Does Human Resources go too far?

Does Human Resources go too far?

Question

human resourcesI am so glad someone has finally called out the Human Resources (HR) department on its disrespect for job applicants. The sentiment seems to be that they can waste your time and keep you on hold indefinitely simply because — after all — a job hunter has nothing better to do. You’re unemployed (maybe) or in any event you have come to their company to be emotionally abused.

I am both surprised and appalled at companies that supposedly pride themselves on “great customer service” and then treat job applicants like simpletons. Don’t they realize those applicants are potential customers and can influence other potential customers and every other individual who will listen to the horror story of how poorly the applicant was treated by the company?

Sorry for venting, but I’ve got a few bones to pick. An HR manager just handed me a “dispute resolution agreement” that she requires me to sign before even considering me for a job. I am not questioning the legality of this screening method. I am asking your opinion of what type of company would demand this from an applicant even before an offer is made?

Then there are all the other types of corporate coercion that job seekers put up with, including credit checks, background checks, and other invasions of privacy, when no job offer has even been made. What happens to those credit reports and background summaries that companies require? This material stays on file. Who has access to it, and who is maintaining security?

If I am being hysterical needlessly, please let me know. In any event, I think it’s time someone addressed the invasion of privacy that applicants are subjected to.

Nick’s Reply

Gee, you’re opening a can of worms, aren’t you? My compliments. I’d love to hear from employers on this subject.

Human Resources screening job applicants

You raise good questions about Human Resources practices in screening job applicants. The problem is, companies will do all sorts of things to a job candidate if they’re permitted. As you point out, the poking and prodding is all the more bizarre because employers do it before even making a bona fide offer.

I can understand a “contingent offer,” where a company makes an offer first, and the checks and tests are done after the company has put its money where its mouth is. If the applicant declines the checks and tests, the offer is withdrawn. But to demand so much before offering anything is ludicrous — yet it’s done all the time. (Employers will explain that this approach saves them time and money. But what of the candidate’s privacy if an offer isn’t extended after the kimono is opened?)

Companies are relatively free (until someone stops them) to ask job applicants to do cartwheels, pee in a cup, submit to a background check, expose your credit record, or take a cut in pay for a new job. But the decision — really – is yours.

Question authority

What to do about all this? Question authority. Voice your opinion and decline whatever you don’t want to do. Perhaps more important, consider what it would be like to work for a company that wants you to sign a dispute resolution agreement in advance of a job interview. Why would you sign a “condition of employment” before you’ve seen the enticement of a job offer?

Are you worried about who will see your confidential credit report if you agree to release it, or the background check? Say so, and ask the company to sign an indemnification agreement stipulating what will happen if the company divulges your information to the wrong people. Talk to your attorney if necessary.

If a company can’t justify — to your satisfaction — a requirement of its applicant screening process, it’s your right and responsibility to walk.

Where do Human Resources screening practices come from?

The most honorable companies are doing nothing more than trying to protect themselves. You should do the same. In many cases you will find that the Human Resources department’s requirements are somewhat arbitrary and management has little idea what’s going on.

Why do employers do this stuff, especially in an economy where it’s hard to find and hire the right talent?

HR screening practices are often adopted from “advisory publications” that are circulated among companies by industry associations and “HR consultancies.” HR departments frequently adopt these without much consideration for their impact. I sometimes wonder how much an engineering or marketing department knows about the hurdles HR has set up for hard-to-find applicants. Do department managers realize they may be losing good candidates because of unreasonable and presumptuous application policies?

Talk to the decision maker, then decide

My advice is this: Make sure the decision maker — the person you would report to — understands what HR is doing and how you feel about it. The manager’s response will tell you whether HR’s presumptuous attitude is pervasive. But you may have to make a judgment and a choice. Then you can decide, do you go along, or do you walk? (Remember that if you go along, you may have to live with these people a long time.)

It’s important to note that not all HR people (and policies) are inconsiderate of job candidates. A good HR person will serve as an advocate of both the company’s interests and the candidate’s.

I’ll never forget the seasoned HR representative who stood up to make this very point in front of her company’s entire HR team in a workshop I was conducting. A junior HR rep had just upbraided me for saying essentially what I’ve written here. The seasoned HR person announced that in her 27 years on the job she never asked applicants to fill out forms in advance of an interview — even though failure to do so violated company policy. “It’s rude and it gives candidates the wrong message,” she said. “They are our guests and I treat them that way. If we need forms to be filled out, I do it after the interview process reveals mutual interest.”

Does HR have anything to say?

I don’t think you’re being hysterical at all. You’re calling HR out. Some HR folks may have good reasons for their application policies. My question is, do they really understand the implications of these policies out in the professional communities they recruit from? Especially in these times when employers cry they can’t get the talent they need?

