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Posted: September 29, 2009

Human resources: an exec’s worst enemy

Avoid these people like the plague -- they can only say "No"

John Heckers

One important group to avoid when applying for a job at an executive level is the dreaded Human Resources. These folks are the worst enemy of the upper level corporate employee. Here is why, and some tricks for avoiding these people:

1). HR can only tell you "no." HR exists to keep gates closed, not open doors. While a few HR departments exist to facilitate hiring of qualified people, most HR professionals are trained only to screen people out. This is fine for a fork-lift driver or mail room clerk.

But executives don't operate on a list of credentials, which is all HR has the skill to look at. Executives operate on a wide range of skills, cultural fit, creativity, and so on. These things tend to make HR people nervous. Therefore, the best executives can get screened out.

2). HR loves to have power. The HR departments in most companies are trying hard to grab more and more power. In this they are often backed by corporate "legal." These two departments,  These departments are concerned with the safe, the tried and true, and the stodgy. These are, of course, the very things that keep a company from actually rising above the competition and getting noticed.

3). HR is not trained to evaluate executives. HR people are trained to read job descriptions, not people. Their track record for selecting the right people is not likely to be very stellar. They can choose people who, on paper, are qualified, but not necessarily the best person for the job. They also don't understand the duties of executive level personnel, nor technical personnel..

4). HR likes to obstruct and take lots of time. Because HR likes power, they want to make executives jump through useless and senseless hoops to get employed. Those who are actual hiring authorities want executives to start work. Where do you think you're going have a sooner start date?

5). HR has delusions of necessity. Many companies are eliminating HR departments. They are luxuries that just plain are not needed, other than a couple of benefits administration folks. All but the large corporations are finding that they make out fine without an in-house HR department as various "HR services" companies are rising who can do a better job for less money. Well trained managers and supervisors and a couple of benefits clerks are usually enough for all but the largest corporations.

Instead of going through HR, find the person who has the authority to actually hire - usually the person who would be your boss - and contact that person. Here's how.

1). Ask everyone you know who they know at your target company. Then engineer introductions to the people your friends and family know. Most hires are made by someone who knows someone.

2). Search your LinkedIn connections, take a look at Facebook and Tweet. Sometimes your networking partners don't know who they know. But if you tell them, "Hey, did you know John Smith was at ABC Company?" they'll be surprised, but happy to introduce you. Keep in mind that all of us know lots of people in our town, but don't necessarily know them in a business connection. I've had friends who were in very influential positions, but we were discussing sports, weight lifting, politics, spirituality or other issues, and even avoided business topics.

3). Ask people at your non-profit, religious and volunteer connections who they know. You'll be surprised at the connections there, too. Again, if I don't know someone through business, I don't necessarily connect them with a certain business...and I'm a career professional!

Your job to get a job is to make connections, then use them to go around the gatekeepers to reach the person who can tell you "yes." Avoid gatekeepers whenever you are able to.

There is one exception to this. Make friends with the executive admin of all of your targets. If they like you, they will move from "gatekeeper" to "the person who tracks down Barbara or whoever." Don't underestimate kind words and a plant or two, as well as finding out birthdays, anniversaries and so on. Executive admins, unlike most HR people, can become your best friends in the job search. But more on that in a future post.

For now, avoid HR like the plague. They are not your friends, and can be your worst enemy, and, most of the time, they are.

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John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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Readers Respond

