Is HR the Enemy?

Enemy? Well, I don’t think so. However, you have to remember that HR is a broad term used to describe a department that performs a lot of different functions. Only one of which may, or may not, be recruiting. For example everything that has to do with the administration of things like setting up 401Ks, managing benefits programs, and dealing with retirement functions are all things that can be part of HR’s purview. And even if “recruiting” is a part of a particular HR department’s mandate different companies can approach this very differently, and individual HR people can add even more spin to the proposition.

Let me throw out a few scenarios here with some ideas on how to handle things as a job seeker. I’ll be working from the assumption that you know no one in the company and are applying cold. Bear in mind that what I’m giving you here is the Reader’s Digest version of things. So, if you need some detailed follow up leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.

Scene 1 – HR Has Real Recruiters– In my opinion this is the best of all worlds because it generally means that HR has people trained in proactively getting the right people on board as opposed to being gatekeepers who are trying to keep the people out. It also generally means a focused team effort between management, hiring managers, and HR in terms of the hiring process. In this case HR has a list of active and informal requirements from the managers and they are either actively trying to chase these folks down or are keeping an eye open for anyone that comes along who fits the bill. So, if you call in there and say “Hi this is Joe Blow. I do this and I’m looking for a job.” they are going to be able to tell you if there’s anything worth talking about and where to route your stuff to get the quickest response. Although you may still end up at the mercy of a hiring manager who is not the most more responsive person in the world which means it takes a while to get feedback. But in this sort of system the HR folks have the green light to bug them for an answer and you don’t get lost in the “black hole”.

How to Work With This – Do what the nice HR person says, work with them, and don’t circumvent the system. If this system is set up right they will be you best friend. They have the ability to get the system moving, they know who to get your resume in front of, and they know how to break up the log  jams in the system.

Scene 2 – The Managers Do Their Own Hiring– In this case HR is more of administrative service to the hiring managers and rather than finding people for the company, they escort candidates through the system. This sort of set up can be good and bad for a job seeker. The good part is that your journey through the hiring process will largely keep you in one to one contact with the guy/gal you will actually be working for and it may streamline the process. The bad part is that you have to figure out what manager to talk to, and as someone who has been doing just that for 20 years I can tell you that is not always an easy task. Another downside is that the hiring manager may not have a clue as to what administrative steps need to be taken in order to hire you thus making for a pretty confused and drawn out process once you get past the interviewing stage.

How to Handle It– Head ’em off at the pass. Once you find the right guy/gal and you all figure out that you love each other find out what administrative and logistic steps need to be taken to get the ball rolling on an offer. If possible take some of that responsibility on yourself and ask the hiring manager if you can save him/her a few calls and e-mails by making sure HR has all the right information, expediting taking any technical or drug tests and generally saving him or her the trouble of handling the paperwork. Remember the hiring manager has other stuff to do, like his/her job. So, they have to make room in a busy schedule to handle all of the hiring duties and the more you can do to help them out the easier it will be for all concerned.

Scene 3 – The Gatekeepers – This is a negative hybrid of Scene 1 wherein the HR department is charged with recruiting but are actually the evil twin of the folks in Scene 1. They see their job as keeping the wrong people out rather than getting the right people in. This is usually stems from having gotten in trouble in the past because someone got hired who really screwed up things in a big way and now they are once bitten, twice shy.  Typically you have to explain a lot,  defend every little thing, and definitely be proactive about telling them why you fit their needs. This is going to be a pain in the butt, but not necessarily an impossible task. Once you get through the gate things will go much easier.

How To Deal With It– Don’t get outwardly frustrated with these folks. They are looking for an excuse to bail out. Be patient, polite and persistant but don’t force things. Give them a way to present things that makes them look good (remember they may be just trying to stay out of trouble). And in the end don’t put all of you eggs in one of these baskets.

Scene 4 – The Black Hole– Ew! The worst of all possible things from a job hunting standpoint. HR in this company is really about benefits, retirement plans and other administrative stuff, and as a result hiring is a secondary or tertiary function. They put ads on the job boards but responses go unanswered for weeks, months, and sometimes never. When you call in no one knows anything and you either sit on hold or go from person to person on the “I don’t know” merry-go-round.  

What to Do– My advice is to treat this as a fire-and -forget missle. Go ahead and send the resume but don’t expect anything. There’s a reason why they have been looking for the same person for 6 months and the job posting hasn’t changed.

Leave a comment to let me know if you think this is helpful  or need some extra info.


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