HR Might Not be the Problem – The Problem Could Be You

HR people are catching a lot of flack lately in blogs and posts. Even I wrote a blog a few months ago called “HR isn’t Bad-Just Broken”. It is easy as a job seeker to target HR as the reason that you are not hearing back from anyone or getting job opportunities. If you can blame “them” then you can sit back and relax and be assured that the problem with our job search lies with someone else- not you.

I have news for you: It’s probably YOU.

As a former HR manager I can tell you that most job seekers do a terrible job of helping us find them. While you may or may not agree with the current state of the hiring process it is the one we have. Not understanding the rules of the process or understanding what life looks like “from the other side of the desk” is the surest way to make sure you do not get a call from an HR person about the opportunity that you applied for. So here are some ways that you may be sabotaging your interactions with HR people and how to fix them:

Not doing what you were asked to do: This one seems so easy that I almost forgot to cover it. The fact is that most job postings tell you exactly what is expected from you in your response. Whether it is information requested, the form the information comes to them in or the time frame that you are asked to reply- just follow the rules. When someone doesn’t follow simple instructions it’s pretty easy to set their information aside. You’re telling me you can manage a department of 50 people but you can’t follow directions? Thanks for making my decision easy.

Not matching your skill set against the job requirements: This was by far the most frustrating one for me when I was screening resumes. The organization spends two weeks deciding internally exactly what skill sets and experience we would like to see in the candidates. That happens only after hours of conversations with the hiring manager and the HR area. The requirements are painstakingly reviewed before we send out the job posting…and then most applicants all but ignore them. So many job seekers ask: “What do THEY want?” How about you make being qualified against the stated criteria your first goal and see how it goes from there? A little secret here: we do not expect to find someone with every one of our requirements. It would be great but it rarely happens. This is an ideal situation wish list. More than likely we will hire someone who does not have every skill or experience we ask for. But as we do an initial screen the question that matters is: “Have you made it easy for me to see that you have the basic requirements?” No place for subtlety here. Match skills and experience with my requirements and we are going to talk.

Not standing out from the crowd: OK, so you have checked all the boxes and shown me that you are qualified based on the requirements we had in the job ad. Great…well done…now what have you got? An accountant that says that they can do accounting is nothing special. I will have 30 accountants who have roughly the same skill set and experience apply. How can I find you in that pile? Simple: let me know that you have solved the problems that we likely have that caused us to post the position in the first place. Worked for a competitor and so you know the business we are in really well? Make sure that is in flashing red lights (not really) on your resume. Created value for your last two employers by working closely with the manufacturing area to bring a new product to market? Awesome…make it jump off the page. I have a saying: “You have to become interesting before you can become important.” Tell me a story that solves my problems, makes my life easier and gets the organization closer to its goals. That person I can’t wait to meet.

Inadequate follow up…or WAY too much follow up: If this job was important enough for you to spend 4 hours writing a resume for I’m hoping that it is also worth an email or phone call check in a week after you apply… and please give me a week. Hiring can be a slow process because we want to get it right. No follow up means to me that you don’t care if you work here or somewhere else. Message received. On the other hand becoming a LinkedIn stalker will get you in the NO pile just as fast. We will meet if you have effectively executed parts 1-3 here. Multiple phone calls a day after you apply or cyber stalking makes me nervous. Is that excitement or desperation? I have no idea. I will likely assume the latter.

Assuming that I know anything about you that wasn’t on your resume or cover letter: I’m sure you were fantastic in your last job and everyone who knows you thinks the world of you. News flash- I don’t know you. The saying that matters here is “Whatever you give me is all I get.” Don’t wait until the interview or phone screen to tell me about your leadership, problem solving or communication skills. You may never get to that conversation if you don’t put it in your resume. Remember, I literally couldn’t pick you off the street to save my life until I meet you in person. I have no idea of your history or accomplishments. I am deciding the fate of your candidacy on what you have provided me and nothing else. Write your resume and cover letter as if your house depends on it…because it just might.

The average HR person scans your resume initially for less than 60 seconds. If you don’t jump off the page they will move on to one that does. Have a professional HR friend read your resume and ask them if it would get THEIR attention. If the answer isn’t a resounding yes…it’s back to the drawing board. Lastly, based on your resume would you want to talk with you? Would you pick your resume out of a pile of 30 that look similar? If not it’s time to rethink your strategy.

In general terms HR people want you to be the obvious choice for this position. It makes their job easier and creates confidence in a great hire. If you aren’t hearing back from jobs that you are applying for let’s assume the problem is you…and give the HR folks the benefit of the doubt. Besides, they do this every day for a living. YOU are the rookie here.

“Be humble, be sincere, ask for help”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *