Embarrassed To Be In HR

I got the following comment on my post on networking:

Stop naming it networking, call it nepotism. Hiring people based on who they know is unprofessional. I work in HR and someone’s recommendation means squat, I have enough of a brain to evaluate skills and not relationships. If you had to have life saving surgery would you pick the most qualified doctor or one that is funny at parties? Oh and the recruiter that says we remember names of people who turn down offers, why do you feel your time is more important than the candidates? typical HR workers that make me embarrassed to tell people my profession.

First of all, the usual use of the word “nepotism” is favoritism to family members. There are some who define it as favoritism to close friends, but a better word for what you are trying to describe is cronyism. It’s all about word choice and I’m not saying the anonymous commenter’s choice was technically incorrect, it was just not what I would have used.

I’m rather embarrassed that an HR person would presume to have more knowledge about the skills necessary to do the job then someone who actually does the job. Yes, yes, I can read a resume with the best of them. I can even ask interview questions. But, I would rather get an opinion from somebody who does the actual job.

Would I hire my brain surgeon based on his ability to tell jokes? No. But, if I needed brain surgery, I would start looking for one by asking for referrals for a neurologist from my current physician. Then I would ask the neurologist about neurosurgeons. Theoretically, all those years of medical school, residency and practice means they know a bit more about medicine then I do. Sure, I’d want to check the recommended person’s resume and ask questions like, “how many of these types of surgeries have you performed?” But, would a physician’s recommendation hold more weight than my hairdresser’s recommendation? Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I ask someone with knowledge and experience in the field before making my decision?

You know who else I would want to ask? The nurses that work in neurosurgery. They would know all the doctors, their success rates and their personalities. And in the case of brain surgery, I really would prefer a pompous jerk who knows how to fix my brain rather than a good joke teller. If I’m just basing my opinion on an interview, rather than someone who has worked with the surgeon before, I’m more likely to be swayed by the good conversationalist. And the reality is, conversation is nice, but what I need is a good surgeon.

I do agree that the recruiter who said they would hold it against someone who turned down a job offer is a jerk. If you are a good recruiter, you should be able to pull in quality candidates. Quality candidates frequently have other job offers because they are, you know, high quality. Just because this current position doesn’t meet their current needs/goals doesn’t mean they won’t need a job in the future.

This reminds me of a little story. Once upon a time, my beloved husband went on a job interview that was 7 hours away from our home. He drove and paid his own expenses on the promise that he would be reimbursed. He submitted his expenses and the head hunter sent a check. The company made him an offer. The offer was a rather lousy one and he, at this point, had 4 or 5 offers that were better. So he turned it down.

And they stopped payment on the check.

My husband, being nicer than me, said, “Just let it go. It’s only $300.” (Clearly this was back in the days of reasonable gas prices.) I said, “It’s $300 and dang it, I want the money.” So, he said I could call. Generally having spouses call is a big no-no by the way, but we didn’t have anything to lose. So I called and asked, innocently why they stopped payment on the check.

“Because he didn’t accept the job,” recruiter said.

“That wasn’t part of the deal. You were to reimburse him for expenses related to the interview.”

“But, he didn’t accept the job! We’ve never had anyone get an offer and not accept it before!” she said.

“I want to talk to your boss,” I said. Boss got on the phone.

“Do you even work?” he snarled, “or are you just a housewife with nothing better to do?”

So, now my blood is boiling, but I managed to reply, rather sweetly, if I do say so myself, “Your comment is insulting on many levels, but in fact, I do work. I’m in Human Resouces and I happen to know that paying travel expenses is part of the cost of recruiting.”

“But, we’ve never had anyone turn down an offer before!” he said.

“In that case,” I replied, “you must not be used to working with highly qualified candidates because people like that frequently have more than one offer.”

“You’ll have your check,” he said.

And we did. And he was an idiot. And he was in HR. But, fortunately, most of us are not like that. And most of us recognize networking for what it is–an invaluable tool.

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24 thoughts on “Embarrassed To Be In HR

  1. Did you welcome that HR manager to the real world? I love fantasy land where all job offers are accepted with no negotiations and/or questions.

