For prospective employees, Human Resources folks are the contact lenses of a company. Through these fine folks, a candidate is able to bring into focus what the company is all about, how it operates, what it values and what day-to-day life is like there.
After more than two decades in the workforce, I’m wondering why so many Human Resources people either don’t get that or don’t care.
First, some transparency on my part: Of all the HR people I have met, exactly two have been an actual resource for the humans they supposedly represented. One is at my current company. One was a friend before we started working together. The rest have been a toxic stew of obstructionist, untrustworthy, overly secretive to the detriment of the workplace culture and definitely not a just advocate for the rank-and-file. (And I say that as someone who has spent large swaths of time as a manager.) I’m not saying there aren’t great people out there in the HR world; I just haven’t met many of them.
So back to the contact lens thing: All job candidates want to see clearly. But far too frequently, HR folks are mangling the hiring process such that, even if the candidate gets a better view of the company in later interviews with their future manager, colleagues or subordinates, it’s like they’re wearing a scratched contact lens — an irritant that just doesn’t go away.
The result is that the truly exceptional candidates with other options will walk away. Further, really good candidates who happen to be in less-than-ideal situations with no other options at the moment will, at best, have some serious and justified reservations about the company or, at worst, will have one eye on a door they haven’t even walked through yet.
Now, let’s be open about the fact that there’s a huge power disparity when someone is applying for a job, especially if the candidate is under- or unemployed. The company has something that the candidate might not just want, but that the candidate actually needs. We’re talking second-level stuff on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
If you are a hiring manager and that dynamic is not front-and-center in your mind with every single resume that crosses your desk, you need to take a long walk and re-center yourself. A resume isn’t just a piece of paper or a PDF. It’s a representation of a central part of a human being. Right or wrong, healthy or not, what we do is often a piece of who we are.
If you have any role in bringing other human beings in to work for your company, realize that when you’re looking at a resume, you’re peering at at a vital piece of that person’s reason for existing. You’re a surgeon, holding a person’s heart in your hands. The candidate is as helpless at that point as an anesthetized patient is, and you are as powerful in their life as a skilled physician.
Don’t you dare be reckless with that.
How have I seen HR folks be disrespectful and downright careless, knowing they have this power? Let’s focus on the two main ways.
#1 Hiring Managers think they’re ready to hire someone, but they’re not
Dorothy is interviewing for a job she really, really wants. It’s a big step up in her career. More money. Direct reports. A step toward her dreams. She has a phone interview with the HR representative, and things go well. She easily answers all the questions and it’s apparent she’s a good fit for the job. She’s realistic about her chances, knowing there are other quality candidates who need to be interviewed. So before she hangs up, she asks, “What’s your timeline for the next steps in this position?”
It’s a perfectly fair question. Dorothy is a professional. The HR rep is supposedly a professional. The rep should be able to answer that question, no problem.
“Well, we’re really not sure yet.”
Then you shouldn’t have posted the job.
Human decency 101: If you have not agreed with everyone involved in the entire hiring process and agreed upon a schedule to go from job posting to accepting resumes to initial interviews to the successful candidate’s first day on the job, do not post the position! It’s really that simple.
Now, HR folks will try to pass the buck and blame this situation on a variety of other people.
- “The supervising manager is very busy right now.” (Then why did you post the job if it’s not a priority for her?)
- “It’s tough to get someone on the hiring manager’s manager’s manager’s schedule.” (So this isn’t a priority for the company?)
- “We won’t be able to sit together as a team to discuss the candidates for a while.” (I’ll cater a lunch for you guys.)
All might be true. All are not your candidate’s problem. They’re your problems that you need to deal with as the hiring manager before you start having an impact on other human beings’ lives.
Theoretically, if you’re hiring for a position, it’s because you want someone super-cool to join your organization. So make it a priority! Before that job posting goes up, have everyone agree to a fair schedule that accounts for everyone’s general busyness. Block out time periods on the really busy people’s calendars to conduct the interviews in a reasonable amount of time every single step of the way.
If you as a hiring manager can ever envision having to tell a candidate, “I’m not sure yet” or “It’ll be in about a month,” you’re doing it wrong, and it’s your fault.
Get your, eh-hem, act together and do the pre-work.
