Friday, November 05, 2010

How the Female "Romantic Wish List" for Men Corrupts the Functionality of HR

Originally I had in mind doing a post on "The Vanishing 24 Year Old HR Ditz." The reason why was that it has been 7 years now since I've been interviewed by a young female in her twenties, obviously oblivious to my profession, the job I was interviewing for, let alone the industry she worked in. I termed them "HR Ditzes" because they were exactly that. 20 something ditzes asking me inane, pointless questions like

"So, um, like, uh, what's your favorite color and why?" (not joking)

"And like have you ever been in a situation where you disagreed with your boss and how did you resolve it?"

"And so, like what is your biggest weakness?"

"So, like uh you do like Dogs or cats?" (not joking either)

I could never understand how a company could ever attract any talented labor with these dolts doing the initial screening for them and why you never interviewed with the hiring manager directly. Well seven years and not one 20 something HR ditz later I finally got my answer from a friend of mine who unbeknownst to me at the time was an HR manager.

Short answer - "Oh, yeah, sorry about that. We found out that didn't work so they're phasing those generalists out."

Really? You mean having young, idiotic, inexperienced morons who don't know a damn thing about the company or the job being your front line of defense for interviewing because the hiring managers are too damn lazy to do it themselves didn't work out so well? NO! Well, good thing it only took 2 decades to phase them out. Otherwise there might have been some real costs to that!

Regardless, what was infinitely more interesting and important was what I learned about how HR has changed since. Namely "check lists."

Since the elimination of the HR ditz, HR departments are now employing different and automated screening tactics. For example the much-hated "Taleo" or "Brass Ring" application forms where you regurgitate your resume (that you just uploaded) into little fields so a computer can scan for "keywords" that show you're a qualified candidate. Or the use of not only criminal background checks and drugs tests, but now credit checks. Or requiring a cover letter and analyzing the writing quality.

It was here I started to inquire if she ever thought about the unintended consequences of using such tactics?

For example smart, or at least, efficient people know they can apply for 10 times the amount of jobs where it only requires attaching your resume in the time it takes you to fill out a Taleo form. If you require they fill out a Brass Ring application, you may get less efficient or smart applicants. Same thing goes for the cover letter, that alone it 3 more applications, and you just lost an (admittedly) potentially smart applicant. Background checks, all well and fine. But you're going to do a credit check on me? You're going to pull my personal finances? Uh, not until I see your credit report first pal.

Her response?

"Well, we have 9% unemployment and we have literally hundreds of applicants each job. We have our pick of the litter and we have to filter and screen them out somehow."

And then I started to see what was happening. Not consciously, but it definitely WAS happening and there was a relation. And I only ask myself why I hadn't seen it before.

In short HR is coming up with a longer and longer check list as there are more and more applicants. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in that how does one filter out a larger and larger applicant pool. But HR is still coming up with a longer and more detailed check list.

(Does this sound familiar yet?)

There are so many applicants and jobs are so highly sought after, HR has their pick of the litter.

(Anybody going to be able to finish my line of thought here?)

I'll give you the one last hint here that might link it together - HR is still dominated by women.

And now you are having the epiphany I had the other night.

The employment check list is eerily similar to the lengthy and long check list women have of men when it comes to courtship. And not only is it similar, it's also made and created by women.

It is here while we were continuing our conversation I started to realize the parallels as well as some of the pitfalls to this;

One the impossibility factor. I didn't believe it when I was younger because frankly I couldn't believe women would have such lengthy and detailed (and some times) mutually exclusive lists. Oh, sure I knew they had STANDARDS, but I did not believe women would refuse to date a guy because he "was too short" or "wore ugly clothes" or "had a bad hair cut" or "didn't have blue eyes" or "made less than $XX,XXX." Of course come to find out in my aged 30's women actually DID have these impossible lists. I now wonder if the lists they create for potential applicants (male or female) are now just as impossible.

