This article originally appeared on our sister site, TechRepublic.
My biggest gripe with HR has always been its overall performance in vetting the flood of resumes that come in the door for any job opening. I have no doubt that in my decade or so of working directly with HR departments, there have been times when the most qualified candidate for a job simply never made it past the initial screening process.
Before I alienate all my buddies in human resources (CNET VP Barbara Ford is always willing to help out with this column, after all), let me say that I don’t envy anybody who has to sort through 50 or more cover letters a day, particularly in tough economic times when candidates will apply for almost any job on the market. And remember, it took you years to figure out exactly what it takes to be a success in your field—it’s simply unrealistic to expect an HR rep to pick up on a work history quirk that you might find either promising or discouraging.
Ultimately, it’s the hiring manager’s job to actively bridge the gap between HR’s universe of static job requirement documents and the experience and insight needed to make a great hire. Easier said than done, unless you want to personally sort through those 50 cover letters a day (believe me, you don’t). The process will always be imperfect, but I've found a few tactics that help ensure that I see the best prospects join my team.
Create job needs documentation for every hire
Formal job descriptions have numerous legal implications—you can’t just go creating new requirements for “junior developer” because you’ve got a .NET project looming in the fourth quarter. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create a supplemental document that details your specific needs and preferences for the current opening. Go ahead and note that you’re hurting for a Visual Basic .NET certification or that you’d like someone with at least some experience in leading a project team, even if it was as an understudy. I know this is just common sense, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the most basic point of communication between the hiring manager and HR break down. HR simply is not going to know this stuff unless you tell them.
Identify three “hotkeys” that will immediately bring a resume to your attention
There are no perfect candidates; every hiring decision boils down to a balancing act of positives and negatives. But some skills are so important that they outweigh a multitude of shortcomings. As you evaluate your core needs for a particular hire, identify three key phrases that should prompt HR to immediately route a resume to your attention. For example, you might stipulate that if somebody has worked with Visual Basic .NET, you want to know more about that person, unconditionally. In a rare case of “glass half-full” optimism, I don’t recommend a parallel set of “hotkey” disqualifying terms. You’ll have plenty of chances to not hire a candidate later.
Double the number of screened resumes HR would typically route to you
This will require a favor from HR and a few extra hours of your time, but it’s well worth it. Sin on the side of excess when it comes to the number of resumes you personally review for a job opening. It cuts down on the likelihood of losing out on a promising candidate HR might consider marginal.
De-emphasize fixed requirements as much as possible
If I have a specific beef with HR reps, it’s that they sometimes use fixed requirements, such as years of experience or salary expectations, as quick-and-easy ways to cut through that stack of resumes on their desks. You just have to be smarter than that when making a hire. Talk to the rep you’ll be working with and make sure he or she understands that you’re willing to take on a little additional payroll expense or managerial overhead for certain key qualifications (this is where your “hotkey” criteria will be most useful). Set salary ranges as broadly as you can, and rely heavily on the phrase “or equivalent work experience” when crafting your job descriptions.
Make a nuisance of yourself
You must keep in touch with your HR rep throughout the hiring process, but during the first week of resume review, I strongly recommend that you pester him or her to the brink of annoyance. Specifically, ask your rep to see the initial stack of resumes that didn’t make the cut. You’ll probably find a couple in there that are worth a second look, and, more importantly, it will give you a chance to clarify your expectations against real-world examples. You’re likely to find that you could have done a better job communicating your needs in the first place.
I realize that most of my tips require a little extra work (and patience) from HR and several additional hours of effort from the hiring manager. That’s just how it has to be—ultimately, it’s your job opening, after all. And never forget that 80 percent of good management is hiring the right people; from there on, it’s all downhill.
What strategies do you use when dealing with HR? Did you find these tips helpful? Let us know by posting a comment below.
Ken Hardin is a freelance writer and business analyst with more than two decades in technology media and product development. Before founding his own consultancy, Clarity Answers LLC, Ken was a member of the start-up team and an executive with TechRepublic.com and ITBusinessEdge.com.