#2 Hiring Managers lie
Let’s go back to Dorothy. The hiring manager finally got her act together and came up with a timeline to which all the people involved in the process agreed to stick. Wowsa! Give that woman a raise! So when Dorothy has her second interview, in person with the HR rep and the person who would be her manager, she’s excited. Despite the initial hiccup, she still feels this is the job for her. She rocks the interview yet again and feels great about her chances. Somewhat hesitantly, she asks before she leaves: “What’s the timeline for the next steps in the process?”
“You’ll hear from us within two weeks.”
Now, I love the show “House” There’s something about the main character’s blunt observations on the reality of the world (or, at least, the reality of his world) that I find refreshing, enough so that I’m willing to overlook his prescription pain pill addiction and general horribleness toward other people.
I love his simple two-word mantra: Everybody lies. I also happen to agree with it. And I really agree with it when we’re talking about the majority of the hiring managers I and others in my slice of the world have encountered.
If you don’t know where this is going, you’re either really, really lucky and/or you’ve been out of the job market for long , long time. Here’s a simple truth not just for how to be a good hiring manager but for how to be a good human: If you say you’re going to call someone within two weeks, call her within two weeks.
No excuses. No “reasons.” No “extenuating circumstances.” I don’t care if you are a millennial and have a strong aversion to making phone calls. I don’t care if you get hit by a bus and die. Enough people should be involved in the hiring process so that someone can pick up the torch and get back to the people you have told will be hearing from you.
Again, I have heard of way too many HR folks passing the buck on this and playing the blame-game. This not only makes the HR rep look bad, but it can be very revealing about the employee culture. Some good ones:
- “I was waiting to hear back from … (insert irresponsible person here).” (Doesn’t matter. Call the person you said you were going to call and give her an update. Then gently and persistently remind the irresponsible person of the timeline to which he committed.)
- “There was an emergency in the business.” (And this is how you operate when there’s an emergency? You just let what should be important balls that you’re juggling fall to the ground?”
- Never said, but what is often the case: “We are waiting to hear back from our top candidate to see if she accepts the job.” (Doesn’t matter. Call the other candidates you promised you’d call and give them an update. Here’s an idea… be frank with them. Tell them there’s an offer out right now but that you still respect their time and commitment to the process. Let them know where they might be in the pecking order. That way the other professional human being can make important life decisions about whether to keep waiting while passing up other opportunities or to simply move on to find a better fit. As a hiring manager not in HR, I’ve done this and then ended up hiring the person for a long, fruitful career. Honesty can be startlingly refreshing.)
The Consequences of Failure
You guys… this really isn’t that difficult. I mean, I’m not inventing this idea. It’s essentially the hiring version of The Golden Rule. If you wouldn’t want to be jerked around by the person who is supposed to be the face of the company, you should recognize … you are that face of the company! So don’t jerk around other people who one day might become your colleague.
Or don’t listen to me. That’s cool. But then…
Dorothy gets hired at the new company and accepts the job. By the time they finally got around to making her an offer, that dream job didn’t look quite so dreamy. But at that moment, it provided the money she needed to help support her kids and keep the family moving forward. So she goes into work that first day… three months later than what truly would have been necessary if the company had a face who respected other humans.
The hiring manager greets her with a warm smile, and Dorothy returns it because Dorothy is a professional. She fills out all the paperwork and watches the videos on how not to sexually harass her colleagues and then sets about being the best Dorothy that Dorothy can be.
And, surprising to no one, Dorothy rocks. She makes the job her own and does great things for the company. Revenue skyrockets. Dorothy wins employee of the year.
Then, the competitor, tired of being out-performed by this newly emerging superstar, comes calling. They offer her a new position in their company. They can’t offer more money, but ya know what? Dorothy feels wanted and appreciated by the get-go.
All the time and effort her current company put into hiring her and training her, all the rewards Dorothy brought to the company, they walk right out that door.
I know Dorothy. In fact, I know several Dorothys. And I know even more who are Dorothys-to-be.
If you’re a hiring manager and think this kind of thing doesn’t happen when you don’t do your job well, go take that long walk we were talking about earlier. Re-center yourself. Realize the power you have. Wield it responsibly.
After all, you never know when you’ll be in Dorothy’s position.