Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why HR Should Not Be Conducting First Interviews For Actual Jobs

The function of human resources should be to help agency management maximize every employee’s experience at their company.  They should be responsible for morale, for administration of the employee experience (benefits, attendance, performance reviews, succession planning, promotions and rotations, conflict resolution, handling complaints impartially, etc.)  I have dealt with some wonderful HR people; the best of them understand their function within the scheme of things and will admit that they should probably not be doing the preliminary screening to fill jobs.  

Unfortunately, ad agencies define HR largely as recruiting, which is a shame because well trained human resources people can make an important contribution to their company. Even though they have been at a company for many years, few HR people have enough knowledge of each individual job and function within the company to know exactly who is right for each situation.  Because HR lacks all the necessary information they need to find the right candidate(s), having them be the first gatekeeper is often a mistake because they could miss the exact right person.

On the other hand HR should do screening of general candidates who either approach the agency or are referred by employees.  By screening these people they maintain an inventory of candidates should a job opening occur; and in that case the hiring manager should see the candidates who are in the HR inventory..

This is not a criticism of HR. 

Most executives have no idea how to interview. Hiring managers should be trained (by HR) to do their own preliminary screening when a specific opening occurs.  Every recruiter who has been in the business long enough to remember when the function of HR was not screening, knows that working directly with hiring managers was far more expeditious and effective. Under that system, recruiters got to know the hiring managers and who they wanted to hire, which made finding appropriate candidates quick and efficient.

As things stand now at most companies in and out of advertising, hiring managers often ask HR to write the specs for their jobs which need filling.  And even when the manager creates the specs, they are more often than not generic descriptions based on title and what the hiring manger may have said for the current or previous jobs. But, as I have previously written, they rarely write specific job specs each time there is a job opening.  And, while HR may spend time with the individual hiring managers on each open job, most job managers do not articulate exactly who they want to hire.  They do describe personality (“upbeat, gets along well with others”) and job function (“able to work with clients”), but hiring managers generally have a “picture “ in their head of whom they want to hire which is rarely communicated or articulated.  I wrote years ago about the best specs I ever had.  That post is worth reading in this context.

In fact, rarely do hiring managers describe problems that need to be solved or other un-articulated needs.  Without this information, HR cannot accurately assess candidates (or their résumés) and should not be the preliminary gatekeeper. That is why HR should not do the initial screening; they could easily pass on someone who is perfect for the job. Over time I have met many such candidates.

That is the reason why, for most very senior jobs (directors, group heads, etc.), HR is rarely involved.  Management does its own screening, sometimes in conjunction with HR, but HR is not tasked with eliminating candidates. They may be the collectors of résumés, but rarely do initial screening.  In ad agencies, HR rarely gets involved with creative hires (other than administratively).  Creative people tend to want to do their own evaluation of candidates and their portfolios.  Account and media people should do the same.

That is not to say that HR should not have an important role in hiring.  Indeed, they should train managers to screen and interview and they should see candidates at some point during the process in order to determine their “fit” within the culture and to insure that those candidates will be able function within the organization. If candidates do not fit within the culture, HR should have veto power, no matter how well candidates are liked, including seniors.  They should also be responsible for references.

Unfortunately, in advertising HR is all too often defined only as recruiting.  I can think of one wonderful ad agency head of HR who came from the corporate side because the agency wanted to improve its human resources function.  On his first day, the CEO loaded him down with dozens of jobs; it never let up.  He managed to last a couple of years, but left because he did not think that the main function of his job should have been to spend 6 hours a day screening executives; he was hired for all his other considerable skills but rarely, if ever, had the time to practice or teach those skills.  It is a shame, because he was fabulous.

Regrettably, I have seen this same scenario repeated all too often at many companies.

This post should not be misinterpreted.  HR has a necessary function to perform, but screening should not be their first function.


  1. So agree! Back when I was interviewing, I always divided potential employers into two camps.

    1) Stupid, bureaucratic places that make you endure a screening by human resources people. Avoided those.

    2) Smart, entrepreneurial places that made sure only people who knew the job first hand did the interviewing.

    1. Like what you said, particularly about knowing a job first hand.

  2. Are people who offer contrarian opinions still welcomed to comment here without getting publicly "blasted" or embarrassed by you? Just wondering ...

    1. Sometimes I disagree with comments, but I welcome contrarian opinions.


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