I invite HR and other managers to comment.

Use your judgment before you agree to anything during the job application process. Keep your standards high and let others know you expect them to do the same. Avoid people and organizations that don’t.

[Note: This column appeared in different form in Fearless Job Hunting. It summarizes several complaints I’ve received from job seekers — and my advice remains the same.]

Have a story about how HR went too far when “screening” you for a job? Did you feel coerced? Did you give in? What was the outcome? What can job seekers do to get more respect from HR?

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The Zen Of Job Hunting: How to get past HR obstacles

In the January 30, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to overcome a mountain of job hunting obstacles controlled by HR.

Question

job huntingJob hunting has become incredibly frustrating. I have always said HR should never screen candidates, but it is reality and I have to face it. I am looking for a job and can’t get past the initial screening. People hiring for jobs I have done won’t talk to me. I just started using Jobscan to try to get through the initial screening. The word-match is ridiculous, but again it is reality.

Why do companies still rely on HR to scan resumes? It has never been a good idea and now with software to do word matches, it is even worse. Any great ideas on how to change the corporate mentality so top management will tell hiring managers they need to screen the resumes themselves?

If the hiring managers say they are too busy, that tells me they are not good at their jobs or don’t know what they want and are unable to produce good job descriptions. I find they also screen for academic background and professional licenses when those are not needed. For example, I am not a CPA, but have an MBA. Unless I am signing off an audit, it should not matter. I have cleaned up many messes from CPAs who could not function in an operating company.

Any ideas on how to change hiring mindsets?

Nick’s Reply

Why do people persist in trying to change other people’s mindsets? Change your own mindset. That in turn will allow you to change your behavior. Only your own behavior is going to enable you to change the outcome of your job hunting efforts.

I agree with everything you say, except that you “have to face it.” (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business and The manager’s #1 job.) You don’t have to face the obstacles HR throws up at you.

“You have to face it” is a great fallacy that the HR profession and the employment industry (Indeed, LinkedIn, etc.) market and sell to us every day. It’s bunk, yet some of the smartest people still accept it.

There is no mountain when you’re job hunting.

There is no way to beat a system that is designed to make managers avoid talking to the people they need to hire. But don’t let that stop you.

There’s an old Zen koan: A novice goes to the master and says, “Master, I have tried to climb the mountain. It is too big. I have tried to go around the mountain. It is too wide. What shall I do?”

The master says, “Grasshopper (it’s always Grasshopper, right?), there is no mountain.”

Understanding this is the start of changing yourself.

Reject what you know is wrong.

When you cannot change the job hunting system, reject the system. Realize that the silly methods employers use to isolate managers from you is nothing more than a consensus of HR people who are wrong.

The system hurts you only if you accept and acknowledge it. You don’t have to accept the system. The stunning truth is that this silly system hurts employers, too. It results in enormous, unacceptable rejection rates in recruiting and hiring. When HR rejects so many people, somebody’s doing it wrong!

Stop expending energy on HR, screenings and obstacles. Invest all your time in finding, getting introduced to, and talking with managers. Don’t be intimidated by this. It’s a challenge like any other challenge you’ve faced in your work.

Focus on the right objective.

Remember that HR doesn’t hire anyone. It processes applicants. Only managers hire. So, focus on the correct objective — the hiring manager — even if HR warns you not to. This means you must change your objective, which means changing your mindset.

Throw out your old job hunting playbook. (And forget about using Jobscan to diddle your resume!) If you have to get to the manager (and you do), what are the steps? Work it out. It’s no bigger a challenge than anything else you’ve faced in your work. The nice thing is, you’ll encounter virtually no competition because everyone else is standing in line at HR’s door!

This article may help you develop your own methods: Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.

This extreme example may help you change your mindset: 71 Years Old: Got in the door at 63 and just got a raise! (Let Stephanie Hunter be your guide!)

Don’t worry about the job hunting mountain.

People in power depend on us to believe they control everything and that we cannot control anything. I think such brainwashing is the real source of your job hunting frustration.

Please: Accept the fact that all your other observations are correct. Don’t fight your own good judgment. Instead, act on it. Don’t worry about “changing hiring mindsets.” Don’t let HR screen you. Approach managers from directions that do not involve “the mountain.”

Don’t worry about HR. Let HR worry about you.

What obstacles keep you from talking directly to hiring managers? How do you get to the hiring manager?

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Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy

In the April 25, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader deals with modern employment: consulting.

