Why HR Sucks at Recruiting

As previously posted on HuffPo here.

I want to begin this post by saying that some of my best friends are HR professionals. I have nothing against their lifestyle choices. But let’s be honest, most of them suck at recruiting. I touched on this topic in a previous post but feel that it deserves deeper explanation. Let me share a typical (and true) HR recruiting story.

A bank recruited a friend of mine about a year ago. She’d been referred by a friend, endured a lengthy interview process and received an offer. She waited until Friday of that week to accept the offer and graciously submit notice to her employer. Upon accepting the offer, a third party drug testing service informed her, by email, that she would need to submit to a mandatory drug screen. And it needed to be scheduled within 48 hours. This was at 4:30 PM on a Friday. A working mother of two, she ended her week and focused her attention on her family. It wasn’t until Sunday evening that she checked her email and called to schedule the test, which is when she learned that the job offer had been rescinded. When she called to investigate, she was told that she had to reapply and start the whole process over. Ugh.

Now, this is an extreme example that I know makes most HR people cringe. But it illustrates the key reason why HR sucks at recruiting. Recruiting is an outward-facing, strategic exercise where the hiring company is competing to attract the best people. Conversely, HR is an internal function focused on compliance and administration, which is a nice-sounding way to describe setting and following rules. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (or SHRM) website, an HR generalist role typically includes things like creating policies and procedures; maintaining regulatory compliance, and; the administration of payroll, benefits and employee records. Our friends at SHRM somehow found a way to describe recruiting (half-way down the list, nestled nicely between conforming to EEO regulations and conducting exit interviews) in terms that sound distinctly not-human:

Conducts recruitment effort for all exempt and nonexempt personnel, students, and temporary employees; conducts new-employee orientations; monitors career pathing program, writes and places advertisements.

When you boil it down, the bulk of work that falls into HR is aimed at keeping your current, former and prospective employees from suing the company. Said differently, HR is all about risk reduction. And somebody please explain to me what the hell a “career pathing program” is. I’m not diminishing the importance of this work. A mature business must do all of these things well. Just like a mature business needs to maintain accurate and organized accounting records. But the skills and mindset of someone who thinks all day long about creating and following rules does not fit the mindset required to succeed in recruiting (or anything talent related, really). Would you put an accountant in charge of customer acquisition? Probably not. So why put an HR person in charge of talent acquisition?

Companies that take talent attraction seriously understand this. They have either separated typical HR functions from talent attraction and development or remove administration and compliance from the HR equation entirely. As a result, HR often is not even its own department. Patty McCord, the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix who describes herself as a “lousy” HR person, says:

How do you hire great HR people? You hire great business people who care about your business and don’t give a shit about HR.

The sad truth is that the “H” in HR has been missing for some time. My friend’s experience is a perfect example of how rules and procedures get in the way of treating people like people. And good recruiting is all about people. In fact companies are nothing more than a collection of people organized around a shared set of strategies, principles, products and customers. Not processes. When business leaders understand this, they not only become better recruiters, they create more successful businesses.