Should HR handle the screening?

Hiring managers know what they’re looking for in a candidate — but processes, efficiencies and time management can be problematic for them
By Erin Breden
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/11/2014

Hiring the right person is critical, but what role should HR play in finding the perfect candidate — particularly during the early stages of screening?

We’re all familiar with the criticisms against human resources: They use ineffective screening tools, are too process-driven and, perhaps most damaging, don’t know the business. A hiring manager — not HR — is definitely in the best position to know his team’s needs.

“The hiring manger knows what they are looking for,” says Brent Carson, director of customer care at Nuheat Industries in Richmond, B.C. “They can ask questions that are the most relevant to them and their current team when filling a position.”

That’s the weakness of HR, says TJ Schmaltz, director of human resources and payroll services at the District of West Vancouver.

“HR won’t have as clear of an understanding, perhaps, or as much of an understanding of the specific, on-the-ground needs.”

But removing HR from the hiring equation and leaving a hiring manager to do candidate screening solo can raise other issues, such as inefficient processes or time management.

“HR typically will have ideas about how to be efficient moving through the process. It can be very time-consuming if you don’t do the hiring on a regular basis,” said Schmaltz.

If a line manager is spending time tracking down a reference, “you’re not doing something you should be doing,” says Carson.

Every employee at an organization has an area of expertise and employers want to make the best use of these strengths. A sales manager’s time and efforts should be put toward selling, not hiring.

“Organizations grow and are successful because everyone has their role and is effectively contributing to the organization as a whole,” says Christian Codrington, senior manager of professional practices at the Vancouver-based BC Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA).

“If people are too scattered, doing too many things, we run into a problem where nothing gets done well. Use your specialists. Working collaboratively usually has better results,” he says.

No vested interest

So what about objectivity? Are hiring managers in a position to ensure candidates are anchored against job requirements versus personal preferences?

HR can bring a bit more objectivity at times, says Schmaltz.

“This is particularly important when a hiring manager might know some of the candidates who have applied. HR brings the ability to look at a candidate a little bit differently because they’re looking at it without some of those biases. Providing a good structured framework to avoid arbitrariness helps ensure fairness. We see, in our organization, that HR provides a valuable perspective.”

Screening should be done by someone who doesn’t have a vested interest, says Carson.

“(Otherwise) it’s not objective. The hiring manager may have a tendency to ask questions that get the answers they want to hear.”

Or no answers at all — individuals who are not as experienced in hiring may not be able to identify some of the nuances, says Schmaltz.

“HR has been involved in an interview, for instance, and the candidate has a brilliant answer with no substance to it. It sounds good to someone who hasn’t interviewed a lot, but the candidate hasn’t actually answered the question.”

Not to mention that HR can help steer unanticipated issues that may arise or can filter out information that’s extraneous to the job.

“It is important that HR be involved early to identify any possible accommodation issues necessary for a fair and objective assessment of an applicant,” says Codrington.

“Additionally, as companies increasingly stress the importance of values and hiring for fit, there is simply a greater opportunity to delve, sometimes inadvertently, into areas that may come up on the offside of human rights or are simply not connected to the job,” he says.

“Congratulating an applicant who is recently married and inquiring when they plan on starting a family puts irrelevant, and sometimes problematic, information in the hands of the organization if the individual is not chosen for the role. This is a possible consequence of small talk during the interview.”

HR’s role: More than paperwork

While relevance can be a complicating factor for a hiring manager, it’s often the loudest reproach faced by the HR function: “HR doesn’t know the business.”

This can sometimes be the case, says Codrington, especially when HR processes get in the way of significant contributions to the organization.

“When an HR department’s only addition to the screening process is forms or requisition completion, then it is time to re-examine its role,” he says.

“HR has to find ways appropriate to the organizations it serves to ensure organizations have a well-thought-out selection process where applicants are treated with respect and given a fair opportunity to demonstrate their potential.”

So this represents an opportunity for HR to be a strategic partner.

“The biggest advancement an HR department can make is to find ways to closely link their activities to the business and understanding the business they support,” says Schmaltz.

“The key part is that there is a good existing partnership between HR (and the skills they bring) and the hiring manger who is looking for someone to fill important needs in their department. Make sure you spend the time to talk about what their needs are, what they are hoping to find, so that HR is also focusing on the same priorities as the hiring manager.”

HR can even take it one step further.

“The human resources function can add so much value to an organization. Ensuring they are part of and adding value to the recruitment process positions HR to contribute in other areas as well, like developing good assessment instruments, training for hiring managers and tailoring the onboarding process to ensure successful candidates immerse well into their new organization,” says Codrington.

“In today’s labour market, the value HR brings to all facets of people management — including candidate screening — is critical to the success of the organization.”

Erin Breden is a communications specialist at the BC Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA) in Vancouver. She can be reached at (604) 694-6930, or visit for more information.

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