Question

I’ve accepted an offer for a job at a company, but technically I’ll be an employee of the Consulting Firm that recruited me and is billing me out. There’s a third company involved, the Screening Company.

consultingToday I received an e-mail from the Screening Company, asking for W-2s from the employer I worked for between 2005-2011. I happen to know that companies verify prior employment electronically, so I asked the Consulting Firm why they needed W-2’s. He said the Screening Company couldn’t confirm my employment. This made no sense to me. I said I would call the Screening Company to work this out, since there was a number on the e-mail for customer service. The recruiter at the Consulting Firm said not to do that, and that I should download the W-2s from the IRS.

I called the Screening Firm anyway, and asked a customer service rep why they needed W-2s to confirm prior employment when I know they can do it electronically. She said the Screening Firm didn’t need W-2s for employment verification, and that it was the Consulting Firm that required W-2s.

But then she said they do call prior employers, in addition to doing electronic verification, and that my former employer did not respond to their request. “Would it be sufficient if my former employer called you?” I asked. She said, “Sure.” So I called the HR department at my former company and asked if they had any outstanding requests to confirm my employment. The answer: No. (Say what??) I asked if they would call the Screening Company on my behalf and they said they would only respond to a faxed request with a copy of my consent, and gave me their Employment Verification fax number.

Fair enough. So I forwarded the fax number to the rep at the Screening Firm and then e-mailed the recruiter at the Consulting Firm to keep him in the loop. I said if they had any other concerns to please contact me.

I already have the offer in hand. I never disclosed my salary history during the hiring process. Why would the Consulting Firm want my W-2s? What exactly is the Screening Company’s role? Why did the Consulting firm claim the Screening firm needed the W-2’s and then tell me not to communicate with the Screening Firm? I have more questions, but can you help me with these?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t see how your prior W-2 (salary) information is anyone’s business. If the Consulting Firm does its job right, it knows you’re qualified to do the job its client needs you to do. Otherwise, what’s it charging its clients for? What does it matter where you worked in 2011 or what you were paid? Just sayin’.

You’re asking good questions, but there’s a bigger question: Why are there so many middle-men involved in this?

A cluster of companies

You’ve got:

  • The Consulting Firm that recruited you. That is, your actual employer that will sell your work.
  • The company where you will actually be working. That is, the Consulting Firm’s client.
  • The Screening Company, which processes the hires that its client, the Consulting Firm, makes. The Screening Company seems to be handling the Human Resources tasks for the Consulting Firm.

I’ll hazard a guess that there’s a fourth entity — yet another firm that will process payroll, taxes, and benefits.

There’s a term for the amalgamation of arm’s-length client relationships and consequent finger-pointing that make up this employment game: Cluster-F*ck.

I have no idea how any of these entities can even stay in business with so many hands in the till. You’re not hired to work; you’re rented out to do work. The price being charged for your work far exceeds what you’ll see in your paycheck. Everyone’s getting paid for your work; everyone’s getting a taste of your pay. Good luck figuring it out, because I wouldn’t even start trying to. All I see is a hole in the economy, where money goes without the creation of any value. (See Consulting Firms: Strike back and stir the pot.)

This is not consulting

You’re not being hired by a consulting firm to help it consult to its clients. You’re hired by this Consulting Firm so it can rent you to another company. That’s not consulting. (And don’t confuse what your Consulting Firm is doing with headhunters. See They’re not headhunters.)

Real consulting is an honorable business that creates value. One company turns to another for specialized help: a consulting firm. The consulting firm employs experts in its field that are organized, usually as a team, to solve a client’s problems. Day-to-day work is not the product. A solution, delivered to the client, is the product.

The consultants report to a manager at the consulting firm, not to a manager at the client company. The consulting firm’s employees likely work on multiple client projects at a time. They’re never not working. They’re never “on the beach,” as modern rent-a-worker companies like to call unemployment. (See Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?)

The deal you’ve signed up for is not consulting. None of the companies you describe seem to be responsible for you — or to you. One hires you. You work for another. A third handles the transactions. (I still think yet another will handle HR tasks, like processing payroll and taxes, and administering benefits, if there are any.) When you have a question, each points a finger at the other.

Work for your employer

You’re asking good questions. I don’t have any answers. You’re being forced to deal with middle-men whose roles are questionable. In a well-organized, well-managed business, the functions of all those middle-men are functions of the company itself. A competitive enterprise leverages its expertise with all those functions to produce profit. Beware employers that you don’t actually work for.

consultingMy advice is, work for your employer. Avoid any drain of economic value from your work. Don’t let middle-men interfere with the employer-employee relationship. The risk you take when you participate in this kind of cluster-f*ck economy is that you are not the worker. You are the product. You become an interchangeable part. Worse, you become a returnable interchangeable part.

If the Consulting Firm is paying a Screening Firm to confirm who you are and to handle other transactions with you, so it can charge its client for those services, then what value is the Consulting Firm delivering to its own client?

