The hiring process is totally broken

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My last couple of years have been pretty awkward in terms of hiring process. I worked at PBS from 2011 to 2012, then decided to go to graduate school. That kinda sorta turned out OK, but it took me a long time to get a job once I got my Masters. Then I moved down to Texas for that job, right? And … 17 months later, I got fired. I don’t really look for work right now — I do a lot of freelance — and while part of that is because I’m not sure how great I am with hierarchy and office jobs, part of it is because the hiring process is completely broken in America.

How broken is it? Let’s explore.

Hiring Process Flaw No. 1: The foundation

Imagine a genie came to you with this deal: you spend a bunch of money, and the reason for spending the money is that you’re going to gain all this knowledge and learn so much. OK, got that part? Now once you’ve spent the money and theoretically gained the knowledge, another genie is going to come along. When you ask that genie for a wish, he’s gonna spit in your face and say “Nope, we only want people who have done this exact set of things beforehand.” You’d probably be pretty pissed off at the second genie, since the promise of the first genie was that money — -> knowledge would make you more well-rounded, yea?

Genies don’t exist, but this shit happens every single day in America. Kids come out of school, or grad school, or community college, or whatever else … and they went to that school partially on the assumption that increased levels of education would make them attractive to employers. But the hiring process isn’t rooted in that. It’s rooted in “Here’s a checklist of shit we think this job should be able to do. If you have the entire checklist, maybe you can advance.”

Never understood this: if business “moves faster than ever” and is “so complex” — all shit you’ll hear executives say in any interview — then wouldn’t we want someone with diverse knowledge, as opposed to someone with an extremely specific set of skills that’s basically done the exact same shit before? This same prioritization of task work over knowledge and growth will someday kill Silicon Valley, as an aside.

Soooo … the entire foundation on which the hiring process typically rests is a giant fucking turd. Nice. Can it get worse?

Hiring Process Flaw No. 2: The cover your ass move

Here’s how the hiring process stage of ‘moving on an open position’ typically unfolds at most orgs:

  • Someone quits or leaves or is canned, and ‘open headcount’ is created (or, the company’s making some money and they create a position)
  • Since most managers are admittedly not great at understanding organizational priorities, any headcount process can become pretty fraught: it’s ultimately more about politics (who yelps the loudest, or who’s closer to the power core) than it is about who really needs help in their department
  • At this point, the entire charade collapses — because it’s the hiring manager who needs the help, but they fully pass the buck to HR

This is where you should align a shotgun at your scrotum and yank back the trigger. Why would a marketing manager who needs to hire someone pass the buck to HR? What does that HR lady toting the “Coffee is my spirit animal” bag into work every morning know about marketing and its needs? Or the composition of the existing team? The answer: nothing.

Here’s what happens: the hiring manager has 1 or 2 poorly-contextualized conversations with the HR lady, who’s probably awash in her own compliance tasks. The hiring manager has no respect for HR — “Everyone knows marketing drives this ship, baby!” — and basically just keeps applying pressure to her about how quickly he needs to fill this slot. A job description is hastily updated and slapped online. Applicants start to roll in.

Now you’ve got a HR person with literally no context or knowledge for what this position needs or the team already in place — aside from their personnel files — screening 100 applicants down to 5 the hiring manager can talk to. It’s a joke. 95 percent of your pipeline just died in the flood because of a woman who has 17 Pinterest tabs open as she responds to Chinese fire drills from an exec trying to force out a lieutenant. You think all 95 who got dropped in the initial hiring process were bad fits? Nope. Probably many were, but I bet 2–3 who got dropped were the best candidate.

Now, a shithead middle manager would read the above and bark back:

“HR owns recruiting! They have the functional knowledge!”

Asinine and lies. It’s a cover your ass move. We don’t empower Human Resources to do anything. We kick it all the shit and CYA projects we can think of, and bury it in process. Some other exec just bellowed:

“It’s not a revenue center! We’re up here slaying dragons!”

Fuck it all. Here’s the deal: there’s no “functional knowledge” around screening a resume dropped into an Applicant Tracking System and/or talking to someone for 10 minutes on the phone. Those are basic human skills: information-scanning and conversation. The marketing hiring manager could do all of it, but he doesn’t because he’s on the cross over at The Temple of Busy and ain’t got no time for that shit. That’s a HR thing, baby!

Hiring Process Flaw No. 3: The technology side of it

Won’t go too deep into this except to say that … well … technology killed recruiting. If you were to make a list of the worst things in human history, you’d only be about 27 items past Hitler when someone would mention applicant tracking systems.

Here’s a cool idea: let’s take a qualified, interesting person who could be a real asset to our company, OK? We’ll start there. So we’ll ask for his resume and a link to his LinkedIn profile. Still with me? OK, so then let’s ask that person to fill out about 12 screens of data that essentially will provide all the same information as the resume did. Wait, what?

