The company I worked for seven years ago sold off their mainframes and outsourced the data processing they needed. Suddenly I found myself looking for work.
This wasnít too bad in and of itself. Changes in technology mean that jobs sometimes become scarce in the marketplace, or even disappear altogether. I wasnít too worried because not only did I have over ten years of experience, but I had a good reference from everyone with whom I had ever worked. (Not only the supervisors, but also the people who were doing the same job.)
It should have been a cakewalk, but I was in for a shock. What really frustrated me was the interview process. You see, none of the score-or-so companies that granted me an interview would allow me to meet with anyone who had anything to do with the job for which I was applying. Instead I found myself talking to people from the Human Resources division.
Each interview conducted by a HR specialist was asinine in the extreme, without exception. They asked me such questions as ďIf you were a road, where would you lead?Ē and ďHow would working for this company fulfill you more?Ē I suppose I didnít give them the answers they wanted, because I was granted a second interview only twice.
So something could have come from those second interviews, right? They would have if I had gotten past the HR people and talked to someone who actually worked in Data Processing. Instead I found myself sitting in front of more HR drones, except that the questions were even more idiotic. (ďDo you feel comfortable with the dominance that a supervisor has over those under her, like a pet owner to her pet?Ē)
Data Processing is a closed profession, which means that you keep running into the same people over the years. And, like everyone no matter what their career, we like to talk shop. It was through this grapevine that I heard that most of the jobs I had been applying for had been given to 19-year-old kids with associate’s degrees, and most of those degrees were for non-technical subjects like art history. Experience, excellent references, a proven track record of good service stretching back more than a decade, and none of that mattered. It was like they didnít care if they hired someone who could do the job or not.
Iím taking this walk down memory lane because of this article in Fast Company magazine. The author, Keith H. Hammonds, takes a much broader view than I have so far in this post. Heís interested in what Human Resources will do to make a company more profitable. The idea seems to be that HR is there in order to attract the best and the brightest and make their company more competitive. Hammonds spills a lot of ink to make the case that most HR professionals arenít doing their core jobs.
It is very true that recruiting star performers is what HR should be doing when dealing with top executives or those with cutting-edge skills, and Iím sure that just about everyone who chose the HR job track would agree with me. But thatís not seen as their core function by the executives who make the decisions. Instead, having a Human Resources division is seen as a way to protect the company from wasteful and costly lawsuits. Hammonds discusses this briefly on Page 1, item 3. An excerptÖ
“In the last two generations, government has created an immense thicket of labor regulations. Equal Employment Opportunity; Fair Labor Standards; Occupational Safety and Health; Family and Medical Leave; and the ever-popular ERISA. These are complex, serious issues requiring technical expertise, and HR has to apply reasonable caution.”
Thereís been a transformation of both the importance and size of the Human Resources divisions at most US companies. The most common role they filled 20 years ago was seeing to things like medical benefits and retirement funds. Now they have their fingers in every aspect of the hiring process for most jobs, even if everyone in HR is profoundly ignorant of what the position being filled requires from an employee. The increased budget, and the greater importance of HR jobs in the executive hierarchy, results in efforts to protect that money and prestige.
This is a difficult task, mainly because (letís face it) Human Resources is a parasite on the company. They donít produce anything or help recruit new customers. Itís tough to have a benchmark to measure performance when nothing concrete is ever accomplished. So the people in HR have created completely artificial goals that they can meet in an effort to prove that they are an asset instead of an expense.
One way to protect their phony-baloney jobs is to choose new hires based on their education instead of their experience. The number of people with degrees earned after high school who join the company is something that makes executives sit up and pay attention. Any downsides, like dips in efficiency and high turnover rates from hiring unsuitable candidates, can be explained away as being a problem with the supervisors who have to train and deal with the new hires.
Itís interesting to note that one of the many reasons that lawsuits against businesses proliferated was due to Affirmative Action legislation. Itís also interesting that some of the greatest defenders of AA are Americaís universities, the same universities that are necessary in order to gain a degree. And a degree, of course, is necessary if someone is looking to catch the attention of Human Resources and get a good job.
I wouldnít go so far as to claim that this is all a scam, but it seems to me that the people who either have an academic career or a job in Human Resources have probably already connected the dots.