    I remember good candidates who turn us down only to re-connect if the right opportunity is there. I’ve even received good referrals from these candidates who are flattered we reached out to them. The only other list I keep is on candidates who handle themselves unprofessionally in the process (whether they get an offer or not).

  2. EHRL; your comments are exactly correct.

    A couple points:

    1) “Favoritism” is in the eye of the beholder. If I have candidates for a job that are known to people whose judgment I trust, I would be remiss if I failed to get an opinion from them. If a candidate has worked for me in the past, all the better…..I know what they can/can’t do. On the other hand, if I get comments from people I don’t know, they are worthless and have no weight with me, while comments from people I think are worthless can have the opposite effect of that which was intended. The thing is…like it or not…most people prefer a known quantity over an unknown quantity. This is why people get referrals from friends when selecting doctors, dentists, contractors, movies, restaurants, you name it. Selecting employees isn’t all that different, provided they have the qualifications. Is this “fair”? I don’t know, I guess it depends on your definition of “fairness” and the question “Fair to whom?”.

    2) There are plenty of HR people who as big a jerks, stupid, incompetent, unqualified, etc. as in any other occupation. It’s a bell curve like most things in life. HR people get the bad rap more often than many other occupations because they’re often giving people the “bad news”(in all it’s many forms)….kind of like police officers. My bother is a police officer and he used to say that I was the only non-cop that he and his buddies could relate to (I always took that as a high compliment).

    3) Recruiters….what can I say? There’s that bell curve again.

    Mike Doughty

  3. I turned down the job I currently hold, the first time. Not because I didn’t want to work here, but because my employer at the time, counter offered me the authority I was lacking to accomplish what I needed to accomplish. (It was never a money issue for me.) I felt I owed it to myself to see what I could do at the company I was employed at for 7 years. As it turns out, it was only a promise of authority and not actual authority but I was still content with my decision.

    Fast forward 1 year later, the company I turned down calls again. I meet with them, reconsider my decision and 1 1/2 years later, here I am. I was honest with both company’s throughout the whole process. To this day, I would still go back to work for my previous employer and they would have me back. I’m not sorry I moved companys either.

    There are many reasons applicants turn down a position and certainly, after you spend all of the effort recruiting (and if you have a lengthy and thorough process like we do, all the time) it’s disappointing to have a candidate turn you down. Sometimes it’s even confusing but a candidate has to make a decision that they think is best for them. And I’d rather have them make that decision prior to us investing in the training rather than 30 days after we hire them.

  4. I believe that people who complain about cronyism (and that is the right word for it) tend to be bitter because they believe it’s keeping them from getting jobs they want. Either that (or in addition to that), they’re simply naive about why having and using information from personal connection is a good thing in hiring, not a bad thing.

    The commenter says that he/she “has enough of a brain to evaluate skills.” Surely this commenter has made a hire who seemed great during interviewing but who didn’t work out once on the job? You can’t do a lot of hiring and not have that happen. Or you don’t have high standards or hold people accountable on the job. If your company expects high performance, there’s no way that every single one of your hires will work out, no matter how great an interviewer you are. It just doesn’t happen. And so being able to talk to someone who knows the candidate — who can say, “Yeah, he interviews really well, but he loses focus one month in,” or “his temper made him impossible to work with” or, conversely, “he’s as great as he seemed when you interviewed him” is invaluable.

    And that stopped check story is outrageous. Good for you for calling them on it.

  5. The problem that your anonymous commenter has is this: They’re assuming that the relationship (“ism”) is the main (more likely only) reason for hiring the candidate. I can agree that that is a bad thing. “You should hire her because she’s my best buddy” is a lousy reason for hiring anyone.

    What you and others are trying to point out is that what’s important is what the relationship can tell us about the candidate. “I’ve known him for 10 years and he’s never been late or missed an obligation” is useful information in hiring. “He’s my brother” is not.

