By Jack Kelly
In any personal or professional relationship, you have to work hard to make it successful. When you go to an accountant, you should bring in all of your receipts and tax forms, try not to squirm around too much when you get a haircut, don’t boss around and lecture the plumbers and electricians about their jobs just because you watched a couple of YouTube videos. If you’re married with children, like myself, you’ll find yourself watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Great British Baking Show and Say Yes to the Dress with your wife and daughter, while your son’s away at college and you’ve been outvoted on what to watch on television. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to convince them to sit through the Mets, Giants or gory zombie movies, so you just smile and feign interest in pastries and arguing over who should have really won the Lip Sync Battle—Brooke Lynn Hytes or Yvie Oddly?
This advice holds true as you’re interviewing and working with human resources and internal in-house corporate recruiters. The endgame is to have them like you and want to extend a generous offer to you.
A critical part of the interview process is effectively dealing and collaborating with in-house recruiters and human resources professionals. These are the company gatekeepers that you need to impress to get through to the hiring managers and advance in the interview process. Many professionals misunderstand this crucial relationship. They view the human resources staff as unnecessary roadblocks that impede their progress. Their egos get in the way, feel that it’s demeaning to meet with HR and they should only interview with the hiring manager and senior-level executive management. These self-important candidates make no secret about their feelings and it shows. It’s the same way that some rude people treat assistants dismissively thinking it will motivate them to put you right through to the person they want to connect with.
Here’s the real deal on how to finesse this relationship. The HR person has a large number of diverse reqs—that’s cool insider jargon for job requisitions—on her plate. She’s juggling recruiting for all sorts of internal openings at every level on her own, placing ads online and sifting through hundreds of résumés and vetting out internal candidates. Many HR recruiters also have to balance other corporate matters. Unlike agency recruiters—those, like me, who are with search firms—who only focus on recruiting and aren’t bogged down with other administrative responsibilities, HR people are forced into attending lots of meetings, filling out reports, having meetings about the reports and other time-consuming functions. Her goal is to get jobs filled quickly with the best candidates at reasonable costs. There is no upside in having jobs stay open for too long, as it will incur the wrath of the hiring managers and her bosses. They’ll question her abilities and reflect poorly on her reviews.
With this is mind, view your interactions as a mutually benefiting relationship. You want the job and HR wants to fill the job. Your mission is to make it super easy for her to like you, root for you, champion your cause to the hiring managers and get you the best offer.
Here are nine ways to make this relationship work successfully:
1. Only submit résumés to the jobs that you are appropriate for. You can apply to some “reach” roles, but don’t apply to every damn job on their website, as it will make you look desperate.
2. Treat the HR person with the same dignity, respect and courtesy that you would like in return.
3. When it comes to setting up interviews, please offer realistic days and times. Offering the morning after the Fourth of July at 7:45 a.m. or a Summer Friday at 6:30 p.m. are nonstarters. Share a number of reasonable days and times.
4. If for any reason a conflict arises, let them know far in advance. Unless you are dead, you should avoid cancelling and rescheduling interviews.
5. Don’t disappear in the middle of the interview process. Yes, things come up; you’re busy and maybe you have a couple of other offers. That’s fine. Just be honest and share with the HR person what’s going on.
6. If you’re running late for an interview, let them know immediately, explain why and manage their expectations as to when you’ll be arriving. Once there, make a quick apology and move on.
7. Maintain your composure, even when it’s the 10th interview with a person who didn’t even look at your résumé. Getting angry, surly and condescending will make you feel better for just a moment, but then you’ll get a thumbs down from this person. In a decision-by-consensus interview process, all you need is one person to say “no” and you won’t get the job.
8. Playing hard to get may work in personal relationships, but in this context, they’ll move onto a candidate who they believe wants and will accept an offer.
9. Of course, you want the most money possible. However, you need to be reasonable, so that you don’t blow the offer.
I know what you’re thinking, “Jack, why should I do all of this when they don’t treat us with respect?” I can’t disagree with you. My thought process is this—life is unfair and most things in the corporate world are stacked against you. But, here we are. We have to make things work within an imperfect system. If you play tit for tat, you won’t go anywhere. You have to suck up a lot of the nonsense, smile and keep being your best self. You want to look at the big picture, which is getting that great job. Suffering through some unpleasant indignities sucks, but it’s worth enduring a few months of petty irritants to get a job that might change the trajectory of your career and dramatically improve your life.