Human Resources Rules Turning Job Hunting Into Hell For Millions

Guest Post From Paul Harrington-Shipwright

Before I start I should fill you in on something that will be entirely clear by the time you’ve finished reading – I’m somewhat of a contrarian when it comes to what I would consider ideal recruitment strategy. As a result of this I’d consider a ten minute chat and five minutes to see some samples of previous work eminently more suitable as a recruitment process than anything an HR department has spewed out over the years. Of course it’s important to remember than HR departments are often massive, expensive exercises in self-justification. Writing unnecessary processes during downtime is certainly preferable to laying someone off in the HR department. With that out of the way let’s take a look at how some HR policies, and indeed accepted ‘rules of society’ are making job hunting hell for millions of people.

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The Compulsory External Candidates Rule

If you’ve worked in a big company, you’ve almost certainly seen a vacancy come up where you knew who was going to get the job. In fact, I’ve even popped to meet a business contact for lunch who was sat in his new role whilst his manager was busy interviewing a selection of candidates for a job that had already been given to him but for dating the letter to HR to confirm after the final interviews were sewn up.

Even where HR isn’t as ‘lax’ as at that, to remain unnamed firm, and insist on sending a rep down to supervise management and compliance with their policy, human nature isn’t easily defeated and a proven internal candidate can easily be briefed on the questions, processes and given an easier ride (albeit only subtly). This charade puts dozens of candidates through:

  • Wasted holiday – many have to take time off work to travel to interviews.
  • Wasted money – many can hardly afford to travel to a job interview let alone if they have no chance of landing the job.
  • Wasted time – I’m sure answering such ridiculous HR designed ‘skill based’ questions as ‘give me an example of a time when your team disagreed with you but you won them around.’ is everyone’s favourite work-related task but I’m also sure you’d rather just have taken a day off.
  • Stress/Emotional Impact etc – this can be pretty frustrating. A friend of mine recently attended an interview and after putting a lot of work in, preparing, going in excited about the opportunity and nailing it, walked out into the lobby to encounter the ‘obvious internal candidate’ who was greeted with smiles, jokes and chatter by HR and the hiring manager. Ten people went in that day, guess who go the job?

Minimum Interviewee Numbers

The above issue is often combined with minimum interview numbers, and in some countries ‘positive discrimination’ where additional candidates from minority groups (or women, older candidates etc) must be invited for interview. This can lead, honestly, to a disproportionately high number of people being invited for the interview, many of whom are simply there to make up the numbers. This can be a huge problem for those that are attending – I’m assuming that if you’re the subject of discrimination you really don’t want to be invited to, and expend the time, cost and effort attending a bunch of interviews you aren’t qualified to succeed at by someone making up the numbers. Now I know the intention is good here – but as we know the road to hell is paved… and so on. Everyone you invite to an interview should be in with a shot. If you’re inviting someone to make up the numbers you’re not just wasting a day you’re adding to the endless misery that is failed interviews for the unemployed. I would actually venture to say that companies interviewing more than four people for a role face to face are grossly wasting people’s time and should embrace technology (video calls on Skype etc).

The Stupid Questions, Tests and Other Nonsense

If you’ve been to an interview and things started out with a ‘quick personality assessment’ you know what I’m talking about when I describe a series of inane questions, the answers to which are intended to demonstrate some psychological trait or other. Of course to trick you they ask you the same thing in different ways with different answers to assess your balance and so on. Do some online, practice manipulating these tests and you’ll be the exact balance of powerful and compassionate that most are looking for. One does wonder what the point is though…

After wasting an hour of your time showing that you can both listen and discipline at the same time you will usually face a barrage of questions designed to assess individual competencies. I remember these well as part of my management training in the past involved familiarising myself with these and interviewing candidates accordingly. As a contrarian I strongly support the value of a good meandering chat when it comes to getting to the root of someone’s personality, experience and how well they’d fit into a team. Hearing them run through their prepared stories demonstrating the, by now, well known and easy to prepare for topics of ‘teamwork’, ‘customer complaints’, ‘tenacity’ and whatever other ‘core competencies’ HR have spent several years developing into a comprehensive assessment guide.

Now I do understand that one of the main points of these interviews is to prevent us from hiring someone we ‘like’ over someone better for the job that we ‘don’t like as much’. The HR rep is supposed to be able to say ‘well that lady gave such good answers – I scored her much higher than that man’ to the sexist manager who’s secretly always trying to hire more men to his team of bros. That would be fantastic if the HR manager was comparing two things that mattered and, in my example, the lady was the best fit for the job and the manager was truly being sexist. Imagine, however, that in reality some other lady they aren’t even discussing just isn’t so good at playing this silly game but would have been a much better fit for the job. Maybe her personality and knowledge would have shone through in a more old fashioned, genuine interview where the manager could have seen in her the things he or she knows from experience are a good fit for the job. I’m not against HR oversight in monitoring ‘rogue’ managers but I am against using such a formulaic approach.

If you want to read more about the job hunting hell check out this thread on indeed.com. It’s worse than I’m making out, sadly.

355 pages of job hunting hell
and a few more from the UK

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