Why many people don’t like HR and what HR can do about it.

Not a week passes on LinkedIn without coming across scathing posts on recruiters, HR folks and HR practices.

“HR people are condescending towards candidates.” 

“HR people are always looking to cheat you.”  

“HR is always on the side of management.”

“HR feathers only its own nest.” 

Sure, there are direful HR people out there. But there are poor professionals in every field too. In my experience, most HR folks are seldom the scheming and conniving souls they are made out to be. They are ordinary career people like us. People who want to succeed. People who have fears too.

HR sits at a delicate intersection. In its broadest sense, it sits at the intersection of hiring the best hands, getting employees engaged and giving management what it wants. Sometimes what management wants is antithetical to getting the other two. It’s HR’s job to make everyone happy.

By no means is HR spotless. It is culpable in being a custodian of some antiquated practices and policies.

Take interviewing, for instance. Some of the questions asked and information demanded predates the Industrial Revolution. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” “What is your greatest weakness?” “What is your current salary?“We’ll need you to make a detailed presentation of your plan.”

One of the fascinating interview questions I’ve been asked by HR was: “if you were an animal, what animal would you be?” 

I took it that my homo sapience wasn’t evident. I had to be some critter or ave.

My inclination was to mention a snake. But a snake got all of us into this mess. So I mentioned a more innocuous animal; a kinkajou.

“A what?”

“A kinkajou. It’s an arboreal mammal native to the Americas. It’s a frugivore and nocturnal. You know a kinkajou, right?”

Interviewers hate smart alecks. I never heard back from the company.

I suspect I was expected to mention some elevated animal like a lion or an eagle. Not me. I’m of a different phylum.

The problems with these types of questions, of course, is that there are generic answers to them on the internet. Answers that do not help interviewers know the candidate better or understand how their brain works.

HR folks demand salary history primarily for two reasons. One is to assign a value to your worth, and the other is to gain a leverage during negotiations. We must understand that many HR folks get brownie points if they are able to get in a hire below the market value or budget. Saving the business X amount of money is always something to bring up during performance reviews.

Using salary history to judge the value of a candidate is, of course, specious reasoning. Salary history is hardly a good judge of competence. A candidate may be underpaid but worth every dollar of the market rate. But remember the recruiters or HR partners gets performance points when they save costs.

As for demanding salary history to get a leverage during negotiations, I have nothing against it. It’s tradecraft. We all seek to leverage advantage. What it simply means is that you don’t have to divulge such information. HR will huff and puff for it, but I have never seen a great candidate turned down because s/he refused to divulge salary history. Besides, it’s very private information. Salary history questions are outlawed in some states in the US.

Internally, HR must be chief advocates of loyalty. When an external and internal candidate vie for a position and the external candidate scores slightly higher than the internal candidate, say 80 to 70, I’d argue that HR fight for the internal candidate to get the role. The difference isn’t significant. And loyalty must count for something. But many HR partners get harried by hiring managers to hire on ‘merit.’

Many HR people also see themselves as the company’s ‘police.’ To collar everyone into behaving and conforming. The role of HR is supremely more important than this. They are talent managers, much like the managers of artists. They help the artiste give top performances by properly ‘managing’ him/her. They sort out issues so the artist can focus on performance.

Needless to say that HR folks are also brand managers. They manage a brand no less important to tangible products. They are custodians of the employer touchpoint, building and maintaining the employer-brand equity.

I recognise that it is difficult to change HR/employers ‘superiority’ mindset when it is an ‘employers’ market.’ When the number of employees outstrips the number of jobs available jobs.

But is it? It is instructive to note that the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics quotes Nigeria’s unemployment and underemployment rates (Q4 2016) at 14.2% and 21% respectively. It would therefore appear candidates and employees options are not as limited as they think.

Many companies are realising that top candidates require a different and well-articulated pitch. The purchase decision-making process of a consumer is no different from the decision-making process of a top candidate. Understanding and mastering this ‘candidate journey’ is key to winning in the battle for top talents.


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