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Does HR Help or Hurt the Hiring Process?

Does HR Help or Hurt the Hiring Process?

by Carol AndersonMarch 11, 2015

This is a question I’ve asked myself almost every time I’ve had to hire staff. Sometimes the answer to my question is “help,” and in a truly invaluable way. Most times though, the answer is “you’re making it harder; I could do better without your help.”

I just finished reading an interview with Maynard Webb – currently Chairman of the Board of Yahoo – on what he learned in his career, and it brought this question to mind once again. The statement that got my attention was in response to the interview question “How do you hire?”

His answer: “I try to have a very big network, because the best hires are people I’ve already seen in a work environment and they did a great job.”

He goes on to say that his questions are typically forward-thinking, rather than hindsight; Of course, hindsight questions form the basis of behavioral interviewing which is in vogue right now in the recruitment space.

He finishes up by saying that, if the candidate provides a “pat” answer, he pushes their thinking by sharing his own stories, with the idea that the candidate will realize that he’s looking for a thoughtful, reciprocal dialogue to see if there is a basis for a good working relationship.

This is his style, learned over the course of a career and based upon what qualities he has determined are important to him in his team members.  I’m thinking this makes a lot of sense.

How Do Recruiters Really Help?

Just to set the context, most of my hiring has been in large organizations that have a sophisticated recruiting function. The process starts with me keying a staffing requisition into an Applicant Tracking System, which is then routed to all of those who must approve my request to hire.

Only after the request has been approved do I speak with a recruiter. Typically the ratio of open jobs to recruiters is significant, meaning I won’t get much of their time.

The recruiter interviews me to identify what I am looking for (or not) in candidates, and provides me with tools. Now, just a point to make –I had to submit a job description with my staffing requisition, but typically the content of a job description was written for the purpose of determining salary grade, not for determining the skills, experience and competencies I need for the candidate to possess. So we write a profile together.

Armed with the profile of the candidates I would like to see, the recruiter queries the Applicant Tracking database for candidates that fit the profile, and begins to send me applications. I peruse the applicants, identify those with promise, and the recruiter conducts a preliminary interview over the phone.

When I have a few promising candidates, the recruiter gives me the behavioral interview questions. The questions are awkward and generic. In many organizations, the questions and competencies they evoke have been purchased from a third party. Every candidate has prepped for the myriad of questions about “how have you handled conflict, negotiation, influencing, problem-solving, etc.”  And hearing myself ask “tell me about a time when you….” is really humiliating.

Hiring. Managers. Are. Flawed.

There is a reason for the systemic approach: Historically managers have approached the hiring process with bias, which creates risk for the organization. The compliance standards that a recruiting shop has to establish to prove that there was no bias in the hiring decision is overwhelming.

Most managers in this day and age (I hope?) don’t consciously discriminate. But even subconsciously, we easily lean toward hiring “mini-me” because there is comfort in the relationship. You think like me, so that conflict that I really detest isn’t an issue with us.

Enter the term “group-think,” defined as “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.”

So not only is there risk of litigation because of discrimination, but there is risk of lowering organizational performance because the team is so focused on making nice that they can’t do the hard work required.

What is Wrong with Scripts and Tools?

Think about it this way. Your physician follows a script when examining you. She uses an evidence-based series of questions, drilling down enough questions to make a diagnosis.

Your physician, however, was trained in the use of the script. She was taught the basic components of anatomy and physiology, she interned alongside a seasoned veteran, she received feedback on her work, and she practiced. In fact, she’s still practicing and learning.

Why would we let one of the most critical roles in any organization use a script or a tool without that same exposure to content knowledge, feedback and practice?

HR Must Have a Role in Hiring – But What is the Right Role?

Which is the more effective role for HR? Providing scripts and tools, or coaching the hiring manager? To gain economies of scale, we seem to have defaulted to providing scripts and tools without the coaching and development managers so desperately need. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with scripts and tools; busy managers need all the help that they can get. But it isn’t enough.

Before there is even a vacancy, HR can help managers in several ways.

Documenting Jobs and Competencies

Organizations document jobs on job descriptions, competency models, hiring profiles and learning paths. Chances are, they don’t match.

By creating job documentation that is useful, relevant and competency-based, HR can help managers to think about staffing in terms of knowledge and skills needed, rather than duties to be accomplished. They can also help to zero in on qualities that are teachable, and qualities that are critical. By documenting the fundamental competencies necessary for success, the interview process can be constructed to tease out what is really important.

