Rant time: Some HR home truths!


[If you are an HR person or Recruiter of a paranoid disposition, then don't read further!]

I have just read an 'interesting' post from the the man of mystery – the anonymous @TheHRD, on the excellent blog My Hell is Other People. On his blog today the subject is candidate testing, personality profiling, assessments etc. The flavour of the post is very simply, forget all that mumbo jumbo and just trust your instincts when it comes to recruiting new employees.
He concludes the post with….. "….the answer is to stop thinking and start to rely on your intuition, “Feel, don’t think. Use your instincts.”  That, my friends is the path to being a true HR Jedi."

While I have already commented on the actual blog, I just wanted to further my answer here!

Now, I am not an advocate of all the different types of tests in the marketplace as I think they are over used and relied on too much as a decision maker. There are two exceptions a) assessment style tests for bulk recruitment, and b) and for senior level roles where they can help as a useful selection tool (and only a tool, not a decision making device) to aid the recruitment process.
What I have a problem with, is this whole "use your instincts – become a Jedi HR warrior" jibe  as it is (in my opinion) mis-guided coming from an experienced HR Director – I am assuming that this mysterious person is experienced?

Any senior level HR person will, over their careers, have worked with/employed/fired (take your pick) many HR staff over that time that have recruitment responsibilities. Exactly how many of them either knew (or even cared) anything about recruitment, understood what it is all about and could actually do it properly, is unfortunately a minority figure.
Are you still using just the one hand to count the number you know?

I can honestly say that in 20+ years in the recruitment sector, I can't get to double figures! I am sorry if that upsets some of the HR people that read this blog, but that has been my experience. Many just hate the whole concept of recruitment and what it stands for. They either palm it off to more junior colleagues, do a half-hearted job themselves or just abdicate responsibility completely by outsourcing it completely to an RPO organisation.
So is it any wonder that these people turn to all the variety of tests available to help them make a decision? They do it because they are not skilled enough to be able to recruit the right employees effectively, themselves!

Now, before @TheHRD counters with the state of the recruitment industry, I would like to say that my industry is equally not that great – there are way too many over-rated, under-delivering and quite frankly crap 'consultants' out there in the industry, that leave everyone (both the HR and Recruitment industry) embarrassed by what is delivered as 'a recruitment service'.

The recession has helped here by flushing a good number of the crap out of the industry and into other sectors – and I hope they never return!!

No, the recruitment industry is not perfect, but neither is the HR industry either!

So Mr HRD, stop bleating on about your industry being HR Jedi's when it comes to recruitment, when in reality most wouldn't even make it out of the Starfleet Training Academy! If you want them to graduate, then give them the skills – not inneffective tools -  to do the job right in the first place!

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  • Andy, Great comments both here and on the blog. Thank you. I for one would be first in line to say that many (maybe most) HR people are ineffectual idiots…. As you know my posts are somewhat light hearted, but there is a serious point underneath (somewhere…if you look hard enough!).

    Psychometric tests just aren’t statistically valid as a predictor of future performance. There is not a single company that would say that they are (without adding a million caveats)sure they can help as an addition but not as an end in themselves. Secondly gullible and under experienced HR people are sold a myriad of “silver bullets” by consultants that make the most of their inexperience and lack of confidence.

    I don’t think the HR profession is full of HR Jedi’s….far from it, but I do think that they way to improve the profession is to stop relying on cheap props and mumbo jumbo and to start building its own internal capability and confidence.

    I actually think we agree!

  • Andy, whilst I agree with the essence and sentiment of your post, I have two issues;

    Firstly the implication that engaging an RPO is somehow abdicating responsibility. Outsourcing is a well established concept at all levels and, whilst I wont go into all the benefits, the essence of “focus on your core business and let the specialists take the non core tasks” directly relates to this issue. By your own admission, recruitment is non core to most HR professionals, therefore RPO is very relevant to the perceived problem. Of course there are good and bad RPO models and good and bad RPO providers, but conceptually, why not?