"You want a leader who thinks outside the box and will turn your company around, but you're only going to hire yes men who have impossibly perfect resumes, perfect credit scores and are yet docile enough to spend 2 hours filling out a Taleo application form?"

It's no different than,

"I want an alpha male, who's still sensitive and will write poetry who drives a Harley, but won't have sex until we're married, but still rocks in bed, but only once a year, who works out and makes $250,000 per year, but will do chores and housekeeping and is an Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, Muslim Agnostic."

Two was the eerily similar market to men in their teens and twenties versus today's labor market. Back in your teens and twenties women held ALL the power. Men had no clue what the rules were, were told the rules were something completely different than reality and were so desperate they'd do anything and settle for any price. Job seekers today are no different. They're desperate for a job and will do anything (including lie on their resume to make them seem perfect). I couldn't help but notice the unintentional air of arrogance or power in her voice where she said, "we have our pick of the litter." You did in your 20's and you do now today.

Three, the lead up to an inevitable collapse in the market. Understand for anybody to be getting through this impossible HR defense shield you either have to;

1. lie or

2. be so abnormal and so flawless you'd be dysfunctional

It's again why men who lied in their teens and twenties did well and honest schmoes like us kind of flailed along. But even more analogous to the courtship list vs. the HR check list is the beta male or "beta employee." The employee that magically meets the impossible checklist or the magical boyfriend who magically meets the romantic checklist.

Of course, if women were to get that "ideal" boyfriend who would write poetry, who would hyphenate his name and open doors and do whatever she wanted, what did she end up doing anyway?

That's right, dumping his weak beta butt for some motorcycle driving alpha bad boy with a criminal background. But in the employment world it's slightly different. Instead of getting dumped, they get laid off after however many years of loyal service.

However, there is another cost to hiring the obedient, behaving beta employees and this is the true economic cost - it brings about a Black Swan Event. Namely the collapse of the company.

Talk about diversity all you want, if you employ nothing but conformists and yes men, no tolls are going to be sounded and no alarms are going to rung when there are real problems (or opportunities). Because the selection and filtering method really does screen out any genuine "outside of the box" thinkers, you have nothing but highly functional automotons and no real leaders or critical analysts. Couple that with a desperate labor market and your employees are NOT going to rock the boat (for better or worse). This leaves the employer in a horribly risky situation because unless people in executive management are intimately in-tune with every aspect of the company, the company can slowly be piloted towards disaster because nobody dares to speak of the iceberg ahead or problems within their division.

Laugh as you might and say my speaking of Black Swans is all poppycock, may I point out the Black Swan events of GM going belly up? The entire banking industry going belly up? The US retirement system about to go belly up? The US government finances going belly up? Many people tried to sound the alarms for this, but they WEREN'T the well behaved beta employees just trying to hold onto a job. It was the likes of Roubini, Shiller, Schiff and others (and how many of them I wonder would pass the HR created check list let alone had women pining for them in their youth?)

In the end, like courting, the participants in the labor market will become disincentived and leave. You already see this with a collapsing labor force participation rate, people more willing to take and stay on unemployment, higher turnover and shorter average stays on a job, or people just refusing to have kids they can't afford and get by on a lower paying job and not jump the hoops.

The result? Well, as I highlighted before in the "courtship market" you will have a decrease in marriage or courtship. Economically the impossible HR check list translates into less employment, CERTAINLY less innovation, but overall less economic growth and lower standards of living. Which once again proves there's only one thing do to.

Enjoy the decline, people. Enjoy that bleeping decline.

27 comments:

daniel_ream said...

Back in the day I was working for a largish software company and as part of some BS "outreach" program, the 24-year-old HR ditz invited a bunch of local tech college kids in to learn about the job. She did a half hour spiel on how to jump through the HR hoops, then turned the class over to Daniel the Systems Engineer.