But, this needs to be an ongoing dialogue between HR and the manager, not a job description that sits on someone’s desk until there is a vacancy. Helping managers think about the work of their team, why they are structured as they are, what key qualities are crucial and what can be trained, opens the dialogue well before a vacancy occurs.

Developing Leaders

Much like the physician who trains, practices and receives feedback yet still uses scripts and tools, HR has to develop effective leaders. This means that leaders need to understand their role and the impact of their role on their team members and the organization. It means setting expectations and holding leaders accountable. It means learning and practicing good dialogue – not only understanding what can and cannot be asked in an interview, but how to interview effectively.

An effective interviewer must know how to ask good questions, listen for insight and meaning and evaluate candidates objectively. This takes practice, and good practice requires a good coach. This is where HR can be most helpful – providing simulations and coaching toward effective interviewing.

Challenging Leaders

Managers may be resistant to HR interfering. HR can nurture a relationship with leaders so that they can challenge them to think beyond the usual. Again, the relationship has to be established with mutual trust long before the vacancy occurs.  Ongoing dialogue, and real solutions to business problems goes a long way to establishing trust.

Sourcing Talent

I once heard a Recruiting Leader tell a leadership group that their new Applicant Tracking System had over 10,000 resumes of people who wanted to join the organization. Great, I thought – how will you help me find the one in 10,000?

Technology has a down-side. The algorithm that produces candidates “matched” to your job requires having accurate and relevant job data in the system. At best, it is dependent on a recruiter sifting through the matches and mimicking your insight to find the right possibilities. But this is chancy, at best.

What if recruiters were pro-active, being constantly on the lookout for talent, even candidates that are not looking, and so don’t show up in the search?  Years ago, recruiters at Circuit City had sourcing assistants who actively looked for top talent for key positions. Some may call this poaching; as a hiring manager I would call it Nirvana.

Creating a Relevant Interview Process

Not all managers need a custom interview process, but most all need to really understand how to use the tools they have.  Managers hiring for critical positions deserve hand-holding, sifting through the list of competencies and questions to create a process that will unveil the right information.

This is another opportunity for HR to coach and help ensure a quality hire.

Is there Hope?

So with a trusting relationship, good job documentation, skilled leaders and effective HR coaches, can we change the nature of the hiring process?

Something has to happen!

According to PwC’s 17th Annual Global CEO Survey, 93% of CEOs say they need to change their strategies for talent, and 34% say their HR teams are well prepared for the challenges ahead. That seems like a pretty compelling reason to do things differently.


About The Author
Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson is a nationally recognized thought leader, author, speaker and consultant on aligning the workforce to business strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. Carol founded Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, to bring together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business - CEO’s, CFO’s and HR executives – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. She is the author of “Repurpose HR: Moving from cost center to business accelerator” published by the Society for Human Resource Management in June 2015 which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results. She can be reached at [email protected]
  • March 23, 2015 at 3:10 PM

    Hi Carol.

    If HR departments are not providing a talent assessment to their hiring managers, then they are not doing enough it help.

    • Carol Anderson
      March 26, 2015 at 4:38 PM

      Would love to hear more about what you think is an effective talent assessment. I’ve seen good ones and not so good ones, and if they’re not that good, they seem to be more of a hindrance. Thanks for your comment.

  • March 26, 2015 at 11:48 AM

    Carol, thanks for the great article. Lots of food for thought. A couple of my “musings” ….
    (1) The importance of coaching and feedback. As you mention, tools and techniques may be necessary — but not sufficient — when it comes to raising the bar in talent acquisition. Such a critical, yet overlooked part of training and learning! As a former sales professional, scripts were a part of my daily prospecting. However, we were always encouraged to eventually “kick off the training wheels” and make the script our own. And we received good tools and coaching to help us get there.
    (2) The value of adding a good measure of passive candidates. It’s tempting to rely only on active candidates; however, the downside, of course, is to only serve up the best of those who have applied — not the best possible candidates for the position. But we know that attracting and engaging great passive candidates takes a level of skill that recruiters may not have — AND it takes time. In the world of “time-to-fill” I know recruiters will easily jump into the “race to close” and sacrifice more strategic “quality of hire” metrics.

    Thanks again!

    • Carol Anderson
      March 26, 2015 at 4:40 PM

      Thanks for your comments and thoughts, Nancy. You’re right about starting with scripts, but it sounds like you got the coaching you needed, and didn’t recite the script verbatim. Also agree about passive candidates – depending upon the open position, just going with what is available might not be the best solution.

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