The Job Search: when HR fails itself

I’m very busily employed now, four weeks into an IT change management role, but still receiving occasional thanks-but-no-thanks emails from former prospects.

For the most part I’ve let the 100-or-so job application dismissals I’ve received go without comment, but feeling frisky with two shiny paychecks under my belt I felt compelled to respond to one today.  I was polite, but wondered: where was my phone screen?

I have to preface the rest by stating that during my frustrating 8 month search I was very, very particular in my applications.  Every one of over 220 attempts was for a role I believed I could perform, and easily 95% of those were job descriptions I matched closely if not exactly.  I was not out to waste my time or any employer’s with left-field applications.

So it was with amusement/exasperation that I received response after canned response claiming other candidates were selected based on closer fits.

Okay, I can accept that after the interview process concludes… the question becomes, however: why did I not receive an interview?

Post-mortem analysis has in some cases suggested the original requisition was unclear or even in outright error.  This has been confirmed for me in a small number of instances when the job was later relisted with additional or clarified details.  I can accept that.  Miscommunication between hiring managers and Human Resources is too common in my experience, but often not completely avoidable.

But that doesn’t explain the majority, where the position ends up being filled without me being offered a chance to sell myself beyond the submission of a resumé.  Now, the first place to look is the resumé itself… but given feedback from the number of interviews I did enjoy combined with landing my current job, I’m satisfied that my resumé did its job well enough and in fact has been well-tested over the years.

So I’m still curious.  I can speculate all day, but it would be nice to hear from people actually involved in the hiring process.  Where is the harm in a 10-minute phone screen for people who clearly have all the right keywords?  By its omission, you may be costing the company the best-qualified candidate.  I understand that not everyone can be offered an extensive interview, but obvious matches should at the very least get a call to make sure you’re not letting the big one get away.

The irony of widespread economic decline is that HR staffs are often hit just like anyone else.  A short-handed staff often doesn’t have the necessary time to employ due diligence in the resume screening process.  In my opinion, HR staff should never be reduced just due to a general decline; they need to be retained to handle transitions and the eventual recovery!  (Side note: my own recent release from Nokia was compounded by a simultaneous HR cut, a move I found to be foolish: the HR representatives supposedly helping us transition to another company spot or ultimately out had personal agendas that conflicted with our needs.  At the very least, no one let go from an HR position should be also handling other released employees.  Period.)

So recruiters and HR reps, think of this as a wake-up call.  I assert that your process may be fatally flawed.  Some instances of good fits not receiving the minimal courtesy of a phone screen can be explained away, but my instincts and analytical senses tell me that’s not true for the majority.  So if you’re truly concerned about Getting The Right Person, take an objective look at your process.  Do your own post mortem when you’re able and critically evaluate your selection and interview criteria.  Odds are you’ve already blithely dismissed candidates whose selection would have reflected well on you. 😉

13 responses to “The Job Search: when HR fails itself

  1. Good post…

    I often wonder why interviews are so hard to come by as well. It used to be that I had the pick of the litter just based off of my resume and experience. Today, I received two more rejections — although one is from a smaller company and it was, at least, a personal email. Still… Out of the hundreds of jobs that I’ve applied to, having had only four or five real interviews happen is pretty discouraging.

    But, I think you are very correct in your assertations.

  2. Lee Figueriedo

    I read the Crypticum Keeper’s blog about HR failing itself with much interest. I wish I could come up with some clever response that would answer all people who have ever applied for a position and why they were not selected, for an interview or even sent just a note indicating why they were not considered…sorry, I’m not that clever. I will say that in these hard economic times, as in so many occupations, I know there are many HR generalists and admins doing the work of 2, 3 or even more HR specialists, recruiters and manangers. Skeletal HR staffs trying to do more with less.

    I think Randy hit the nail on the head when he stated “The irony of widespread economic decline is that HR staffs are often hit just like anyone else. A short-handed staff often doesn’t have the necessary time to employ due diligence in the resume screening process.” That’s not a clear, diffinitive answer for all companies but, I bet it covers a wide majority of many.