Imagine if you were chasing a client, or a “lead” in your “lead generation” program — which is probably held together by toothpicks and lies anyway, but that’s a totally different topic. So let’s say you get this client over to your site, right? You ask him for his e-mail in exchange for some white paper — again, held together with duct tape and incoherent buzzwords — and then a second screen appears. Now the client has to fill out 72 forms of data about themselves.

You think that client is sticking around as a “lead?” Fuck no. They’re bouncing from that site instantly.

Liz Ryan brought up this disconnect between “how we treat clients” and “how we treat job seekers” recently too:

E-commerce marketers know this figure well. It’s called the Abandonment Rate, and it’s a critical metric to watch. The higher the abandonment rate for an online shopping cart, the more frustrated buyers are becoming as they try to buy from your online store. What a tragedy — someone was ready to spend money with you, and then you made it too difficult for them!

We desperately want to know our e-commerce shopping cart abandonment rate, but most ATS (applicant tracking system) vendors don’t make it easy for recruiting managers to determine what percentage of candidates, or how many applicants total, are dropping out of their online job applications in disgust.

This all happens for logical reasons — poor priority management, lack of clarity around what the job needs, lack of discussion around impactful hiring process strategies, and a rush to throw tech solutions at problems rather than actually figuring out what the problem really is. It’s all logical and sad and most businesses face this issue at least once, if not 278 times, per day. It still sucks, though.

And it sucks that technology — which should be a force for making things easier and better — has basically punched the hiring process right in the dong.

Hiring Process Flaw No. 4: The interviews

Most are generic, usually both sides are somewhat lying, and everything’s ultimately a sale. The ’10 most common job interview questions’ — essentially a backbone of the entire hiring process — are so comically generic and/or easy to flip around that they make no impact whatsoever.

Look at these excited millennials! Their spirit will soon be crushed by the hiring process.

When I was coming out of graduate school, I interviewed with this company in Tampa, OK? I had five interviews over the course of two months, with five different people. The hiring process was really stretching out. All of the interviews were exactly the same. They were different people at different levels, but they all asked me the same shit and did it in this general order:

  • Small talk
  • “So, tell me a little about yourself” (essentially more small talk)
  • “Why do you want to work here?”
  • “This is why our culture is so great”
  • “Here’s a question I believe to be vaguely challenging”
  • “Here’s some more sunshine up the ass of the people that pay me”
  • “Any questions for me?”
  • “I have no clue on a timetable, no. Isn’t that HR’s job?”

By the fourth of these interviews, I wanted to self-immolate every time I got on another one. But I needed a job, you know? Capitalism: it’s a cruel mistress.

Hiring Process Flaw No. 5: The lack of science

Business is all about what’s measured. That’s what executives care about — which is amazingly ironic because most executives have no clue how to analyze data towards decision-making and would rather throw a $400,000 salary at some “crack data scientist” — and that’s why concepts like “employee engagement” have no real traction. In short, it’s hard to measure them — so execs ignore them, and that ignoring trickles down the chain. Rank-and-files don’t think it matters because it’s not getting mentioned at all-hands meetings, so let’s move on to something else.

The hiring process is a big fucking deal. Your talent is probably your greatest strategic advantage over a competitor — although again, most executives would yelp about how it’s “our Q2 margin strategy!” — and who you hire represents the biggest chunk of money going out.

So we design a hiring process around absolutely no scientific ideas, variables, concepts, tracking, metrics, etc? Rather, it’s some HR lady asking you your three biggest strengths? An executive bellowing to shareholders about how “innovative” and “forward-thinking” his company is about to become … is going to get innovative people from a process essentially rooted in nothing? That’s a stretch.

There’s a way we could get closer to “HR getting a seat at the table” via this idea of People Analytics, but … psychologically speaking, we’re very, very far off on People Analytics right now. (It would require long-tenured processes to drop off, and removes “the gut feel” aspect of HR pros and senior leaders.)

Hiring Process Flaw No. 6: Once we make the hire

There will probably be a few awkward convos about salary — no one understands what salary even represents — and then an offer is accepted and the new hire arrives to “hit the ground running.” What happens then? A total unscientific onboarding process that’s mostly based on transactional elements — paperwork, passwords, protocols — as opposed to transformative elements, such as “What’s the culture here?” and/or “Who actually does what?” Onboarding programs can be fixed, but again — they’re seen as the domain of HR, and HR is the cover-your-ass department, not the dragon-riding crew that sales or marketing or finance is.

So, there we go … six major flaws in the hiring process — and heck, I’m sure I missed a few things. What else you got for me?

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.

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