Tuesday, August 27, 2019

How Human Resources Gets In The Way Of The Hiring Process

When I started recruiting almost 35 years ago, except for a few of the largest ad agencies, I could work directly with the hiring managers.  Dealing with them was faster and, for the most part, far more efficient than working with HR.  The reason for this is that, while most hiring managers did not know how to write a job spec, they could be questioned to determine who they were really looking for, what skills and attributes would drive the hiring process. During the process I got to know them well and was able to make placements quickly.

Over time, Human Resources departments expanded and took over the whole hiring function. As this started to happen, it became obvious to me that many HR people, especially at the larger companies, did not know or really understand their own culture or people. Often they refuse to tell recruiters essential information, such as who the hiring manager was.  And if I did find out who he/she was, HR would get angry with me if I called them to clarify the assignment.  In advertising, I discovered that many HR people had never seen their own agency’s creative reel and didn’t have a clue about their own accounts or culture. In one case I actually arranged for the HR person to spend a day with a senior account manager since she did not know what an account person actually did.

(I received many assignments for someone to work on, say, General Mills, but the HR person actually did not know if the job was on cereal, food or snacks.  They often told me it didn’t matter.  The problem was that it did matter to the candidates and to me.  There is a difference between Pop Tarts and Cheerios. In fact, there is a difference between Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs – some candidates did not want to work on sugary cereals.)

I always asked what problems the hiring managers wanted solved.  I cannot tell you how many of HR people were annoyed with the question and vehemently told me that there were no problems. It became obvious that the worst of them wanted their recruiters to know as little as possible.  (No question that some on the corporate side were afraid of unscrupulous recruiters who would recruit their own people out. An ethical recruiter will never actively solicit people from their existing clients.)

Over the years, many senior executives have given me assignments that bypass HR.  I once had a confidential assignment to find a department head.  I was given the assignment by the agency president who made it clear I was not to discuss this with anyone, including human resources. I worked with the president for several months until we came up with a finalist.  As I was negotiating the terms with the finalist candidate, the HR director found out that I had this assignment.  She angrily called me to complain that I should have called her and told her; we had worked together successfully for several years.  I told her that since the job was confidential, between myself and the president, I could not have done that.  Then she actually confronted the president.  A major argument ensued. This HR person actually resigned her position (the president told me she would have been terminated anyway.  (The HR person moved to another ad agency and would never return my calls.)

Sadly, in advertising, HR is primarily defined as recruiting (or benefits) and most people in that department learned their jobs and functions with no real training.  And, as I have written before, the HR function goes way beyond recruiting.

That is not to say that there aren’t some excellent, professional human resources practitioners. In fact, there is excellent higher training in the HR world. It is called SPHR or Senior Professional of Human Resources; the step below is just PHR; these designations require a lot of study and work to achieve, but they generally mean a well-trained HR person.  There are also many HR people who just naturally “get it” without formal training. 

The real problem is that in advertising and marketing (and probably in other fields) many executives are promoted into human resources from other departments, often because these executives really want to help people.  Unfortunately, they learn HR through on-the-job training, mostly from people in the department who also don’t know their jobs either. The result is that well-meaning people are trained to become ineffective.

On top of all this, more often than not we get assignments with incomplete information.  When we are sent job specs, most are merely a description of the job, rather than a complete guide describing the job and the skills that the appropriate candidate should have.  (A recruiter or another employee at the company should be able to read the specs and have a good idea, right from the get-go, of whom to look for.)

I used to do seminars at ad agencies on how to interview and hire efficiently (I actually did this as a 4A’s podcast). The syllabus for these seminars started with how to write an actionable job spec. I was generally asked to do these talks by the president or other senior executive.  Unfortunately, I was forced to stop when HR complained to their management that I was impinging on their job. The irony is that after preventing me from speaking, I cannot think of a single case where HR actually conducted classes for their managers. 

When negotiating, often many HR people cut recruiters out of the process.  Some will not discuss offers or allow the recruiter to make the offer; many refuse to send recruiters a copy of offer letters or other information.  (I can generally get this from the candidate directly). These actions are an indication that the HR people do not trust their recruiters.  The solution is, of course simple – use recruiters they trust.

To be clear, there are a number of HR people I have worked with for many, many years.  Others, not so much. The bottom line is that a good HR people simplify rather than complicate the process.


  1. interesting. I must admit that I have never looked at recruitment in this way. And I could, maybe I could do more thanks. Now I have started working with various IT companies, e.g. https://www.grapeup.com/services/application-development . They are great!

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