I waited for her to leave the room and promptly told the whole group to forget everything she'd said, because her whole job was to keep their resumes away from me. I told them that the way to get a job was to get to know me personally and impress me with their skills and trainability, so that *I* take the resume to *HR* and say "we're hiring this guy" instead of the other way around.

Six months later when we needed entry-level helpdesk staff, we hired the *one* guy out of the class who contacted me after the outreach - he offered to volunteer on evenings and weekends to get some hands-on experience.

randian said...

I did not believe women would refuse to date a guy because he "was too short"

Wow, really? Because I thought it was bleeping obvious from, oh, about age 13 that of the 5 disqualifiers you mention, being short is by far the greatest. Women will more readily date tall, abusive, ne'er-do-wells before they'll date short men of any description. And by "short", I don't mean "shorter than her", a 5'2" woman will as readily reject a 5'6" man as a 5'10" woman will.

Mark Adams said...

It's for precisely that reason I refuse to "apply for" any job where the HR broads are too stupid to simply read my resume -- it's not worth greying my hair over a gig that starts with them making me grovel and clearly only goes downhill from there.

But you seem to have missed another reason for the "checklist" -- more often than you'd think, they're written so that a job can be "posted" (thus appearing to have the propriety of actually seeking worthy candidates) when in reality it was already promised to a buddy of the boss's, and hence the "job requirements" are a set of features that only she has. (I've personally been through this many times, often in jobs that I'd already been doing for several years before the "requirements" were suddenly downgraded so that even though I still met them, or was the only person in the six states the company served who was already doing the job, I was now "overqualified"!)

Anonymous said...

That was a good point regarding HR departments. I always skipped right over them, and pitched the manager directly. Then the manager hires you, and gets you to fill out the HR red tape garbage.It is the same thing in sales. Forget the guy that fills out the purchase order. You sell the guy on the shop floor, then he instructs the back office person to place the order.
A lot of managers have immediate respect for someone that jumps over the HR barricade. On the other end, some companies will just insist that only the HR department handle all applications.
In this case you realize the company is a go no where bureaucracy, and move on.
Also remember when HR was called Personal? Working in Personal became a joke term for someone that was an idiot. Hence, they were forced to make the name change to Human Resources.

Nick Rowe said...

You really need to bring a voice recorder and a pinhole camera to these things.

Win a lawsuit and enjoy the easy life.

Anonymous said...

The gates of hell will be guarded by HR personnel!

HR now has the function of keeping the company from being sued by employees, or ex-employees.

If you want a job, as most have mentioned here, you gotta bypass them and get to the hiring manager. You got to get to the persons who make the decision - HR is just a roadblock.

PeppermintPanda said...

While I certainly see the comparison between the (often impossible) standards of single women and HR firms I must also point out that this strategy can be effective.

For the most part, the 10% most desirable women attract the attention of 90% of the men out there; so these women tend to have (far) more men interested in them then they could ever realistically deal with. These women simply don't have the time to give every guy they meet a fair chance to impress them, and they therefore create (seemingly arbitrary) standards to eliminate as many guys as they can. Truth be told, a large portion of these women do attract enough men who meet their standards.

Since beauty is so closely tied to youth and health, and desirable personality traits (like not being bitter) are also more prevalent in the young, most women actually experience this level of desirability when they're young. Unfortunately, few women have the genetics of plastic surgeons of Hollywood; and almost no 40 year olds you meet in real life will look like Jennifer Connelly. What this means is that the standards they developed to push away superfluous men in their early 20s are still in place in their late 20s and beyond; long after most men have stopped being all that interested in them.

To make matters worse for these women, the often do start re-evaluating a lot of their standards at this point in time because of how their previous standards didn't really work out for them; they might have enjoyed spending a lot of time with the pretty boy, but his dead end career and endless cheating made it less important to them. The problem is that they actually switch to characteristics which have become much rarer in the single men in the age group they're paying attention to. This means that the market dynamic has changed, and what was once a "sellers market" has switched into being a "buyers market"; and these women often are completely unwilling or unable to recognise that.



