your upper management won’t support your improving your processes? But you continue to work where results are mediocre?
I know what you are thinking but if you step outside yourself and see how that sounds to us, it gives ammunition to those who regularly find fault with HR. You sound like you are in resignation.
Everything you have said here supports the notion that most HR departments -and by extension their companies- are broken and there is no hope they will be fixed.
Sounds like you may as well set your HR department on fire.
Thank you for your reply. My point was not clear in my first post. My point is this. Within any organization HR obtains it’s authority from Management i.e. CEO, CFO, Board of Directors. If management for whatever reason does not like the result their HR department is providing FIRE THEM. Management at anytime can put into place the type of HR leadership that will carry out their vision for organization. In order to do this, management has be willing to do the work that is involved with making their vision of HR and their organization a reality. If that means, managers are in the front lines screening talent so be it. Either way don’t blame HR for managements lack of involvement.
Folks … HR bashing sure is fun. Ever tried doing the work?
HR exists, not to employ budding bureaucrats, but because a large enterprise isn’t just like a small entrepreneurship only bigger. Large enterprises are complicated critters with lots of moving parts and conflicting goals and constraints. HR is responsible for:
* Ensuring compliance with all employment laws and regulations. Think all hiring managers are immune from applying their biases to hiring decisions? Think again. Age, ethnic, and gender discrimination happen in spite of HR, not because of it.
* Labor relations. Unions have less influence than they used to. Lots of companies still work with them. It’s up to HR to work with them in a way that lets the company take advantage of the best talent and jettison bad employees who are union members.
* Corrective actions. Some poor performers can be turned around. Others can’t. Many managers have no idea how to deal with poor performers and need both coaching and hand-holding so they don’t violate labor laws and regulations (see “compliance,” above). Also so they don’t keep mediocre employees who they personally like while jettisoning stars who have more challenging personalities.
* Corrective actions, part 2. Sometimes, poor performance isn’t the problem. Two otherwise good performers might not be able to work together for reasons that have more to do with chemistry than anything else. Not all managers know how to handle this sort of situation either.
* Organizational development. In HR’s spare time it provides ways for employees and workgroups to get better at what they do.
* Recruiting. HR has to find candidates who are well-qualified to fill open positions, and to do so while remaining in compliance with all employment laws and regulations; without violating union contracts, who aren’t likely to need corrective action for non-skills-related reasons; and who are likely to be overall good employees beyond the current open position.
Because if all you need is a sack ‘o skills, engage a contractor.
I’m not defending lazy recruiters who rely on resume keyword scanners and cheesy screening techniques. What I am pointing out is that for large enterprises, recruiting is more complicated than simply finding people who are good fits for open positions. It’s a tough balancing act.
Bob: I think what some are saying is, HR has its hands full with compliance and administrative tasks. And it shows, because it can’t seem to handle recruiting well at the same time. Nor should it have to. I’m with Michael: Managers need to take on recruiting and hiring to a much greater degree than they do. To me, one of the key critical skills of any manager is their ability to hire great people. That means finding them, too. Or knowing them in advance, which is even better.
HR should not be involved in the initial hiring process. Hiring managers should be accountable for their team building efforts and the face they put on the company as a result.
If I am selling a product I don’t out source the sales effort to clueless staff who don’t understand the product. The same should go for recruiting top talent.
In my dealings with HR this week as part of a job hunt, I have been interviewed for jobs that do not exist, after screening interviews I have been asked to apply for the job (WTF?, didn’t I just do an interview, why I am submitting my name to a database) and twice going through multiple HR interviews with the same company. All of this is making me want to reject these companies as employers now and in the future. If the honeymoon phase is a bureaucratic nightmare what is the job going to be like.
If there is a talent shortage now, just wait until the baby boomer retirement really accelerates.
Michael … your logic seems to be that because you experienced some specific HR departments doing something badly, HR shouldn’t be involved in it at all.
So … imagine your company is now in court, facing a class action suit for discriminatory hiring. In the proceedings it comes out that HR had no involvement in the hiring process. It further comes out that (for example), the corporate culture has a strong youth orientation such that more senior candidates were never taken seriously.
Or, it has a “frat” culture such that women aren’t taken seriously. Or …
See the problem?