    I’ve found jobs through a friend’s recommendation and I’ve hired people on personal recommendations. In every case, I’ve also evaluated the candidate’s qualifications, independent of the recommendation. What I noticed is that the recommended candidates are a bit more qualified for the job than the ones I get with random resumes. Why? Because they’ve been “pre-screened.”

    I hope that the commenter isn’t actively rejecting candidates that are brought by friends and relatives. That’s cutting off his/her nose to spite her/his face.

  6. Cronyism/neopotism happen all the time. It’s human nature to want to surround yourself with people you know and trust.

    Problems only arise when the “crony” is hired in the face of common sense.

    I worked for a boss who would bend over backwards to hire her friends and relatives. These folks were completely unqualified for the positions they held. When this was brought to her attention (because their poor performance could no longer be ignored) she would blame training or other employees or pretty much anyone or anything other than the person who was doing a poor job.

    This kind of behavior is what causes people to become resentful, not necessarily the fact that the hiring manager knew the candidate previously, but more because of how the manager treats the candidate after they’ve been hired.

  7. Exactly the comment I was going to make Artk…networking is just another recruiting tool to FIND candidates, not necessarily to HIRE them. Responsible and professional employers are still going to put these people through their regular recruitment processes, as they would anyone else. Unfortunately, when recommends are hired, there is a perception that favoritism is involved. Hiring someone without the qualifications or experience for a job just because they know someone is a worthless exercise all around, and never ends well.

  8. Recruiting Jerk here…

    I would like to clarify: I don’t feel my time is more valuable at all than a candidate’s and I never said such a thing. Currently employed candidates are taking time out of their work day to come chat with me and I appreciate that a lot – which is why I don’t mind making taking a 6:30p interview. What I don’t appreciate is someone who takes the interview process as a joke and a recruiter’s time as a joke. Someone interviewing (beyond an initial screen) with no intention of taking a job is wasting my time. I’m not saying that I remember the names of every Tom, Dick and Mary who has turned me down. I’m saying recruiters remember those select few who play games – who think they’re more marketable and perfect than they really are. The initial questioner appeared to be playing games in the recruitment process and I found that extremely unprofessional. I don’t interview people I know I definitely won’t hire and I expect the same professionalism from candidates.

  9. In that case, recruiting jerk, I agree with you. No one should be wasting anyone’s time.

  10. I do agree with some points the anonymous HR person made. We have seen incompetent people get hired or promoted based on who they know, however being in HR for 15 years, tell me if anyone else has reached this conclusion, don’t you guys feel interviews are a lousy way to detect qualifications? I have found that testing or putting them on the job simulation is a better indicator of how well they will do. I have run into great interviewees that talk the talk, but are lousy workers and vice versa. It just seems questions like tell me your weakness or where will you be in 5 years are not good indicators of how well someone can rewire a computer. Also quick story I once asked why do you want this job and the person said “hmmm….you guys pay, right?” lol I had to laugh, because it’s honest but not really tactful.

  11. Whoever left that comment obviously isn’t familiar enough with HR to utilize their company’s employee assistance program. That kind of irrational rage makes my blog look sane.

    On a serious (semi)note,I think it’s a stretch to say networking equals hiring funny people. I think it is a really big risk to recommend someone for a job. Not only am I vouching for them, but I am also risking my credibility.

    The HR Brainiac said, “Hiring people based on who they know is unprofessional.” Of course it is. Clearly the rest of us realized the original post was aimed at hiring people based on a respected professional’s vote of confidence for the applicant’s skills.

    Sound like this HR gal doesn’t have many letters of recommendation in her briefcase.

  12. Hi Evil HR lady. I wanted to throw an idea out to you. I have started a business that is really unique to a lot of the HR world. It is called ReThink Money. We are hired on long term contracts to decrease work place stress and increase productivity through personal financial coaching. Here is the deal… WE DON’T SELL ANYTHING! We don’t sell investments or insurance! We just offer people financial coaching through a series of training events that happen throughout the year. We have been extremely successful thus far and want to continue growing our business to help employers retain great employees. Would you be willing to give me some feedback on how to continue helping HR develop a work place system that helps people win with their personal finances? If you were in my shoe’s what are HR people looking for in a system like the one I am offering? Thanks!