As a 23 year old mastermind intellectual, I find it depressing that corporations - with their internationally acclaimed precedence - hire fools and clowns such as HR It is as safe to say that 2/3 of the HR people are entirely blind to, "personal" perspectives. And as a result always wish to find a square peg for the square hole, and not a round peg for a square hole to actually innovate. Whatever "perfect" you want - there cannot be a perfect candidate. So you must train them. That's another thing! 2/3rd of the HR populous are lazy ass's who don't train their professionals upon hiring. That says something. If you're stupid enough to "Look for the perfect candidate" and at the same time not train a POTENTIAL perfect candidate. you are wasting as much as time for the company for "Human RESOURCES" as you are claiming would-be perfect candidates as inferior. By Amir Ali on 2014 12 21
The usefulness (or lack thereof) of the Human Resources Department will always depend on its utilization. A wise company will use it to ensure a business is being run in an efficient, positive, professional manner and that the Human Resources Department has the ability to do so. Regretfully, there are instances when the Human Resources Department is not taken advantage of or has its tasks limited to the mundane. By HR Worker on 2013 05 10
I found the first comment regarding Orion Multimedia to be spot on. When will they ever get it together and actually pay people?! What a concept! You do work, you pay....not the Orion folks. It's amazing, I assume they are headed to bankruptcy soon. They are the most backwards group of people ever. By barb on 2009 12 17
Orion multimedia we don't like to pay our freelance staff. Our head of HR likes to spend all the money on her lavish lifestyle. If it means not paying vendors and getting away with it were all for it. The head of HR has no concept of people being human. We as a staff at orion multimedia have never seen such a greedy organization, that overworks people. good talk By rector on 2009 12 01
You are right. Human Resources department are absolute useless and are certainly damaging for technical professions or any jobs that require a degree. Since most HR executes are secretaries who got sick of their job and did a 10 hours a week "HR degree". There shouldn't really be an HR department, degree or profession. Most HR managers have no idea how to read a job spec for computing jobs, they are all about building power base generating paper work and time wasting. By John on 2009 11 04
Let's turn this on it's head a bit. Who hired the senior HR person that a candidate needs to avoid? I would presume the senior management for whom the candidate wants to work. That seems like a problem to me. Perhaps that senior management wants HR to do things a particular way. Perhaps senior management wants to avoid the humans in the business. Do you really want to work there long term? By Mary on 2009 10 20
It is so True. I have no idea why HR people are even given the title 'Manager'. I suppose you could claim that this is a generalization, but as someone who works in this industry as a recruiter, I must say that it is generally true. I have had countless situations where a direct hiring manager has hired (and praised!) a candidate that the HR Manager turned down. I think that yes, generally, HR staff tend to look for 'why this person is wrong, or what they are lacking' rather than 'why is this person right' I suggest rather than be on the defensive; perhaps the HR people who are commenting should ask themselves why an executive in the market feels this way. If you are not interested, and you feel that he (and all of the people who post agreements) are just wrong, then you fit right into the type of closed mindset that he is talking about. For the most part, HR people come from HR, they do not come from an actual role of hiring managers. This makes them qualified for dishing out benefits etc., but makes them UN qualified for Hiring. Perhaps HR people should have work experience as an executive and as an executive hiring manager before they are suitable for a role that hires such people, but I can't think of the last time I ever met a Sales Director that made the career decision to move into HR.. By Jay on 2009 10 20
THE KING HAS NO CLOTHES INDEED! It was about freakin' time someone stood up and said the hard and cold truth about HR people and their practices. I´ve seen complaints to them in just about every country I do business with, and amazingly, all those complaints are in the same line. As a matter of fact, there seems to be an INTERNATIONAL drive to shut down the HR sectors as this article says. It´s no wonder. Who would want a sector that is just a paper cruncher but insists in calling itself "HUMAN resources" By Lewis on 2009 10 20
Well, Ray, most HR people are honest and caring people. No one questions that. What I question is the function of what they do, not the personhood of the individual. HR is a function for a bureaucratic oganization. Bureaucracies keep intelligent things from happening. Those who serve in bureaucracies keep intelligent things from happening for fear it will eliminate their jobs. It is all about turf, egos and boxed in ways of thinking...which 98% of HR people have. In corporate legal compliance, such as HR advising managers to keep good records before firing someone, administering Workers Comp, and so on, HR people are absolutely great and necessary unless you're going to train managers to use their heads about this stuff instead of proceeding arrogantly. The best way for a manager to stay safe is to consult HR AT ONCE if someone accuses someone else in their department of sexual harassment, ethnic slurs, etc. The only place HR is useless is in executive and techncial hiring, where they don't do much good. The fact that these HR people defended their "turf" so aggressively proves my point about HR wanting more and more and more power over the company. They have delusions of absolute necessity everywhere. They should strictly stick to what they do well, and not what they stink at. Then, I'd be writing laudatory HR articles. By John Heckers on 2009 10 02
I can think of a handful of arrogant HR individuals who are everything John says they are. They deal with paper perceptions and not with reality. They come to conclusions without evidence to back them up beyond their bias. They confuse opinion with fact. Then, there are some others who think beyond themselves and really do want to get the person who fits best. I wish there there were more of the latter. By ray on 2009 10 01
Thanks for the suggestion, Susie and I will mention this in future trainings. And, yes, while HR is mostly useless at the executive level for getting a job, they can be great partners in the day to day running of the company, employee relations, avoiding harassment, filing claims for Worker's Comp, etc. Unfortunately, the majority of HR departments tend to be rules based rather than solution based. If you have an HR person, though, who facilitates rather than obstructs...they can be very, very helpful. By John Heckers on 2009 10 01
