Most people don’t even know where the HR department came from. It was invented in the early 60’s to protect companies from racial discrimination. There were, before that, quasi-administrative people who managed the company’s insurance programs when those programs began right after World War II. But once the government started requiring companies to keep track of the kinds of candidates the company was interviewing and hiring, it was logical to have those administrative people who were taking care of insurance to keep those records. People managing the departments of companies hated keeping those kinds of records anyhow, if they did it at all. Then laws were passed regarding other types of discrimination requiring record keeping, i.e. gender bias, age, etc. so the HR department got bigger. As companies had to protect themselves from all kinds of discriminatory problems once people got hired by developing policies and procedures, the HR department was tapped for that task also. The HR department was now becoming “proactive” in its protectionist activities. Its mission, and the people in it, was to protect the company from the mistakes of its own employees.
Well, as long as the HR department was doing all of these things with employees, it only seemed logical that they should be involved in the initial recruiting and screening of job candidates. After all, records of candidates applying for jobs had to be kept. Besides, most hiring managers hated that part of their job anyhow. It was a terrible distraction from what they really knew how to do. They didn’t do it very well to begin with, so it was a good deal for them if they offloaded it to someone else, even if those folks weren’t competent enough to know what they were doing (An added benefit for the head of the engineering department, accounting department, etc. was that since they weren’t any good at the initial acquiring and interviewing of candidates, this offloading gave the chance to “blame” someone else when the hiring process wasn’t working out.)
So, the nature of the HR department is to proactively protect the company. They really don’t know the amount of experience or qualifications that the accounting department or engineering or sales departments might be able to live with regarding a candidate. They really don’t know much about how an engineering candidate needs to be a competent engineer in the company. When they go to hire, or at least perform the initial functions of interviewing and hiring process, they see it through protective eyes. They rarely know the “gray area” of give-and-take that a direct, hiring authority would know. But since they are supposed to know all of this they act like they do.
So, when you are directed to apply to the HR department when you go to apply for a job, realize that the probabilities of you getting an interview have decreased by at least 75%. The HR department is taught to look for reasons of why things won’t work, not reasons as to why they will work. They see the glass as half empty rather than half full. After all, their job is to “protect” the company from lousy employees (like you).
Now, to even give you even greater comfort, sometimes these HR folks get so busy even they have to offload the “recruiting” of new employees. The truth is, they aren’t very good at it and don’t like it any more than the hiring authorities do so they hire internal recruiters. Sometimes these internal recruiters are experienced professionals and sometimes they are “contract” recruiters who have little to no experience. Many of us have talked to them over the phone. You know, that 22-year-old kid who was tasked with evaluating your 15+ years of experience in your profession. Right! Sure! They were given a list of 15 questions to ask and if you answer ‘yes’ to ten of them, in their wisdom, they might consider you as a candidate. You probably talked to one of those this week. And you can’t understand why you were eliminated. Well, they don’t know either. But since you didn’t hear back from them, you know you were.
I know many candidates who won’t even apply to a job if they have to go through the HR department. We, very often, even as recruiters have to work through a company’s HR department. Having done this since 1973 I know hundreds of very competent HR folks. But whenever we have to work through the HR department, the search becomes a back burner priority. It’s not that these folks aren’t nice people…I’m sure most of them are. But it is just one layer of “screening” that stands between a candidate and a good job. Getting through this “screening out” process, even for the most competent candidate, is sheer luck. Remember, these people are hired to “protect” the company. They may not even like your “summary of qualifications,” let alone understand what it says, but you’re out! After all, they have 180 other resumes that might look better.
So, the best way for a candidate to avoid being screened out by an HR department is to call and speak directly to the hiring authority. Don’t give me that silly stuff that you don’t know who the hiring authority is. LinkedIn will tell you. Email that hiring authority your resume along with a short… I said short…note as to why you are a good candidate and should be considered. Call and leave him or her a voicemail before or after you send the resume. Make sure that your voicemail has a very short but informative “value proposition” as to why you should be considered for a job. You may have to leave two or three voicemails like this before the hiring authority calls you back. So, you ask, “Wow, should I be this aggressive? What if I make them mad?” Well, having left messages like this since 1973, I guarantee you, nobody is going to ever get mad at you. In fact, you’ll be surprised at the number of them that admire your tenacity and persistence. Let’s face it, your needing a job is a lot more painful than the possible embarrassment of calling somebody… even if it’s the wrong person. Don’t even worry about what you look like; you need a job.
Having said all of this about the HR department, I have to tell you that there are a phenomenal number of very professional, polished and efficient HR departments. We do work with some tremendous people in HR who really know exactly what their hiring authorities want and actually make the hiring process more smooth. They have a great way of simplifying the process. But these folks are the EXCEPTION rather than the rule. Unfortunately, the majority of HR departments aren’t run that way. In fact, most of us consider them to be the Hiring Roadblock Department.
(While editing this post this Monday morning, I got a call from an HR ‘screener’ at a client company who was supposed to screen one of our candidates today at 1 PM CST. The screener told me that he would like to move the time to earlier in the day. He explained that today was the opening day of baseball in his city and he wanted to go to the game and since the 2 PM EST would be the time of the beginning of the ballgame, he wanted to move his phone screen up to this morning. Get the idea?)
This may come as a surprise, but often times hiring authorities are just as frustrated with their HR recruiting efforts as you are. Most of them aren’t seeing the quality candidates as the HR department would lead you to believe they are. How do I know this? I am told at least once a week by a hiring authority that their HR department hasn’t gotten them any qualified candidates. And, if they have plenty of good candidates to choose from, they will simply tell you that they have plenty of candidates, but that you are welcome to apply.
So, the next time you’re told to work with the HR department, be prepared.