How this relates to HR is simple ...

When you're in a tight job market where you can publish any job posting and get 100 qualified (or over qualified) applicants that day you can get people to do (practically) anything for a chance to be the top 4 or 8 that actually get an interview. The company has little to lose by pushing away a few qualified applicants because no matter how high they set their standard it is likely they will be able to find an applicant to meet that requirement without waiting too long.

The reality is that most job markets tend not to stay in such poor states for very long because either the economy will improve or enough people will move away to create a shortage of qualified individuals. When this happens companies have to be careful not to scare away potential candidates because it is unlikely that many quality candidates will put up with much crap. The reason for this is simple, quality candidates tend to have 'friends', and they will regularly get emails of job openings at decent companies where they will be able to get a job without jumping through many hoops.





Or to simplify my entire post and shrink it down to a single sentence ... "It isn't the strategy that is the problem, the problem is knowing when to abandon the strategy because it no longer applies"

PeppermintPanda said...

While I certainly see the comparison between the (often impossible) standards of single women and HR firms I must also point out that this strategy can be effective.

For the most part, the 10% most desirable women attract the attention of 90% of the men out there; so these women tend to have (far) more men interested in them then they could ever realistically deal with. These women simply don't have the time to give every guy they meet a fair chance to impress them, and they therefore create (seemingly arbitrary) standards to eliminate as many guys as they can. Truth be told, a large portion of these women do attract enough men who meet their standards.

Since beauty is so closely tied to youth and health, and desirable personality traits (like not being bitter) are also more prevalent in the young, most women actually experience this level of desirability when they're young. Unfortunately, few women have the genetics of plastic surgeons of Hollywood; and almost no 40 year olds you meet in real life will look like Jennifer Connelly. What this means is that the standards they developed to push away superfluous men in their early 20s are still in place in their late 20s and beyond; long after most men have stopped being all that interested in them.

To make matters worse for these women, the often do start re-evaluating a lot of their standards at this point in time because of how their previous standards didn't really work out for them; they might have enjoyed spending a lot of time with the pretty boy, but his dead end career and endless cheating made it less important to them. The problem is that they actually switch to characteristics which have become much rarer in the single men in the age group they're paying attention to. This means that the market dynamic has changed, and what was once a "sellers market" has switched into being a "buyers market"; and these women often are completely unwilling or unable to recognise that.



How this relates to HR is simple ...

When you're in a tight job market where you can publish any job posting and get 100 qualified (or over qualified) applicants that day you can get people to do (practically) anything for a chance to be the top 4 or 8 that actually get an interview. The company has little to lose by pushing away a few qualified applicants because no matter how high they set their standard it is likely they will be able to find an applicant to meet that requirement without waiting too long.

The reality is that most job markets tend not to stay in such poor states for very long because either the economy will improve or enough people will move away to create a shortage of qualified individuals. When this happens companies have to be careful not to scare away potential candidates because it is unlikely that many quality candidates will put up with much crap. The reason for this is simple, quality candidates tend to have 'friends', and they will regularly get emails of job openings at decent companies where they will be able to get a job without jumping through many hoops.

John said...

This seems to be a good explanation of the importance of startup companies, and entrepreneurship.

Another of the many problems of the modern university is that we are overrun with freaking female administrators. Each one, typically,
is "nice" but collectively - well, it's a poster a day each admonishing us to be virtuous in some way or another.

CBMTTek said...

It is not just women, or HR, or whatever. It is human nature to a very large extent.

I can give examples of the guy I know with about 50-75 must haves for his dates, and curiously enough, he is still single.

I can give examples of couples that searched for almost three years to find a house they both thought was perfect. Then they started changing it.

The real underlying problem with women is they want it both ways. Bad boy that is a puppy dog at home, and go getter at work that is willing to drop it all and go to the salon with her because she is nervous about getting a color.