As an HR professional I was initially frustrated that an executive coach could be so wrong - and then I thought of some of the HR professionals I know. They can be everything John wrote about - and more. There are many HR employees (at every level) who came into HR from other disciplines and have an understanding of the real world. At the same time, they have the difficult responsibility to protect the company (and sometimes stock holders) from monetary losses associated with bad hiring policies. It's not an easy balance... One responsibility of every HR department is to support the company's executives as they hire and develop new employees. That means that HR should be opening doors for the right candidates at every level, not acting like a road block. John - perhaps you could add another bullet to your networking advice. Have your candidates ask their contacts about the HR Department at their company. Employees usually have a pretty good 'read' of the HR perspective at their company. Candidates who truly have executive level skills will then be able to gauge whether they should include the HR Dept. in their company contact or 'avoid HR like the plague'. Thanks, John, for giving me some insight into areas our HR department can improve. By Susie on 2009 10 01
Let's look at the current climate...90% or more of executive level jobs are not even posted. The only way for the exec level job seeker to get in front of the hiring authority is via networking. HR does not seem to be interested in meeting or talking with executives who are looking for more information about the company, or referring us to someone in their own company who could talk to us about the future hiring climate, or even refer us to others at another company who may be able to help us. How does an executive level job seeker expect to get help from an HR organization that does not have the framework, or the will, to help the job seeker who's primary tool for getting hired is networking? In my experience, every networking trail that I've followed gets somehow derailed once it hits HR. That tells me that HR can't help me unless I'm an applicant for an existing job. By Jeff on 2009 10 01
John I find you article very close to real world. The most important person in the process is the exec admin. Get on the good side there and you can navigate anywhere. I do find HR to be very useful and helpful to be a partner once you have been hired.. By Steven on 2009 10 01
Great article John! All of your points are very much in line with my real world experience. HR has its place, and it's not in helping executives advance their careers. I find it funny that all these HR folks are taking the time to post responses to this blog. Shouldn't they be hard at work screening resumes or something? Isn't it HR that escorts people out of the building for wasting company time on the Internet? The responses from these HR individuals only tells me that they have too much free time. To me, this is one more indication that they may not be bringing real value to their organizations. By Mike on 2009 09 30
As a financial executive, I've always been amazed of HR arrogance. The HR professionals I know who are currently transitioning due to this very bad job market are quickly learning what it’s like to be on the other side of the gate. I know several who are becoming career coaches and training others how to get around HR. By Steve on 2009 09 30
I'm John Heckers, the blogger. I notice that most of the comments seem to be from HR professionals, and not from the executives who have been obstructed by them. Sorry, folks, but, in my 25+ years of helping executives with their careers, I've rarely seen HR be anything but a bureaucratic obstacle to the very best people getting employed. I am quite proud of teaching my executive clients to get around these gatekeepers. As to the comments....Everyone, I guess, feels they have to justify their existence, hmmmm? Most executies would share my opinion of HR. "O what a gift the giftie gives us/To see ourselves as others see us." (Burns) By John Heckers on 2009 09 30
Looks like someone's wittle egos got attacked... This advice is meant for executives trying to get employed, not for HR professionals who need their egos massaged. Get over yourselves. By For the HR Whiners who posted comments on 2009 09 30
I find your article to be "inciteful", in other words, quite an attack on a group of professionals, whom, by the way, are individuals and not robots. As HR Manager of a very small company, I work as a team with the Managers who have the job openings - I do not claim to know enough about each position to know what the best candidate might look like or what other skills might be beneficial to each job. I do serve the purpose of not wasting their time with someone who is simply not qualified or a total mismatch for the position. Maybe you're throwing stones at our profession to avoid all the criticism directed at the media these days, who seem to only want to tell the story from their own perspective and not all sides...hmmmmm. Shame on you for encouraging people to try to bypass the very system that might get them hired! By Char on 2009 09 30
John, Your gross generalization of human resources is offensive. It is HR’s objective to facilitate the process of managers engaging their staff, challenging them to reach the goals of the organization. In order to accomplish this, finding and hiring the most qualified people who fit into the culture is vital. It has to be a partnership between hiring managers and HR. You say that “HR loves to have power”. There are plenty of executives that don’t choose the top candidate because they feel threatened by someone with more ability. You say “HR is not trained to evaluate executives”. There are executives out there that are not trained/empowered to lead. This is why HR is a necessity; to prevent law suits. You’re right on one point. The key to landing a fulfilling job is networking. Be it with a potential boss, their executive assistant or HR. By Owl on 2009 09 30
No one in an executive capacity should look with scorn at an entire profession, let alone broadcast it and incite others to follow such arrogant errancy. Anyone who does so will find that the expertise of that profession will be bent toward the negative in interactions with the perpetrator. How 'bout you direct the world at large to scorn the judicial system, IT, creatives, law enforcement, the military, restaurant workers, and the internet business community while you're at it? No space here to demonstrate with endless examples how misguided this advice is. More appropriate advice to the executive or any other job seeker is to be gracious - beyond courteous - to all one encounters and diligent in pursuing all avenues that may lead to success - including an elegant, non-fouling, adroit move around anyone who looks like an obstacle, possibly including some HR folks. Many of in the HR profession not only have more expertise than is apparent in what was written here - also more class. By DRS on 2009 09 30
I think the generalization you're making about HR professionals is solely negative. I am not 'programmed' to screen candidates entirely based on what is on a piece of paper. I look for well-rounded individuals that would fit our culture, are creative and have passion. Good HR recruiters have a knack for reading people, not just what's on paper, that's the difference. I'm looking for the best candidates for any position I recruit for. Any individual who is confident in their work, regardless of their position in a company, would not be threatened by highly-qualified applicants. The reason I went into the Human Resources field was to help people find work, plain and simple. By Lorraine on 2009 09 30

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