  13. rethink money is a horrible idea, but it is like HR in a way…it offers nothing and is expensive.

  14. Rethink money…most banks and investment companies provide this service to companies for free (in the hopes of drumming up business)…I’ve had many sessions on managing personal finances for my employees at no cost…sorry.

  15. There is a shortage of doctors, so I’m sure that the pompous jerk neurosurgeon and the good joke teller are both going to get jobs. I have heard a case where a good doctor sexually assaulted a student. Charges were dropped because his research was “too valuable” so your assertion that skill matters is true.

    But many jobs are NOT brain surgery and can be done by any idiot. These are the jobs that people get not because they are qualified but because of who they know.

    This has been happening since the dawn of time. Words aside, people favor people they like, they favor friends and family. This is true everywhere. Good or bad, it happens a whole lot, and there’s not a lot that can be done to change it. That’s what I think the poster was speaking about.

    As I said before, I’m so discouraged, I don’t feel like I’ll ever get a dream job. I am really, really happy in my current positions, though. I didn’t know anyone here to get me the jobs, either.

  16. Referrals are a great way to find quality candidates. You have to weigh all the factors, and I wouldn’t hire a less qualified candidate over a more qualified one simple because of a referral. But if you have employees that are invested in the company, they are typically going to give you a good referral because their name/reputation is attached. As long as you take care to keep a diverse workforce, I see no issue with referrals. While I admit to not pulling any metrics on this, my anecdotal experience has always been that referrals from top performers typically lead to more top performers.

  17. cronyism is how we get people like Monica Goodling and other Bush cronies in like Brownie

  18. My former manager frequently reccomended people for me to utilize as freelance contract workers on our projects, undoubtedly in the “networking” mindset, they all worked with her previously. She also pressured me to continue to use them against my better judgement. Without question, I can honestly say that they were the poorest performers. I learned a very valuable lesson, and will now keep very careful metrics of everyone I manage so that I can, with facts, stop utilizing someone who is more of a burden than an asset.

  19. hi,
    firm and strong, the $300 to me isn’t the issue.
    doing what is right professionaly must be maintained.i think a system can be set up to act as a check to other HR firms, something like this appeals like a check if a proper system is put in place i think every HR personnel would properly carry out their services

  20. I can emphathize with Recruiter’s dilemma, but I’ve had my own time frittered away by a self-described recruiter who seemed to me to be behind schedule in filling some slot.

    I’ve also had the in-house recruiter from a company that wanted to hire me say to me, “I need to know how much money you’re making because we base our offer on that.”

    Perhaps so, but my limited experience tells me most companies have some range they’ll pay for a position, and all things being equal, they won’t go over that range for the reincarnation of Leonardo DaVinci (or, for some employers, Niccolo Machiavelli).

    Time-wasters, like stupidity, are a constant in the universe. You can minimize your exposure, but sooner or later a concentration will form. Just don’t let the contagion spread to you.

    And a person who doesn’t understand the difference between nepotism, cronyism, and networking probably confused process with product, ends with means, and arse with elbow.

  21. I agree with the previous comments. There is most definitely is a difference between nepotism/cronyism and networking. If you only hire someone because they were recommended and don’t have the right skills/experience or even qualifications, then that is nepotism/cronyism. However hiring on the basis of a good recommendation from a good employee, who also has the right experience, skill set and qualifications needed is in my opinion good networking, for the employer, the employee and the potential candidate. Like evil HR lady said, if I needed lifesaving surgery, I would go by the surgeon’s experience and the recommendation by others. Studies and surveys repeatedly show that employee referrals are a good source of potential candidates. For example, Accenture are reportedly aiming to increase their staff referrals to 40% of hires globally as they say they score highly on the quality of staff recruited. Obviously if the candidate isn’t qualified enough or doesn’t match up to other candidates applying for the position or is being recommended by an employee who doesn’t have the best record then fair enough don’t hire them but if they have all the qualities and qualifications needed and their recommendation is from a good employee then I think it is a good way to find good talent.

    Elena Kombou
    Head of Social Media and Marketing

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