How to Find the Answer to the Question, “Do I Really Want to Work Here?”

Is this what you want?
Is this what you want?

Let’s face it: the recruiting and selection process in most organizations is hardly a shining example of open and honest communication. Candidates naturally avoid revealing too much truthful but negative information and organizations often soft-pedal unpleasant realities (or are completely blind to their many deficiencies). You might look at places like Glass Door to see what employees are saying about the organization, but the information posted there can range from messages from those who have drunk the Kool-Aid or comments by those with serious hidden agendas.

The best way to evaluate whether or not a workplace is worthy of your sacrifice is to ask direct questions of the people interviewing you and listen to both the content of the answer and the way they answer it. As total honesty is often rare in an interview process, you will know when you’ve heard it. When you hear dissembling, stuttering or avoiding the question entirely, it’s a very bad sign.

Here are some questions you can use to help you get more of the truth about what it’s really like to work there:

  • How much time and energy do you expect me to contribute to be successful on this job? (If you get “Whatever it takes,” press for a specific hours-per-week figure.)
  • What are the priorities of this organization right now? Of the workgroup? (Check those against the mission statement for a disconnection.)
  • What kind of support does this organization give its people in terms of technology, training and career movement? (Listen for what they’re actually doing, not what they’d like to do.)
  • What kind of people do you want working here? (Listen for underlying sexism, racism or other kinds of bias.)
  • What kind of people do you not want working here? (Same as above.)
  • How do you see me contributing to this company? How do you see me making a difference?
  • Is it possible for me to interview with the people I will be working with? (If they decline, that’s a big red flag.)
  • What other commitments beyond an honest day’s work do I need to make to achieve success here? (After-hours engagements, checking email at midnight, learning to play golf, etc.)

For your supervisor, try these questions:

  • Tell me what your hot buttons are. (This will reveal their true values.)
  • Tell me about the leader you worked for that you admired the most. (This will tell you about the kind of leader they see as a model.)
  • Tell me about a problem employee you had and why that person was a problem. (This will reveal any biases and blind spots.)
  • Now tell me about a great employee you’ve had and what made them great. (If you can’t get more than a general answer, that’s a very bad sign.)

Although it’s tough to turn down a job when you need the money, the truth is we often settle for jobs we don’t want because the job search has drained our confidence. You can’t let that happen. If you find your confidence sagging, review your resume and remind yourself of all the times that you have delivered great results. Whatever you do, don’t settle for a job in an organization that simply isn’t worthy of your time, energy and talent.

The Purpose of HR

Conceptual image of teamwork - 6. 3D image.

Most people I’ve talked to give their Human Resources departments mixed reviews. Some organizations have vibrant and influential HR functions, while in others HR is viewed as an administrative or compliance function that is more of a nuisance than something that provides value.

Where HR is primarily administrative, you’ll find frustrated HR people who often complain that no one listens to them or appreciates all they do for the organization. The lack of appreciation is hardly surprising, because their focus is on fulfilling their administrative duties (enrolling people in benefits plans, following up on paperwork, hanging the required posters, etc.) that only get attention when someone messes up. Any organizational power they have (and it ain’t much) comes from generating the fear of legal disaster if people fail to follow the rules. They are experts at providing you with all the reasons why you can’t do something, so many people deal with them as we used to deal with our parents: ignore them as much as possible and grudgingly comply when necessary.

While there’s no question that HR has to provide operational excellence, dot the i’s and cross the t’s, that’s simply not enough to earn kudos. Those are basic administrative tasks that customers of HR services expect from any HR department as part of the package. How HR provides real value to an organization has little to do with the paperwork.

Let’s get real. HR has no tangible power in any organization. HR generates no revenue (in most cases) and compared to other more powerful or “bottom line” functions, doesn’t have much of a budget. Any organization can outsource or automate any HR function if they don’t find value in the HR Department they have. Less drastic but more common is the tendency of managers and employees to work around HR so they don’t have to deal with silly bureaucracy and a thousand reasons why they can’t do what they want to do.

So, what can an HR leader do to change this mindset and provide value? First, you have to change your focus from administration, compliance and paperwork and focus on the people you’re serving. The only legitimate purpose for any HR Department is to help the people in the organization make effective choices to enable the organization and its people to achieve their goals. HR’s role is to facilitate and the core meaning of the word “facilitate” is to make things easy. HR’s orientation is one of responsiveness to both immediate and long-term business needs, providing both operational excellence and strategic insight. HR never works for HR purposes; HR is there only to serve its customers.

Here are some examples of how HR can accomplish this purpose, role and mission:

