CAN WE PUT THE ‘HUMAN’ BACK IN HUMAN RESOURCES?

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I haven’t worked a single day in the field of Human Resources, nor have I ever played a human resource executive on television or in a blog. I am speaking as the father of young man trying to find work, as well as someone who, himself, has been through the hiring process a time or ten.

I work for an organization that helps manufacturers streamline processes, improve soft skills like leadership and innovation, and grow their top line with growth services. Our meetings and consultations with these firms cover a wide range of topics and they vary from company to company. One common thread, though, is the lament from nearly every one of them that they are having a difficult time filling open positions. It’s not just skilled positions that are going unfilled, but general labor positions, as well. On any given journey through the region, numerous billboards advertising job openings from various companies can be seen on roadsides. On the same road trip one will hear radio ads from the same manufacturers or distribution centers letting you know that they are hiring.

Likewise, while shopping around town one can’t walk through the door of any retail outlet or restaurant without seeing a sign reading ‘Now Hiring’ or ‘Help Wanted’. At every stop, I pull out my phone, snap a photo of the sign, and text it to my son, a recent high school graduate with past work experience who has been looking for a job all summer.

Given the plethora of signs and the desperate pleading from manufacturing firms’ human resources departments, one would think that anyone searching for a job could simply express just a modicum of interest and he/she would be welcome with open arms.

Unfortunately, every one of those manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants offered just one option for job applicants: go to a website and fill out an application. For the job-seeker like my son, it’s another website. Another impersonal, time-draining, patience-testing, soul-crushing website. There isn’t even an option to fill out an application onsite. It seems that human resource departments have removed humans from the early stages of the hiring process.

So, my son has filled out dozens if not a hundred online applications, just like his older brother and sisters before him. The response? Crickets. Nothing. Not even an acknowledgment via email that an application was successfully submitted from the vast majority of employers to which he applied. It has been remarkably discouraging and frustrating. And I feel his pain as I have been through this new, depressing process, as well. It also makes me question just how hard companies that claim to be challenged in finding the right people are trying to reach those people.

Look, I get the convenience of online applications for HR personnel. I’m sure it’s much easier and less overwhelming to simply point to a website and retrieve applications and resumes when the need arises. I have to ask, though, is it really that much better to use such an impersonal method of gathering applications? Wouldn’t it be just as easy to hand someone a physical application and interact with them even for a moment or two in order to get a feel for who they are as a person? Would that not go a long way in weeding out those who wouldn’t be a fit for the position or your company, thereby saving time in calls and interviews with people with whom your sole interaction up to that point was a few lines of copy on a computer screen?

In 1983, I had just finished my sophomore year in college and planned to kick off the summer by getting tickets to a concert. In those days, concert tickets were dispensed from a computer terminal tied to a dot matrix printer housed at a location somewhere. That location for us in northeastern Pennsylvania at the time was Joe Nardone’s Gallery of Sound, a record store located in the Wyoming Valley Mall. On the fateful Saturday morning when I stood in line waiting to purchase tickets, Nardone himself, the owner of the five-store chain, was at the helm of the Ticketmaster terminal. I made my purchase, paid with cash, and Nardone placed the tickets and my change into an envelope and I was on my way.

When I arrived home, I removed the tickets and cash from the envelope and discovered that he had given me $10 too much change. I immediately got back into my car, drove back to the store, and returned the $10 to Nardone himself. He was stunned and impressed enough to offer me a job on the spot. I started working for him the following Monday.

The point is that without that personal interaction, Nardone would have had no idea who I was as a person or how I could benefit his business. The same is true for my son. With his personality and the care and courtesy for those around him he has demonstrated all his life, he would be great in customer-facing work environments, while his discipline and compliance would serve him and his employer well in other positions. But how would potential employers know that if their only interaction with him is a cold, faceless online application?  Pixels on a computer screen have no personality and offer little insight into the person who may very well be the perfect fit for an organization. With online applications, candidates are homogenized and commoditized leaving HR personnel no way to get a feel for any one of them.

Allow me to take it one step further. There are so many people out there who are still searching for jobs and careers similar to the ones they’d lost as a result of the Great Recession. Many of them are primary or sole providers for families. They are stressed and possibly desperate. Do you know what it’s like to click ‘submit’ on a website’s application page and then be treated to radio silence forever more? And don’t get me started on those companies which demand that applicants attach a resume and then fill in an online application that asks for the exact same information that is on said resume. Further, I am convinced that not even Dante could dream of a lower circle of hell for those who demand applicants go through attaching the resume, filling in the online application, AND completing a personality survey, only to receive not even an acknowledgment that someone somewhere in the organization has at least seen the submission. Do you know that the unemployed who are in desperate situations have started the clock on waiting for a positive response (or any response) from a potential employer the very second they click ‘finish’ or ‘submit’? Do you know what it’s like to be stuck in that silent separation not knowing what is going on with the hiring process and have only a computer screen onto which to express your frustration?

Any communication would be welcome, even if it’s negative. At least the person wouldn’t be spending weeks thinking a phone call is coming. Couldn’t HR offer more than silence? Imagine a human being from a company’s HR department calling another human being and saying something like, “Hi, we received your resume and while your experience and qualifications aren’t the best match for this position, I know ABC Company is hiring and you might be a fit there. I can forward your information to my friend there if you’d like.” Or, perhaps, “Other applicants for this position have more experience or qualifications that are a better match, but we’d love to talk to you about another position with us.” Do you have any idea how much that would mean to someone?

I will end where I started. I don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the human resources door. You surely have great challenges before you. I am only offering insight into what it’s like on this side of your website. We just want you to know that we are real and we are more than the pixels on your screen…and that we have sons who need to earn some money so they can pay their share of the monthly car insurance premium. Just sayin’.

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