The real underlying problem with HR is that they are overstaffed, underutilized, liberal arts majors. Frankly, they have no real purpose in the company except:
1. Ensure employee paperwork (tax forms, 401ks, etc...) are completed and filed correctly
2. Ensure that any managerial actions are done in accordance with legal and company policies. If they are going to discipline an employee, make sure it does not rebound on the company.
3. Answer the occasional question about company employment policy.
-and-
that is essentially it.

For most companies, the proper ratio of HR to employee should be something like 1:150.

That's right. A single HR employee should be able to handle 150 or more employees. (Now, if they include payroll and timekeeping in HR, that is something different.)

The root cause of the HR problem is they have too many employees and not enough work. Net result, they ingratiate themselves into everyone else's business in an attempt to demonstrate their value.

To the overall detriment of the company I might add.

Anonymous said...

Back when I was working at a good-sized company, I'd have jobs to fill. HR would sift through candidates and send over three or four resumes of people who didn't fit my requirements. After awhile, I wondered why there were so few applicants and found out that HR screened out most of them "to make the process more efficient." Next step was to beg, scream and grovel to get resumes from every applicant sent to me directly so that I - the hiring manager - could make the first cut instead of the HR bunch. The quality of hires improved immediately. As an aside, if you really want to get the HR or Employee Relations Dept upset, just keep calling them "Personnel."

eljay said...

Ah taleo. I pumped through one last spring when I thought the position looked interesting. After that it kept sending me other positions that "matched" my profile, but I wasn't about to refill my resume back into the system after it took over an hour the first time.

Meanwhile back at the ranch I had an interview (after several with HR ditzes). She said she wanted to ask me a series of questions. I directly stated that if the answers needed to be stated on a scale of 1 to n then the answer would be n/2.

She then said hehe and proceeded to ask me, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about..."

I never called back.

Then in the summer I got a call from the company that had subjected me to the taleo procedure. After two identical interviews with two different HR ditzes, and then meeting the manager I got the job.

I've referred a few friends since then, but they didn't bother with the taleo procedure so they didn't get jobs there.

Mark Adams said...

I find it amusing that anyone would find "Human Resources" a preferable euphemism to "Personnel". It's essentially bragging that no, your company doesn't consider its employees as human being-type persons, but rather a completely expendable commodity on par with coal or timber.

Anonymous said...

More than 10 years ago (when I was in my mid-twenties), I had a girlfriend who had been educated in the HR vein - but left that field and went into finance when it became clear that HR circles were the weirdest and most corrupt circles in all of business.

I remember her telling me about a "mentor" she had been assigned who had a personal rule where - if at all possible - she would block resumes of applicants base on their astrological sign. Another story involved an HR ditz screening male applicants who had a certain hair color/style because it reminded her of an ex-boyfriend.

That is the problem with HR: they have so much power and there is absolutely no way to tell a "good" one from a "bad" one.

kurt9 said...

HR was not involved in hiring decisions at most companies during the 80's and early 90's. When I applied for jobs in the late 80's and early 90's, I never had any contact with the HR people. I always interviewed with the hiring manager and no one else.

Something happened in American business culture during the 90's (between about 1993 and 1999) where HR became involved in the hiring process.

That HR has anything to do with hiring is one of the many ways that American business culture is complete dysfunctional today.

randian said...

Something happened in American business culture during the 90's (between about 1993 and 1999) where HR became involved in the hiring process.

What happened is the EEOC.

kurt9 said...

The EEOC has been around since the mid 60's and has been active since the 70's. Yet I never saw an HR person any time I interviewed for a job in the late 80's and early 90's.

My question remains: What happened specifically between 1993 and 1999 that made companies put HR in charge of hiring?

Anonymous said...

What happened in the 90s?

Two words: Anita Hill

Right after that every company had to have a sexual harassment policy giving HR unprecedented power over hiring (and firing).

randian said...

