Where are the good HR managers?

I received an unusual request today. A colleague of mine just started a new job 10 days ago. He has packed up all his worldly possessions and moved countries to do so.

There had been protracted negotiations over some weeks to hire him. Though the organisation was in fact re-hiring him after an absence of a few years, to work on the client account on which he had worked previously. They wanted him back to help them out.

HR Manager

So this morning he sent me an email. Could I write him a reference – the HR department needed at least two references for his file? I said “isn’t it a bit late to start asking for references, shouldn’t they had checked them before hiring you?”

Apparently his HR department cannot officially hire someone, without having that person’s references on file – even if they’ve been hired. So he needed to stump up a couple of references. I suggested I send one that said “never hire this bloke – ask me why” just to see if it was read or only filed? They also wanted a copy of his original university degree, the one he completed 30 years ago and has no idea where he put it following graduation.

Maybe it was a butt-covering exercise to protect against potential litigation? Apart from being rude, it was also a waste of time for at least 3 people – my friend and his two referees. It’s probably part of the Job Description for the HR manager, so is not time wasting on their books.

But poor manners seem to be the norm in HR departments. I mentor and advise a few marketing executives. A couple are looking around for jobs.

They do all the right things. They sniff around LinkedIn profiles of the people doing the hiring – it’s the digital equivalent of marking your territory, like animals do when they want to warn others they are in the area.

Marking territory

They respond to job advertisements, using social media – if that’s the only place the job has been advertised – and directly by email.

But more often than not, the response they get is silence – zero, nothing, nada, not a sausage, not even a “thanks but no thanks”. The founders of some of the companies in which they are seeking work, would be appalled at the way potential employees are treated by HR managers.

Having hired hundreds of staff in my career, I always try to interview potential employees, even if I don’t have a job to offer them. You never know what’s around the corner – who’s going to resign, or go on maternity leave? Or maybe a client is looking to hire and you are able to help them through the people you’ve interviewed.

I remember a discussion I had with my old boss David Ogilvy. We agreed it was a worthwhile investment of your time, as it helps develop new relationships – some of these people end up as your clients, not your employees. It’s just good business sense to know who is in the market and it can save you money on job advertising and recruitment companies.

Corporate manners have been declining for some time now. Maybe it’s a by-product of our education system, where kids cannot be punished for their bad behaviour, so they assume that’s how you behave when they start in business? They have no idea how to behave.

Whatever the cause, many HR managers are not making a good first impression. And first impressions work both ways. Not only is the potential employer making judgments from first impressions, but employees also make judgments on whether they want to work with you. And if your HR people are bad mannered, they may be letting your company down more than you realise.

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