No second chances for first impressions (Editor’s notes)

Recruiter's gaffe shows importance of training for low-level HR staff

Recruiting is, typically, an entry-level job. Walk into most HR departments across the country and odds are the person handling the day-to-day recruiting activities is a junior worker fresh out of school.

That’s not a bad thing. After all, every career path needs a bottom rung and the work of a recruiter isn’t exactly strategic. It involves a lot of flipping through resumés, arranging interviews and checking references — not exactly the best use of an HR vice-president’s time.

But none of that minimizes the importance of the recruiter’s role. In fact, one could argue recruiters have one of the most critical jobs in the HR department, if not the entire organization.

That’s because employees are an organization’s most valuable asset. And who is often the first point of contact for potential employees? Recruiters. They are the de facto face of an organization, the ones who have the responsibility of giving a good first impression. If they miss that opportunity, or foul it up, a potential employee could be turned off that organization forever.

As described on page 1 of this issue (see link below), the Ontario government recently had the misfortune of seeing, first-hand, what can happen when a junior-level employee does something dumb. Aileen Siu, 26, a recruiter whose boss called her a “low-level” part-time employee, apparently hit the wrong button when sending an e-mail. Instead of sending the e-mail to a colleague, she sent it to Evon Reid, a recent University of Toronto graduate who had applied for a job with the province as a media analyst.

The e-mail read, “This is the ghetto dude that I spoke to before.” Reid, who is black, was understandably shocked. After all, this was the woman who was handling his job application.

According to the Toronto Star, the e-mail was intended for a colleague of Siu’s and she merely hit the wrong button while multitasking. That part of the problem is understandable. Anyone who has ever used e-mail can surely recall a time when she accidentally hit “reply all” or sent an e-mail to the wrong person. It can leave the sender a little red-faced.

But in this case, the e-mail sent out by the provincial staffer wasn’t embarrassing or innocent — it was completely inappropriate. There’s no good explanation for writing it in the first place. But this is one of the dangers in having the recruiting position pegged as an entry-level one.

So what should HR departments do? Training. And lots of it. While recruiting should probably remain entry-level HR work, senior HR professionals have a responsibility to ensure junior staff in their department are properly trained as to what’s appropriate. Employers can land themselves in a lot of hot water when it comes to recruitment, whether asking a question that violates an individual’s human rights or sending the wrong e-mail to the wrong person.

Even innocent missteps can leave a very bad taste in a job applicant’s mouth. If the impending labour shortage is as bad as the numbers make it out to be, employers simply can’t afford to make mistakes that turn off job applicants.

There are undoubtedly a lot of great HR professionals working for the province of Ontario. But one bad apple can spoil a bunch and, if Reid eventually ends up working for the province, it will be to his credit and not HR’s. And that’s a shame.

Latest stories