I will be blunt – when it comes to recruitment and hiring, human resources (HR) is a crock. A lot of time, it is just dumb. Not dumb in the sense that there is no value to HR whatsoever – but dumb in the sense that it is incomplete and inadequate for the functions it tries to perform. It reminds me of the tech talk surrounding the challenges faced by network and cable operators and their becoming “dumb pipes“, e.g. delivering the technology while content providers – and everyone but them – make use of their pipe and profit from it. HR is a kind of dumb pipe sometimes, performing a lot of functions, delivering what they are supposed to – but somewhere the value and content is not what it should be.
I make this blanket statement knowing that it is not always true and that sometimes HR departments are very tightly integrated with the entire company and departmental aims – enough to understand what a company needs (at least to the level that they can screen out clearly unqualified candidates). However, I have experienced just as many HR departments that function as though they are an island, cut off from the rest of the company, completely out of touch both with the needs for which they are trying to find a match and with what the company actually does. (And HR has other responsibilities that are important and better focus areas for them than recruitment, in many cases. Employee relations and development once people are onboard, for example, particularly in environments that have a lot of legal stuff going on.)
Both the employer and potential employee(s) lose out in the HR-led, HR-centric recruitment scenario. Employers may not get to see the applications of candidates who may not have all the right buzzwords in their applications but who do possess the right skill set and broad experience that illustrates an aptitude for whatever kind of work for which they are applying. I think this HR-as-gatekeeper approach often means that the employer does not see the full range of what is available to them – the less integrated an HR department is, the less likely they can adequately screen applications and pass on the best of what is available.
Potential employees also lose out, of course, because in many cases, there are very few avenues by which they can bypass HR. I read an article today about how “jacks-of-all-trades” don’t get hired – often don’t even get interviews. Yes, arguably, there is an art to writing applications, resumes, cover letters, and any applicant in this market knows that you really need to tailor your application package for each job, so creating a three-page resume that delves into all the things you can do versus tailoring an application for the specific job for which you are applying and highlighting your skills and achievements within that field is not the best strategy. Being a jack-of-all-trades and trying to capture all that information and experience in one one-size-fits-all application doesn’t work and probably never will.
But what struck me is that many of the comments on this article focused on the inefficacy of HR. In a case where an applicant does have a very interesting, rich resume filled with his jack-of-all-trades background, an HR specialist might discard the application because it was a bit rough around the edges and because it did not explicitly address specific points in the job ad. This is their job and probably all that time and volume allow for. That said, if non-HR people (departmental staff/management) were actively involved in the hiring and resume-review process, chances of the jack-of-all-trade generalist resume being noticed are probably much higher. Someone working in the department/area for which the job opening is advertised would have much greater insight into the current and future needs of the team and might identify considerably more valuable traits and skills in the applicants’ materials that HR would not be looking for.
Perhaps there is some mutual responsibility here – not wanting to make HR the scapegoat because it has its place and time in the corporate landscape. But removing the HR-as-linebacker function (particularly in cases where HR is really out of touch) and involving departmental resources from the very beginning could open consideration a little wider. Meanwhile, applicants have to take the time, care and responsibility to tailor each application individually.
Likewise, most professional people are essentially jacks-of-all-trades; finding the two or three key strengths in one’s professional skills arsenal does pay off. Example – at my core, I am a writer. I have worked in technical writing, marketing, communications (internal and external), have worked in huge global companies and in tiny little companies as well as my own businesses. This work has crossed industries and sectors and required tremendous adaptation, adoption of new skills and learning whole new industries from the beginning (my most recent jump was from the IT/browser industry to medtech/healthcare with no life sciences or medical experience at all, but I jumped in and learned). This is likely the reality for most professionals – agility and readiness to keep learning and changing. Being able to tailor each application to elevate those key skills that pertain directly to the job to which you are applying, and then adding an “attractive garnish” by including useful and complementary aspects of the other, but less related, skills, will probably produce more results – or at least open a few more doors for interviews.
Maybe this is what HR screeners are not able to discern or appropriately value when reviewing more complicated resumes – this readiness to learn and change and the evidence of it.