Why don’t people ‘get’ human resources? (Guest Commentary)

Bone-headed comments on online forums show ignorance of general public

Brian Kreissl
Awhile back, I wrote a blog post that talked about some of the misconceptions CEOs and business leaders in other functions have about HR. While there is definitely quite a bit of ignorance within the business community with respect to what HR actually does, I find the general public has even less of an understanding of what HR is all about. 

Lately, I’ve come across some really bone-headed comments on online forums relating to human resources — particularly from jobseekers who just don’t understand the nature and purpose of the HR function. 

It is clear HR is a popular target these days — particularly when it comes to the poor job market and employers being far too picky and highly bureaucratic in their recruitment policies and practices. 

While I don’t feel the need to act as a “cheerleader” for HR at all times — and I do think we should share at least some of the blame for dysfunctional recruitment processes in organizations — people need to be informed about just what HR does and doesn’t do and to whom we’re ultimately accountable. 

The following are five misconceptions relating to human resources that I’ve come across over the last few months — particularly with respect to recruitment. 

HR often isn’t responsible for inflated job requirements 
I’ve certainly mentioned this before, but there’s no question many job postings these days are simply asking for too much from potential applicants. 

Rampant credentialism, a long laundry lists of skills and the insistence on candidates having held the exact same job in the exact same industry mean almost no one is good enough for many job vacancies. 

While human resources must share part of the blame, the idea of some overzealous HR recruiter unilaterally changing a job description to ask for five years’ experience in a technology that’s only existed for three is generally just an urban legend. 

Believe it or not, in my experience, those types of “requirements” generally come from hiring managers who aren’t that close to the technologies or the people they’re managing. 

There is much more to HR than recruitment 
To me, this is the number one misconception in the minds of the general public about the HR profession. Because of it, many people’s criticism of “HR” wouldn’t apply to a large number of HR professionals — and many recruiters don’t even consider themselves to be HR. 

Many people just don’t realize that probably the majority of human resources practitioners don’t even handle recruitment as part of their jobs. That’s why we need to educate people about the broad spectrum of HR activities. 

If 500 people apply for a single vacancy, 499 of them are going to be rejected.
Many people fail to realize that large well-known organizations routinely receive hundreds of applicants for many of their postings. 

While people can easily apply online from anywhere — and many applicants these days aren’t even remotely qualified for the jobs they apply for — the job market still isn’t great and, as a result, there are often many viable candidates to choose from. 

Organizations simply cannot hire everyone who applies for a job, nor can they interview every candidate — especially when there’s only one vacancy. Most of us have probably experienced frustration when we didn’t get called after applying for a job we thought we were a perfect fit for, but every organization has different criteria and it’s incredibly challenging sometimes to determine who to bring in for an interview. 

HR doesn’t make selection decisions 
While HR usually prescreens candidates, conducts first interviews and prepares shortlists of candidates, human resources almost never makes the actual hiring decision.

That would be the responsibility of the hiring manager. Therefore, it’s usually not HR’s “fault” if a candidate doesn’t get hired in the end. 

Just because a recruiter asks you to tell her about your work history doesn’t mean she hasn’t read you resumé. 

When I was a recruiter, it often used to frustrate me when I asked people who came in for interviews to walk me through their career history, and they would say something like “It’s all there in the resumé.” I’ve also seen people complaining about how “rude” this is on online forums. 

People have to realize this is a conversation starter during the interview process and it’s also a way to obtain additional information about a job candidate, beyond what’s included in the resumé; it doesn’t mean the recruiter hasn’t reviewed their resumé beforehand.

Brian Kreissl is the Toronto-based product development manager for Carswell’s human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.

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