How HR Is Killing The Corporate Gene Pool And What To Do About It

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The goal of staffing at any level is to get the best person for the job with the staffing resources allotted. A computer is simply a tool, and the downsides of that tool need to be balanced against its upsides. Here are some ways to get the most out of computerized rigidity without allowing it to dominate the entire staffing process.

1. For those who use an email catchall: Food scientist Brian Wansink has conducted experiments showing that if you have candy in a bowl on your desk, you’ll eat it all day whereas if it’s in a bowl six feet away, you won’t. That small effort of getting up gives you enough time to think about whether or not you really want the candy and stop yourself if you don’t. In the same way, so will a barrier to entry give pause to many unqualified job-seekers and reduce the number of resumes sent while knock wood increasing their quality.

So instead of providing a catchall email address for applicants – the equivalent of candy on the desk – provide them only with a mailing address. Forcing people to write and print a cover letter and resume, address an envelope, get a stamp, and mail it, is the equivalent of making someone walk a few steps for that bowl of candy, i.e. it’s enough to stop most applicants unless they’re qualified or very passionate about the work, either of which is a better for the company. Asking for paper by the way doesn’t mean giving up the benefits of electronic filing since, if you like whatever a candidate snailmailed you, you can simply ask them to email you a PDF version for your files later. In other words, open the door but make people shove a little to get in.

2. Always allow a bypass. Especially in today’s world, where many people are taking on extra work not in their job descriptions or doing random freelance work, allowing a candidate to bypass online app filters and make his or her case to a recruiter takes on extra importance. If you’re worried that everyone will try to make a “special circumstances” case, add a barrier to entry (see above).

3. Translate requirements into skills. This is a key pre-recruitment step. For example, instead of “5 years experience,” ask the executive who’s looking to fill the position what “5 years” means to them – does it really mean “100 industry contacts and 10 major campaigns”? Does “VP or above” really mean “someone who has led teams regardless of what they were called”? And what does a title even mean these days?  (I worked in Hollywood for many years where people were called “VP” even though they had absolutely no one reporting to them.)  Maybe in the 1950s titles meant something, but today?  Not so much.  It’s critical that HR dig deeper to find the meaning beneath the requirements, because here is where the computer can be a huge boon to staffing: filtering based on real, core requirements rather than on top-level generic – and often meaningless – requirements. Knowing those deeper requirements allows you to ask questions that will get you much closer to the best-suited candidate, e.g. “How many industry contacts do you have?” “How many campaigns have you run?” “What was the average budget on those campaigns?” “Have you ever led teams?” “Of what size?” “How often?” Etc.

4. Eliminate lingo. What if the perfect candidate for your “Deployment Project Manager, Content Management Culture” job simply refers to his or her prior work as “management consulting”? That candidate won’t think they’re qualified and, even if they do, your computer will eliminate them. Get the gibberish out of the job description and look at skills and attributes instead.

5. Skip the non-requirement “requirements.” For example “salary requirement.” From the point of view of the candidates, what does “salary requirement” mean? Should they put down the high salary they’d like to have? Or should they try to guess what they think the company is willing to pay and pick something in the middle? Or should they negotiate against themselves by going low? What if their prior work was hourly or per-project or contract – what should they come up with then? Also, work is about more than just money; it’s about other tangibles – like benefits, workload, vacation days, parking, a gym – and intangibles – like work environment, office tone, job satisfaction. Without having a sense of those other components, a candidate realistically couldn’t have a “requirement.” And from the company’s point of view, how does knowing a salary requirement upfront even help as that “requirement” often goes right out the window in the face of an actual job offer?

Don’t clutter your job descriptions and online applications with qualities that don’t really matter, like “proficiency in Microsoft Office” (what does that even mean?!?! – and who’s not “proficient” enough these days to use Outlook and Word?), “responds to client requests on a timely basis,” “effective communicator,” and other non-requirements the sole purpose of which seems to be to fill up lots and lots of space on a Craigslist job posting. Focus on the few characteristics that truly matter and save the rest for later.


Despite it being HR’s mission to find the best candidate for a particular job, the computer has made it impossible for anyone not fitting the narrow confines of an online application to get through to anyone in HR, either because HR has barricaded itself from the barrage of applicants (ever try to phone anyone in HR recently?) or because the catchall email has made it so difficult for a recruiter to sort through all the candidates or because the online application filters the candidate out before they even start.

And, right up there with the elimination of outside-the-box thinkers, is the secondary problem that HR’s reliance on the computer actually winds up devaluing the work the HR does – after all, a company might think, if a computer can do it, why not fire all the recruiters? In reality computers aren’t effective staffers because computers are incapable of understanding the human-interactive components that are the key to successful staffing.

Putting it in the cutesiest way possible, maybe it’s time to put the H back in HR…