    I also know that every candidate who truly believes they are the absolute best person for that job they just applied against – may not be…not in the times we find ourselves in today. When the normal candidate pool might have brought in 40 – 50 candidates, with perhaps 10 -12 truly qualified, today, we may have 400 – 500 people applying where they honestly believe themselves to be the cream of the crop and how could anyway be more qualified? Unfortunately, there are many out there that are. Better quals, better education and work histories, better all-around candidates. I know this may not sit well with all, but it is a fact in these “not-so- normal” times.

    There are some signs of recovery, and hopefully, it will produce more jobs and the economy will turn itself around. I hope so. And, I wish all of you out there still looking, that you are the cream of the crop and you find something quickly and most of all, that you are treated with respect and dignity during these trying times.

    • Lee, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your taking the time to write out such a detailed commentary.

      (For those unaware, Lee is a highly-experienced and very knowledgeable recruiter and was partially responsible for my brief, enjoyable employment with Nokia. I owe him a great deal).

      Lee, your point about a candidate’s view of his/her qualifications versus the opportunity certainly have merit in a large sense, but I was focusing my gripe on fairly black-and-white scenarios. To elaborate, there have been advertised positions where I could go down the list of requirements and check every single one against clear content in my resume– only to be told later I’m not qualified for even a brief phone screen.

      This indicates something deeper and perhaps darker. For many it could be due to a preliminary background check. In my case there’s nothing in that regard to hinder my chances. But if the resume and job description match, there’s SOMEthing keeping the interview offer from happening. If it’s a judgment call, then I’m proposing there may be flawed judgment involved.

      I believe that even if HR is understaffed it behooves them to try harder to at least call all of the exact matches. Maybe I’m being unrealistic… but that’s how I feel.

  3. Lee Figueriedo

    You pose very valid points Randy, however, I was only referring to the larger scope of the problem for HR (and the hiring manager and his or her depleted team), as you stated. And you are of course, looking at one specific position (multiplied by many attempts with many companies) in terms of how you ultimately compare with the qualifications of what that one job description seeks. A position that you and possibly many others feel certain they are the best, most logical choice – if, their qualifications and experience are even reviewed. And, that is a major part of the problem and why phone screenings and interviews may not ever reach yours and other highly qualified candidate’s eyes and ears. The sheer number of candidates who apply may have the screeners, reviewers, recruiters, managers cut off the reviewing process at a certain point because of time or deadlines with the candidates interviewed, selected and offered.

    I wasn’t trying to give some feeble excuse for the lack of manpower at most companies, although that certainly exists at most, but simply to state the volume and overwhelming amount of time it takes these understaffed staffs to try and do their job in a reasonable and professional manner in these hard-hit times. I really believe most people try to do their very best given their tools and hours in a day. But, sometimes the system does fail as it can’t possibly accomodate the increased volumn, the pressure and time factors involved in a very demanding and delicate undertaking such as this.

    I know you are all seeing this from the candidate’s propective, as I too, have been there myself, applying for this and never hearing a response or a professional courtesy in reply. I simply wanted to give some reality checks from the employer’s vantage point, inexcuseable as they may seem to all and probably committing an act of heresy on my part. I believe we all want the “system” to work, and many times it certainly does. As I stated previously, I believe the economy is showing some signs of recovery and I truly hope the system gets fixed over the long haul. In the interim, we trod on trying to do the best we possibly can with what we have to work with.

    • Thanks again, Lee, and I sure hope I didn’t provide the wrong impression! There’s no way I’d see your responses as “feeble excuses”. I solicited your input because I value it.

      But you did bring up something that I should have actually addressed, and mea culpa for the failure. I have spoken with recruiters who told me that they received so many applications that they peeled them off the top until they hired someone, and discarded the remainder. I’m sure that answers the bulk of the cases and again my oversight for not touching on it.