    Secondly, who are HR to be making decisions about the suitability or otherwise of an applicant anyway? Surely someone in line management has to be the decision maker at each stage in the process, as they are the ones that have to live with the outcomes. That is not to say that HR, or their appointed representatives, don’t have an important role to play in managing and facilitating the process to ensure the minimum burden on line management, and providing the advice, tools and information to support informed decision making. However, making those decisions themselves? I know it happens, but is it right?

  • I think you have summed my point up perfectly…

    “improve the profession is to stop relying on cheap props and mumbo jumbo and to start building its own internal capability and confidence”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • Matt,

    Great points! Outsourcing is a real concept, and a valid one – agreed. Recruitment is a specialist function, and as I said not many are any good at it. What I mean is that many HR people will look to RPO/outsourcing before they have even considered or understood their capabilities or challenges. If they have made a business decision and looked at what RPO means (the good and the bad points), then make that choice – then that’s good.
    What is not good are the HR people who decide on RPO, when they have no idea why the hell they are doing it – other than they ‘perceive’ it will mean less work for them!

    HR should be the facilitator of the process, not the end decision maker – agreed!

    But we both know that line managers pass the buck back to HR as much as HR pass it to them!!

    Thanks Matt for clarifying those points.

  • Andy (and the HRD)

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you appear to be saying that in order to be “good” at recruitment, you need to be able to harness this mysterious sixth-sense “gut instinct” type skill which enables you to 100% predict the future performance of a candidate in a particular job. And you’re saying that those people who choose to use psychometric (or other profiling tools) tests are clearly lacking in this ability and therefore are not “good” at recruitment.

    Please correct me, because if you are saying that then I will have to continue shaking my head in disapproval.

    “Gut instinct” is the WORST selection tool available. This has been demonstrated empirically hundreds of times. Whilst psychometrics fall someway down the list of effective tools (and they’re not my favourite), but a good recruiter actually needs to invest time in removing as much of their “gut instinct” from the process as possible. A good recruiter uses a variety of selection tools – not in the belief that any one of them can or will deliver a true picture of the candidate’s potential performance, but because taken as a whole, the profile created by that variety of methods is the best possible and available predictor of a candidate’s performance.

    When I ask people why they think someone is suitable for a particular job – if the answer is “I just get a good vibe” or “my instinct tells me it is so” I make them go back to the candidate until such time as they can give me at least five solid, sound, verified reasons why the candidate is suitable ~ and if one of those reasons happens to be the result of a psychometric test, then that’s fair enough.


  • Andy,

    I agree that appointing an RPO provider, or even a consultant such as you and I, without truly understanding what the objectives are, is a bad move that doesn’t give the chosen provider an opportunity to excel, trying to hit goals that are poorly defined.

    Absolutely managers pass the buck back. Often because HR, as a service profession, have not given them the tools to undertake the required tasks. If I take you on a journey, hold your hand during that journey and make said journey as painless as possible, you are less likely to pass the buck back. Of course some still will, but it becomes harder too justify.

    On a more general point, I am reliably told that in the US, in many companies, the Head of Talent Acquisition is typically paid more than the Head of HR. This suggests the recognition of the importance of recruitment as a separate, but related, discipline to HR. We do not yet have the same perspective in the UK, but I see signs of this starting to change.

  • Nick,

    No I am not saying ‘gut’ instinct is the way to good recruitment. Where I am coming from is that too many HR people use selection tools they don’t understand and mis-use because of a lack of understanding of recruitment (and the tools they were ‘sold’).
    They should be given the skills and capability to do recruitment more effectively – whether that be in selection techniques, interview skills or candidate management.

    Personally, I have seen so many of these tools – psychometric or others – used as the sole decision maker, with companies that have untrained people in place, and to be honest, sometimes they are better off without them!

    A good structured competency based interview would be a much better way to assess people – but then they must be able to set that up in the first place defining the competencies etc!!

    I agree tools are there to supplement a process not be a replacement.

  • I hope that perspective does change, and soon! But I can’t see it happening for a while yet – not all the time that recruitment is seen as a function of HR, not as a stand alone business function.