EEOC has gotten much more aggressive in their lawsuits. That's why credentialism has become so prominent in hiring decisions, it's a lot harder argue discrimination is present, and women (AKA the HR department) love credentialism.

chris said...

I real life I'm an academic shrink. I have an odd skill set -- I can do clinical work and crunch a stats package. Anyway, I got hired by a local university with a conjoint clinical job.

Then a patient's relative turns up. Worked in HR at my Uni. Did the screen. Said I was un-hireable. (Reason? I'm an opinionated right winger).

The same week I was being headhunted -- for much more money. I did not leave is I have kids in high school, and they need stability.

The twit did not know my field. There are only 300 people qualified in to work in my clinical speciality and about 400 jobs: and there are very few people who can also do the academic bit.

HR, like lawyers, are a necessary evil that you should subvert every chance you get.

kurt9 said...

Oh well. I guess I'm going back to Asia (where I lived for 10 years). I promise to do my best to help bury America.

CSPB said...

I thought I had an original thought, but no. I posted the following on another blog, only to be referred here.
http://davidcollard.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/womans-intelligence-as-mirror/#comments
Good post. Confirmed my observation and gave me some ideas on circumventing HR.


As I was applying for some jobs this weekend, I realized that much of my financial fate lies in the hands of women. HR departments are primarily staffed by women. They act as the gate-keeper to employment and to jobs.

It seems women value different qualities than male applicants think are necessary for a particular position. Maybe the path to success entails being beta to get the job and then becoming alpha in jobs that require that.

I wondered why corporations tend to hire people with EXACT skills that closely match a job description. It is much more difficult for a person with approximate skills who processes high intelligence and can excel at any job. The risk of hiring such a person is higher, but the benefit to the company is also greater because the ability to adapt and apply related knowledge is useful.

But since women are more risk adverse than men, a woman will usually follow the script in her job and tend to choose those that are most easily definable as qualified. These same female skills are used by “gold diggers”, but women operated completely opposite when it comes to falling in love. In love, women fall for a strong adaptable man that is confident in whatever he does.

In this way, women are defining the culture of our businesses and it seems that many businesses in the US are losing their edge and becoming increasingly bureaucratic.

CSPB said...

Another link on this topic:

http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2010/12/why-hire-me/#more-18093

Mark K. Sprengel said...

I had to deal with some of those inane questions a few years back from the female owner of a company I eventually worked for. That barely lasted 2 years due to her perfectionism, control freak, highly emotional swing nature. Of course it was all my fault, go figure.

My current job, I interviewed with nothing but men, not sure how HR is staffed, though my experience with them indicates incompetence.

Nice to see others hate those freaking online forms that you have to fill out. I thought maybe I was just being lazy but dang it, my resume and cover letter this you lazy keyword searching bastards!

I have worked with woman though and it not be a problem at all.

Mark K. Sprengel said...

BTW, how does one get around those inane keyword forms other than just not apply for that job?

Anonymous said...

Dude, this is awesome. I have made the exact same observation. The hiring behavior of companies has much in common with the dating and mating preferences of women.

1. Hypergamy = Companies won't even talk to you unless you are far more qualified than what the position offers.

2. Flakiness = Not a shred of regard for business etiquette or even common human decency.

3. Hypocrisy = Stating a preference for a number of traits, and then hiring someone who doesn't actually exhibit any of those traits.

4. Infatuation = Candidates who win the popularity contest and gather superior social proof win over better-qualified but less popular candidates.

5. Pre-Selection = A famous company on a resume is more important than a person's skills or track record. "Ooh, he worked for ____ so he must be great" = "Ooh, he's dating that hot chick so he must be great."

And let's not forget HR lesbian separatism. "You know what, we should hire a WOMAN for this job!!!"

TheTooner said...

I'm finding that Personnel isn't called Human Resources anymore. It's now People Strategies.