Yes, recruiting and hiring are often handled very badly. I’ve seen them handled badly when HR is involved, and I’ve seen them handled disastrously when HR wasn’t involved. The issue is that we need to improve how it’s done, not that HR must be kept away from it.
And by the way, your analogy could use some work: If your company sells a product, you probably do want to employ a professional sales force.
Ah, Bob! :-)
I hear enough stories from readers like Michael to know they’re indicative of a trend in HR: faulty recruiting and hiring processes. If HR is going to be involved, on the whole the profession needs to clean up its act. And the Flip Wilson defense doesn’t work: “The devil made me do it!” Blaming the rest of management for poor HR practices means HR is admitting failure. That’s another story.
I don’t see the point of your imaginings. What does it matter whether HR was involved or not, when we’re talking about a company that discriminates? I know HR departments that discriminate and the rest of management doesn’t know it. Company culture doesn’t get solved just by having an HR department. What you’re suggesting — it seems — is that merely having an HR department is a necessary defense against such claims, but it’s not. And it’s certainly not sufficient.
When some of us suggest HR needs to be taken out of the equation, I think what we’re saying is that reinventing HR is long overdue, because what HR does today (in most companies) just doesn’t work. So, the questions are, what’s to be done, and who’s to do it? I think we must start at, “Not HR the way it works today,” and go from there. But most companies don’t look at their HR function critically. And I know why. The C-suite thinks HR is “icky.” And “Who wants to do THAT! Leave us alone! Let HR do it.”
As long as HR buys into that, nothing will change.
The companies in question are trying to convince great candidates to fill a job. HR staff that I’ve encountered are not knowledgeable enough to discuss the role in any detail. They are certainly not able to talk shop with me and understand what I would bring to the table nor are they able to explain the professional benefits of joining their organization. So HR doesn’t understand the offering and should leave the recruiting task to the hiring manager.
Telephone screening interviews with HR are (in my experience) not interviews at all, but essentially information-gathering exercises conducted by people who don’t really know about the job or about you. The person sounds like they were given a form to fill out. They’re asking questions like:
“Are you authorized to work in the United States?”
“How much travel will you accept?”
“How many years of experience do you have in …” (I guess you didn’t see my resume.)
Even so, I can sometimes glean valuable information from these calls. The caller is usually inexperienced (and sometimes disgruntled) so I can socially-engineer them into telling me the salary range and internal company information.
Sometimes those initial HR screening calls might be called legit, because someone is checking basic facts about the candidate. But is that how a company wants to recruit? It simply turns the best candidates off. HR needs to figure out how to get the info it needs before subjecting good candidates to such calls. For example, HR could ensure it recruits only candidates who fit the profile.
How many employers do THAT? Not many. They run cattle calls and then cull the massive herd. It’s insulting and insane.
@Ed, Bob, et al.
We seem to be skipping over HR’s original, old school and most important purpose, which is to make sure that gross pay less deductions is in the pay envelope at the end of the week, and that when the employee goes to the doctor, the insurance is in force and up to date.
Vast number of HR departments can’t even get those two tasks right. The C-suite then expects HR to properly find, recruit, and vet (for instance) a Master Underwater Basket Weaver who is not in The Basket Weaver’s Union, and who will accept Apprentice pay.
For the most part, HR tends to operate as a gatekeeper to keep potentially adequate Master Basket Weavers away from the company, either by plastering the “opportunity” all over creation, funneling everyone through Taleo and hoping most get fed up and quit mid-application. Then you lose a few more with insulting screening “interviews”, lose the rest with a foot-dragging “Further Interviews” process, and VOILA! There is a talent shortage.
@L.T.: Where’s HR going to find time for payroll and benefits if it has to recruit??
@Bob Lewis: Why is HR involved in legal matters? I have yet to deal with an HR dept. in any of my previous jobs or in my current job that has licensed attorneys with expertise in employment law working for them. I wouldn’t trust non-attorneys to be able to interpret, implement, etc. employment laws, much less enforce them. Nor would I expect them to–the 20 year old working there who does the phone screen “interviews” shouldn’t be dealing with legal matters.
If the company or agency has in-house counsel who deal with these matters, that is different, but I both want to laugh and cry (and shudder with horror) whenever I hear an HR person who is NOT an attorney with expertise in employment law talk about dealing with legal matters, enforcement, regulatory issues (often legal as well) and compliance.