“Personnel? That’s for idiots!” – Dirty Harry
If you’ve looked for a job recently you know the awful statistics: fewer than three out of every ten jobs are filled through normal channels.
Let me translate this for you: trying to get a job by sending your resume to Human Resources in response to an employment ad is a sucker bet.
The system is broken … badly broken … and the numbers prove it. What’s truly pitiful is that hiring managers don’t like the current state of affairs any more than job seekers do. If they did, the numbers would be very different.
Don’t believe me? Keep an eye out for “Ask the Headhunter: reinventing the interview to win the job” by Nick Corcodilos, which should be hitting the bookshelves this August. Nick has been in the headhunting game a long time, and has succeeded by ignoring most of the nonsense spouted by what he calls “the employment industry”. As Nick points out, “You will encounter many people who are not really the person who will hire you – they are the go-betweens who want you to hunt for a job in a way that’s convenient for them.”
Actually, he’s talking to both the applicant and the hiring manager, because when you’re hiring you’ll also deal with go-betweens.
That’s exactly what you want from HR, whether you’re looking or hiring: To connect the applicants most likely to succeed with the hiring managers who need them. Far too often, HR screens out the very people most likely to succeed instead: people who are stretching, who want a new challenge, who haven’t done the job you’re posting but who will do whatever it takes to succeed at it.
What’s the problem? In most companies, HR has an unstated mission: keep the company out of court. It does so in any number of ways: ensuring compliance with various employment laws; creating personnel handbooks so everyone “knows the rules”; helping managers define position requirements in terms of “objective” evaluation criteria; screening resumes to ensure hiring is done by strict skill-to-task matching … (which is now an automated process, give me strength!).
Keeping the company out of court is a Good Thing (GT, to use the acronym). Of course, people will sue you anyway, and in the meantime you’ve hired and promoted a lot of the wrong people, damaging your company’s ability to compete.
(Now before you flame me, let me draw a clear distinction between individual human resources professionals and the HR industry. I have quite a few friends who work in HR and as a whole they’re goodhearted people who seriously want to help both their employer and their coworkers succeed. Few are given a chance: their industry conspires to prevent it.)
Years ago a friend of mine, new to management, asked the most important consideration when hiring. “Hire a person, not a resume,” I told him. “The skills you’re looking for today won’t be the ones you’ll need next year, so find people with the right aptitude and a habit of succeeding. They’ll acquire whatever skills they need to succeed. Even better, they’ll do the jobs that need doing, not just the ones you think are important.”
I still think that was good advice. Here’s some more: when writing a job description be specific when it comes to attitude and tangible results, and as general as you can when defining skills. If you’re hiring a database administrator, for example, you don’t want someone who will turn into the “data police” and do want someone who thinks of the job as a way to make programmers more effective. Do you really care that her ten years of experience are in Sybase and Oracle while you use Informix?
Turn it around: if you’re a database administrator who knows Sybase and Oracle, do you avoid positions that will cause you to use Informix?
Nick Corcodilos will tell you more: that both applicant and hiring manager need to conduct interviews that are about doing the job. The applicant should do the job in the interview. The hiring manager should ask the applicant to do the job in the interview.
Because, in the end, you want to hire someone who can do the job, not someone who can do the interview.