The employment industry has become one of the biggest rackets going. It really is a clusterf*ck. With workers like you in the middle. But as someone advised a long time ago when a dangerous political entanglement could not be unraveled, “Follow the money.” The real problem here is with the company that’s paying multiple entities so it can rent you. Are you comfortable with this arrangement?

Who do you work for? Who pays you? Are you being paid for the value you create in the economy, or are middle-men draining your value?

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Dissed By HR: Can you top this?

In the April 7, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader hears a tired, old story from an HR manager. How much bad HR behavior will job seekers and employers put up with?

Job hunters say the darndest things — things that sometimes cost them interviews or job offers. But job hunters don’t represent entire companies, while HR does. So, when HR (Human Resources) says something really dumb to a job applicant, it costs the entire company its reputation.

A long-time reader sent me a brief exchange he had with the Human Resources manager at a company that interviewed him — and the diss he received in reply is so transparent, so foolhardy, and so naïve that it’s worth a discussion.

It really is a nightmare world out there, folks. Lots of HR people are clueless about what constitutes a royal F-you to a job applicant. Is this what they’re teaching in HR school?

A reader’s note to HR after an interview

Dear [HR Manager]:

It’s been four months since I first came in to interview and, based on the “radio silence,” I am assuming that I am not being considered for hire. Could you please confirm that the position has been filled, or that it has been put on hold? Thank you.

The HR manager’s reply

Hi [applicant],

Well, as I told you, an old employee appeared on the scene and he became our first choice, based simply upon the fact that he had quite a tenure here and could have hit the ground running. We dissedwaited for schedules to coincide and then some travel came up on both ends and then he eventually decided to stay with his current company.

We have yet to fill the position and I’ve not been told that you are out of the running but I think it would be safe to say they hoping for more of a perfect fit, personality-wise. (That is based on the personalities that are already ensconced here…) I will keep in touch with you.

Warm regards,

[HR Manager]

Where do I begin?

The job applicant shared a draft of the response he planned to send, but I know there are a few very young subscribers to this newsletter, so I can’t print it. I advised him not to send it, and he expressed this concern:

“There’s a local recruiter I know, who said that people get blackballed in the local HR groups.”

Yes, HR folks have pretty good back channels for sharing such stuff and for exacting punishment. But let’s get back to what the HR manager wrote. It’s one of the best F-you e-mails I’ve ever seen from HR to a job applicant, mainly because it’s so innocent and reveals a staggering naivete and nonchalance about the HR manager’s role in representing the employer.

Where do I begin? I’m going to make just three comments about it, and I want to throw this out to the Ask The Headhunter community.

First, this is a company manager writing the note. It’s not some greenhorn personnel clerk — but a person with authority to make decisions and to represent the employer. This company is dead meat in the public relations crucible — and the HR manager belongs in the Thunderdome.

Second, rejecting a candidate is one thing, but the entire note is all about the company’s hiring problems. There’s not one word about the job applicant’s qualifications. Why is the HR manager disclosing details about the company’s travails in trying to re-hire an old employee who’s not interested?

Third, I understand that employers don’t like to give applicants reasons for rejection — to avoid litigation — so, why does this HR manager tell the applicant that his personality is the problem? But the capper is the psychopathy: The HR manager closes with warm regards.

I don’t think this HR manager’s intent was to diss the applicant, because it’s plain that the manager is naïve. That makes this the company’s fault because it chose this manager as the interface to its professional community. And that’s why this is one of the worst disses I’ve ever seen.

(If you’re a hiring manager, and this story troubles you, you’re not alone. Please see Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.)

I suggested to the reader that his best course of action was not to reply at all, because the risk in expressing his ire is greater than zero. It’s not worth venting to someone who can hurt him.


In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, “Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?” (pp. 15-16), I suggest that a job seeker should “Get past the guard: You don’t get into a company by asking the human resources department to let you in. That’s for tourists.”

This 26-page PDF book includes sections about:

  • Does HR go too far when screening job candidates?
  • Who is the decision maker?
  • Don’t let HR isolate you
  • Time for HR to exit the hiring business
  • Candidate 1, Boss 1, Morons 0

…and lots more!


Make no mistake: Job hunters are often guilty of faux pas as bad as this. But when an HR manager does it, an entire company suffers because job applicants spread the story throughout their professional community. And that’s how companies like this one are taught a terrible lesson. (For more about how employers hurt themselves, see Death By Lethal Reputation.)

Okay, it’s time to share your thoughts:

  • What do you think is wrong with this e-mail from HR to the job applicant? (There’s so much more than the three issues I pointed out!)
  • Can you top this reader’s story? What’s the biggest diss you’ve been dealt by HR when applying for a job? And, to balance this out, what’s the best behavior you’ve seen from an HR manager?

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