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Are recruiters and employers too picky?

HR, hiring managers, organizations, candidates all part of the problem

By Brian Kreissl

It’s odd how much of the advice given to job applicants by career counsellors and coaches focuses on helping people bypass HR to get their resumés into the hands of hiring managers.

HR is often seen as functioning only as "gatekeepers" or “roadblocks” in the hiring process.

When I did technical recruiting, I also noticed candidates tend to blame HR when job requirements listed in a posting are too strict, or when an ad asks for five years of experience with a particular technology that’s only been in existence for three years.

In such a situation, people automatically assume some overzealous, technologically challenged HR professional took it upon himself to unilaterally enhance the requirements section of the job description. They don't realize such “requirements” often come from the hiring manager who, in spite of the fact she's leading a team of software developers, may also be lacking in current, hands-on technical skills.

As an in-house recruiter, I rolled my eyes on countless occasions when given ridiculous “requirements” from hiring managers. For example, one manager would only look at candidates from downtown Toronto. She wouldn't even consider someone who lived right on the subway line just 15 minutes away.

HR must take some of the blame

Part of an HR professional’s job in recruiting should be coaching hiring managers. It’s challenging, but often well worth the effort in gently persuading them their “must haves” might not be so.

However, HR must take some of the blame too. Having been a hiring manager, I've experienced some level of frustration with organizational policies and procedures that made it more challenging to recruit the talent we needed.

When I did agency recruitment, I must confess we generally preferred to deal directly with hiring managers. The problem in dealing with HR people, I found, was they sometimes lacked sufficient business or technical knowledge, so they would focus too much on “soft skills” or “cultural fit” — sometimes to the detriment of hiring an excellent candidate for a difficult to fill role.

I’m not arguing cultural fit isn’t important or soft skills won’t sometimes make or break a candidate’s ability to perform successfully in a job. But being obsessive and nit-picking someone’s mannerisms or having an idealistic view of the organization’s culture and values doesn’t help anyone.

One client turned down a candidate who used the words “cool” and “awesome” once or twice during the interview. The person was a great fit for the role and a very polished professional, yet the client was so picky they weren’t interested in her because of her “lack of professionalism.” In fact, they never hired anyone we recommended.

As my boss at the time said, “Sometimes you make the mesh so fine, nothing gets through.”

I saw that with some in-house recruiters, but I’ve also come across a few agency types who were even downright discriminatory in their reasons for rejecting candidates.

A hiring manager likely wouldn’t even want the recruiter to be so picky. She would probably just want the vacancy filled by someone capable of doing the job.

Don’t be part of the problem

Of course, I've also been a candidate. Sometimes, I've applied for jobs I was perfectly qualified for and was baffled no one called me. I had the right industry experience, the right education and the required years of experience in the exact type of role they were looking to fill, yet still no call.

We’ve probably all experienced this problem, and it’s a real head scratcher. But whose fault is it?

Ultimately, the candidate, the organization, the hiring manager and HR could all be partially to blame.

As an HR professional, you can’t do anything about candidates who shoot themselves in the foot. And you can only partially impact the organization’s policies.

Your role in counselling hiring managers is generally only a consultative one. You can coach them and advise them, but you can’t force them to make the right decision.

However, you can refuse to be part of the problem.

Don’t take it upon yourself to reject candidates for ridiculous reasons, even if you think it will make you look better. Don’t consider only cookie-cutter candidates with cookie-cutter qualifications.

Talk to people and find out what your organizational culture really is like. Don’t rely on some idealized ivory tower version of what HR thinks the culture is.

Above all, don’t make yourself look like a “touchy-feely” HR person by obsessing over “soft skills” without really considering whether the person even has the right technical or professional skills to do the job.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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