      This of course flies in the face of old advice I once received that made *some* sense at the time: send in your application toward the end of the process so you are fresh in their mind. But that approach makes too many assumptions that I believe are generally no longer viable.

      I also have 2 big ideas to revolutionize the job search industry (I don’t say that lightly) and if you ever get the free time I’d love to sit with you and bounce them off your wisdom and experience. One of the ideas in fact provides what I feel to be a game-changing solution to the signal-to-noise issue of applications and would require a novel approach to the application ecosystem. The result would save employers and candidates enormous sums of time and/or money.

  4. Tell you the answer here… staffing companies often believe there is an opportunity to get someone into a company. They collect resumes by appearing to be the organization doing the hiring. Often the company decides not to do business with the staffing firm, and the applicant is left out to dry. Another scenario is a manager wants to know who else in available in an area, perhaps because she is considering a termination of someone on their team. They assume the down economy has increased the pool of suitable individuals. They collect resumes and ask themselves if they might be better off with someone else. Often they decide it is not work the hassle, and again the applicant is left out to dry.

    Basically, HR and staffing firms are having you help them do their job for no pay.

  5. Lee and Randy,

    All valid points…so let me add one more layer to the conversation:

    1. System driven pre-qualification criteria is set in place by HR Personel as opposed to hiring managers.

    2. Most HR Personel are not qualified to screen for the positions they are hoping to fill.

    Sorry, but it’s true.

    (Lee, this isn’t a condemnation of your capability in the least. You processed me through Nokia as well)

    I submit an example for your consideration:

    I’m a CPIM (Certified in Production and Inventory Management through APICS). However, I was sent a “you’re not qualified e-mail” for a production position where an APICS Certification was preferred, but not required…so, I followed up. Used my network and eventually got to the Corporate Recruiter. The position had been filled, so I asked, “What kept me out of the running?”. The reponse was they were really interested in someone with an APICS Certification…the punchline was that the recruiter didn’t know that a CPIM is an APICS certification, she was looking specifically for “APICS”. The candidate who got the interview and was eventually hired was “Persuing an APICS Certification”.

    Swing and a miss…

    As a hiring manager, I can’t possibly list every keyword I’m looking for, and lord forbid I should get access to Careerbuilder or Monster and try to screen for myself (I’m a pariah for even asking).

    I’m beginning to rely more heavily on sites like Linkedin, where I can work my network to find candidates and screen for myself.

    • Hey, Rob, I’m really excited to see you post! Hope you’re doing well.

      And I hear you on the keyword thing– it’s bitten me a few times too. I could also harp on past experience where HR performed as either an inappropriate firewall or an unhelpful aid (like when one rep insisted I interview a hydraulics engineer for a clerical position… even thugh we had a hydraulics division that might have actually needed his talents!)

      There are other gripes too– such as application forms that narrow relocation options down to overly-simplistic options like “Are you willing to relocate YES/NO” while completely ignoring the valid “I don’t mind relocating but for certain reasons CAN’T right now”. How many excellent candidates are eliminated by traps like that?

      I really need to work on my Big Idea for fixing this mess. Problem is, I need to partner with the right players to make it happen…

  6. Lee Figueriedo

    Of course you both (Rob and Randy) have rasied excellent points. Not all people reviewing and screening from candidate pools are qualified to do so. I am not offended in the least, if thought to be in that category, although I pride myself in learning and knowing as much as possible about any position I am actively recruiting. As a corporate recruiter, it was an intregal part of my job to do just that, although one person can’t possibly know all of the specifics and minutia concerning each and every position within a company. There are many hiring managers who didn’t/don’t have a clue as to what they really need(ed) at times…..so we rely on each other to determine best course to take and hope we made the right decisions in the long run. I sense your frustrations mingled with mine and, again, wish I had some very positive feedback to give you but, the many methods and systems that are out there are as varied and unique as snowflakes…..so I cannot speak for what works better or worse for all companies.

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