  • Recruiting: Design recruiting processes that are both thorough and fast for both candidates and hiring managers. Ensure that information is organized and presented in such a way that both candidates and managers can make informed and valid hiring decisions. Constantly stay in touch with candidates and managers to avoid any unpleasant misunderstandings that can derail the hiring process. Do the usual metrics, but realize that success in hiring only comes when both the candidate and the hiring manager are happy with the choice they made—both on day one and on the one-year anniversary.
  • Benefits: Design your benefits plans so that demographics, job market and financial considerations are in balance. Watch your utilization numbers and factor them into any decision-making: they tell you what people value. Involve your employees in evaluating benefits plan designs before you launch them. Most importantly, organize the information on plan choices so that it is easy for the average employee to make the best selection possible given their life circumstances.
  • Employee Relations Issues: Stay neutral. Your best chance of protecting the company is to avoid taking a pro-management protect-the-company stance, because all that does is force the employee into a get-an-attorney stance. You can best protect the company by being honest and fair, by pointing out choices and consequences, and by listening carefully to all sides of a problem.
  • Compensation: Accept the fact that everyone thinks they’re an expert on compensation and listen to their beliefs, no matter how un-HR they may seem. The goal of any compensation program is to avoid pay dissatisfaction and provide motivation where feasible. Have solid market data on hand to facilitate management decision making. Stay current on the competition and on market trends.
  • Strategy: While it’s important to align all HR programs with the company’s strategy, HR has to be a player in the strategic decision-making process. The most important contribution the HR leader can make is to remain in the facilitator role, providing solid factual information, making helpful observations on group dynamics, rephrasing ideas, drawing out ideas that may be incomplete and playing the wet blanket when it looks like everyone just wants to do what the CEO wants.
  • Service: Fundamentally, the value of HR comes down to what you do when a customer drops in or gives you a call. Drop what you’re doing and give your customer your full attention, no matter what their status. Everyone in your organization is a customer who needs your help making choices. Help them.

These examples may appear simple, but there is a lot of work involved to put yourself in the position of truly helping people. HR people need to model continuous learning—not only in their HR professional speciality, but in other HR specialty areas and business itself. HR people need to have the most flexible and open minds in the organization, because you never know what human beings are going to come up with next. HR cannot be “The Department of No” and achieve a customer-positive mission.

In the end, any power HR has in an organization is based on the integrity and credibility of the people in the HR Department. You project integrity when you listen and tell the truth. You gain credibility when you deliver on your commitments to your customers.

And those things are simple.

The EEOC Misses the Big Stuff

A recent announcement from the EEOC describing their draft strategic enforcement plan for the upcoming months listed the following discriminatory practices as examples of what they’re targeting:

  • The channeling/steering of individuals into specific jobs due to their status in a particular group. Yes, this still happens. I don’t see too many male executive assistants or female construction workers, to say nothing of the continuing shortage of female and minority executives.
  • Restrictive application processes. A broad term that could mean anything. I wish they’d do something about tedious application processes, legal or not.
  • The use of screening tools that adversely impact protected groups. This parallels their recent reminder to employers about job-specific background checks, but could also eliminate the practice of many prominent employers that make year of high school graduation a required field on their online applications. Any idiot can calculate a person’s age from that statistic.

This is a classic enforcement agency list that misses the impact of common hiring practices that truly result in discrimination. Here’s what they missed:

  • Not having a hiring process at all. Too many jobs, particularly at the executive level, are filled by someone the hiring manager knows and has worked with before. An equally despicable practice at the higher levels is hiring someone who has valuable connections or a pedigree while ignoring the competencies required to do the job. Unethical HR people then cover the unethical executive’s tracks by completing the tracking logs as if the winning candidate was selected in a competitive hiring process. Hiring someone they know may relieve hiring managers of the desperation anxiety that arises whenever there’s an open job, but it is a biased, unfair and exclusionary practice.
  • Not focusing hard enough on age discrimination. This one is such an obvious candidate for enforcement that you have to be stoned out of your mind (or working in Washington, D. C.) to miss it. What does every outplacement agency tell older candidates? “Don’t go back more than 15 years on your resume.” Why? Because of likely age discrimination. Many people over 40 have learned to exclude certain companies (particularly tech and Internet companies) from their job searches because they know they’ll be stereotyped as yesterday’s news. People have learned to accept age discrimination as a fact of life, and given the huge number of Baby Boomers in the job market today, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more of an outcry. Then again, given their early indoctrination into the philosophy of “Hope I die before I get old” and market for youth-restoring plastic surgery, it’s likely that most Baby Boomers are too ashamed to admit they’re entering the golden years.
  • Not questioning candidate evaluation methods and records. Pretty much all you have to do in your recruiting logs is say “did not pass interview” or “failed phone screen” and that’s that. This is why managers can get away with telling the recruiter, “I just think Louise is a better fit.” Recruiters rarely push for specifics because they’re just happy to close another req. Hiring managers are seldom held accountable for justifying their decisions or for documenting specific examples of a how a candidate did nor did not meet the competencies the job requires.

In a legal sense, the tagline “equal opportunity employer” means that race, gender, age and all the other protected classes are irrelevant to a hiring decision. However, the spirit behind that phrase is far more important from an ethical and professional standpoint. The goal of anyone involved in the hiring process is to find the best person qualified for the job, and you can’t achieve that if the real hiring process is limited to buddies, people who attended certain universities or someone who has a “name company” on their resume. All of those considerations are not only irrelevant, but contradict a company’s claim that they are an “equal opportunity employer.” What those practices do communicate is that the hiring company is a narrow-minded closed network of like individuals who arbitrarily exclude people for no valid reason at all.

HR people (especially recruiters) need to have the courage to stand up to hiring managers, declare war on mediocrity and insist on an open, fair and competitive hiring process. Just filling the req isn’t good enough. A great company hires the best people through a professional hiring process where everyone feels they had a fair shot and even those who lose out develop a healthy respect for the company’s sense of fair play.

The EEOC won’t tell you to do that, but do you really need them to?

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