Ask The Headhunter®

the insider's edge on job search & hiring™
April 13, 2010
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This week's Q&A

Time for HR to exit the hiring business

Talk to Nick: For job hunters, managers, HR
Reader's Forum: Spanking HR
How to Say It: Can I try again?
Rule of 6: Bring us some requests!


[A reader recently posted this on the Ask The Headhunter Blog. It's not a question, but it's very worthy of discussion.]

Nick, your comments are dead on about the HR "profession". Maybe not far enough, though.

My dad (who was in HR before it was called HR) used to say that companies ran better when it was called "Pay and Benefits," and they stuck with those tasks:  Making sure the payroll envelopes had the correct amount in them at the end of the week, and making sure the benefits were competitive and not canceled. When it became Human Resources, and "professionals" started telling hiring managers who they could and could not interview, telling [the] legal [department] what was right or wrong, telling management all was well with the company—all the while keeping anyone smart enough to "get it" out of the building—is when corporate America started to go downhill.

MBA's in Chicago

Next Monday, April 19, I'll be at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, to give the keynote address to career center directors from the top 30 MBA and Executive MBA schools in the U.S. (plus the London Business School and INSEAD). These are the folks who advise MBA's and alumni.

The topic of my talk: The New Interview. A.k.a., do the job to win the job, the profit-based interview, the business-plan interview. This is nothing new to you if you're a long-time reader.

But I'm not just going there to speak: I'm going to listen and learn what these career folks are teaching MBA's about job hunting. I hope to come back and share it all with you. Since I'll be flying home when I should be writing the newsletter, if I'm a day or so late with the next edition, please bear with me!

— Nick

Can't say I disagree with him.

Nick's Reply

We've discussed this subject before. Should Human Resources (HR) be in the recruiting and hiring business?

My answer has always been an emphatic no for two main reasons, though there are many others. First, HR is not as expert in the business of any department as that department itself, and thus is not the best "manager" of recruiting, candidate selection, interviewing or hiring. Second, putting these functions in the hands of HR tacitly relieves departmental managers of what I believe are two of their most crucial management tasks—finding and hiring good people.

There's a third good reason: HR has no skin in the game. It virtually doesn't matter who is recruited, processed or hired because HR gets paid regardless. It's a rare company that rewards or blames HR for the quality of hiring, yet HR is typically insulated as a "necessary overhead function" whose performance is measured only indirectly.

HR's domination of recruiting and hiring has produced a disaster of staggering magnitude in business today. You've heard it referred to as "the talent wars," and "the talent problem," and "the talent shortage."

While the economy has put massive numbers of talented workers on the street, HR nonetheless complains it can't find talent. That's no surprise when HR's idea of finding talent is to resort to database searches and keyword filtering, which are disastrously impersonal 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 off their duff (from behind the computer display) to actually go find, meet and bring home good workers.

I could write pages about corporate maladies that arise from the 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:

  • Job boards and similar advertisements—the high-volume, passive recruiting tools HR relies on—yield only applicants "who come along," not those the company should be pursuing.
  • Good candidates are lost because database algorithms and keyword filters miss indicators of quality that are not captured by software. Clever job applicants who game the system slip through keyword filters, wasting corporate time and money. The wrong people get hired and work remains undone because HR's "hiring process" is too far removed from business units that need to hire the best people.
  • 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.
  • Soliciting far more applicants than HR can possibly process properly results in unprofessional HR behavior, angry applicants and damage to corporate reputations.
  • 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 into a true competitive edge.
  • HR tends to isolate managers from the initial recruiting process, further deteriorating the already weak links between managers and the professional communities they need to recruit from.
  • The complexity of corporate HR infrastructure encourages isolation and "siloing." Evidence of this is HR's over-emphasis of legal risks in hiring, and its administrative domination of a top-level business function.
  • With the hiring process relegated to HR, managers often cannot hire competitively or in a timely way. Good candidates are frequently lost to the competition.
  • 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 requires 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.

This situation didn't arise overnight. It crept up on business in the form of a smothering shroud of bureaucracy. 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 control over the key differentiator that defines any company—its people.

I don't disagree with this reader's dad. "Companies ran better when it was called Pay and Benefits." HR should get out of the recruiting and hiring business and give this strategic function back to business units and managers who design, build, manufacture, market and sell a company's products. Give recruiting and hiring back to the people who actually do the business. Who better to decide who's worth hiring? Who better to aggressively go find the people who will give the company an edge?

Please check the Readers' Forum: I'd like your input about whether HR should relinquish its recruiting and hiring functions. Have you experienced problems with HR in this regard? What do you think should be done about it? (And if you think I'm wrong, tell me why.)


Nick Corcodilos
Ask The Headhunter®

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How to Say It

Can I try again?

A reader asks How to Say It: I was interviewed but did not get the job. I've heard of cases where the right kind of thank you letter has resurrected candidates and led to other jobs in the same company. The format I've seen goes like this: "Thank you for interviewing me even if you did not hire me. I am disappointed, but I hope you'll consider me for other positions in the future." It sounds kind of hokey to me. There has to be better wording. How would you say it?

It seems simple enough to me, and very clear: I'd like to try again if you'll have me. Is there a better way to say it? Have you succeeded at getting a second chance with an employer? How did you do it? How did you say it?

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Readers' Forum

Spanking HR

In today's Q&A: (Well, it's not a Q&A!) This week I printed comments about the corporate Human Resources function that bear thinking about. A seasoned HR manager says HR should get out of the business of hiring and recruiting and go back to making sure paychecks have the right amount of money in them.

I agree. What do you think? Can companies get by with managers doing their own recruiting and hiring? Would these functions be better served if HR stopped doing them?

I'd like to know what you think. Drop in on The Blog and post your comments!

Got a topic? Something to get off your chest? Something on which you'd like input from other readers? Send it here. 


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