I Don’t Have Time to Interview!

Jul 14, 2008

pretending this interview is fun for meHow many times have you heard a manager complain, “I don’t have time to interview people! I’m swamped and understaffed and have to spend every minute and then some just to get my real work done!”

This is the one of the classic responses we get when we try to partner with managers to fill their positions. Filling jobs is HR’s job. “Can’t you just find me someone?” the manager will say. “And better ones than you found last time? The last one didn’t stick around very long. I don’t think he even lasted a year. Left after eight or nine months.” Sound familiar?

To effectively fill jobs today, we can’t just keep “throwing spaghetti at the wall” hoping that it will stick. We need to establish a partnership and a process for working with the managers we support to insure that we are finding the people with the correct skills mix who will be successful in our organization’s environment.

Many organizations have clear, well-defined processes for both recruiters and hiring managers to use when staffing. Whether it means using a sophisticated applicant tracking system or some homegrown system using e-mails and online requisitions, the process involved in getting new staff on board is usually well defined. All too often, the hard part is getting our managers to work with us to achieve the mutual goal.

Too many managers are unwilling or unable to actively participate in the hiring process, thereby dooming it to fail. Hiring new staff is too important a task to leave to human resources. This is not to demean HR. But to really make sure we are bringing in the staff with the skills and talent we need, who will be able to get the job done in our organization, we need the involvement, the support, and the active participation of the hiring managers. The first thing to do is to try to figure out why the manager is reluctant to commit their energy to partnering with the recruiter in this crucial process.

Why don’t managers get involved in hiring? How much time have you got? The reasons I’ve heard are as numerous as the excuses terminated staff give for why they were fired. But the majority seem to fall into five categories.

• The insecure manager who is unsure how to hire (“I don’t know how.”)
• Managers who have been burnt in their hiring efforts before (“I’m not good at this.”)
• Managers who are constantly fighting the clock (“I don’t have time.”)
• Managers who think its HR’s responsibility (“It’s not my job.”)
• Managers who are unfamiliar with the software (“I don’t know your system and don’t have time to learn it.”)

Each of these require us to take a different approach to resolve the problem, reassure, and engage the manager, and find a way to make the hiring manager our partner.

“I don’t know how.”

When dealing with the insecure manager we need to draw him out to find out why he feels that this is a skill he can’t master. One of the first things to do is reassure him. Use lots of questions to get him to open up.

• What will the new hire be expected to accomplish?
• Why does this need to get done? Why is it important?
• What are the skills that the new person must have?
• What circumstances exist under which they will be expected to work? Lots of deadlines? Little clear direction? What’s the workplace like?

Use this line of questioning to help the insecure manager better understand what it is that he’s looking for and what results he’s going to get from hiring someone. Lots of people are promoted to manager for their technical or business-related skills. Now he has to learn how to do the more challenging part of the manager’s job: selecting and managing people.

This is where a lot of the insecurity comes from. When faced with the challenge of interviewing and hiring someone new, very often it may seem easier to just do it yourself rather than learn how to select new staff. Our job is to remind him that he got promoted to manager because he did a good job but also because he’s smart enough to do this. Interviewing and hiring staff is a skill, just like any other. It’s not intuitive and it can be learned. We need to help the insecure manager to relax and work more openly with us. Give him a roadmap to follow when hiring and he’ll be able to find the right person.

“I’m not good at this.”

Sometimes a greater challenge is reassuring managers who have been burnt in their hiring efforts before. When working with this manager, you will again ask lots of questions, but in a different direction.

• What went wrong last time?
• How can we prevent it this time?
• What’s the same and can’t be changed?
• What can be changed?
• How should it be changed?

The key is to get the manager over her fear of making another bad hire. Is she concerned about her reputation? Is she afraid to upset the chemistry of her current department? Everyone agrees that they are overworked, and that bringing in some reinforcements would alleviate some of the workload. But the manager sees a cohesive well-functioning team and she’s afraid of the impact that introducing someone new may have. Further, if the last new hire left in a messy termination, this could make the manager gun-shy to bring on anyone new. We all know how time-consuming and ugly (if not downright painful) some terminations can be. Find out if this manager is laboring under the “What if I have to fire this person someday?” cloud. If you’re worrying about firing someone someday, it’s practically impossible to hire anyone.

“I don’t have time.”

One of the most difficult managers to pin down is the manager who is working under unrealistic time constraints. Your approach will be a little different this time. You’ll still use questions, but the manager may not think he even has time to answer your questions, much less interview anyone. A few ways for you to find out what you need to know to find the right candidates are:

• Go to him on his schedule, whenever you can; don’t expect him to make time for you.
• If he won’t give you the time to work out the specs of the job, shadow him, or his staff, to learn about the job.
• Can he delegate the first interview to a senior staff person?

To make it clear that you understand the kind of environment in this group, the intense time pressure under which they work, be sure to make “working under extreme time constraints” one of the strategic skills you’ll seek in candidates for the job. This will make it clear to the manager that you do understand what he’s going through and will increase his confidence in your ability to work with him. Further, if he feels that you really do understand, he’ll be more likely to cooperate with you to insure that you get the right person. Another way to gain the manager’s confidence is to speak his language. Link strategic hiring to performance management. This is a bottom-line, results-focused manager. Show him that you can operate the same way.

“It’s not my job.”

Some managers will still tell you that hiring people is HR’s job. The bottom line is, HR can’t do it alone. We have to convince this manager that filling jobs effectively is a collaborative effort.

• We need her input if we are going to find and hire the best person for the job.
• Without it we’ll just keep churning and churning.
• We can fill jobs quickly, but we’d rather fill them only once.
• Our goal and her need is to be effective, not simply efficient.
• Speed is not the answer, quality is.

If you are questioned or challenged by this manager (“Can’t you do your job? Why do I have to hire people?”) your response must be that “Yes, I certainly can hire someone. But I want to hire the right someone, not just anyone.” Again, find out what is at the root of this manager’s reluctance to collaborate. Is there really an insecure manager under the surface or someone who’s been burned before? Remind this manager that she deserves the best person out there. Working in partnership with you in the planning phase is the best way to insure that she’ll get that person.

“I don’t know your system and don’t have time to learn it.”

The manager who claims to be unfamiliar with the applicant software is becoming more and more rare, but there are still a few out there who hide behind this excuse. I have found that usually this is just a mask for the real issue, and part of working with this manager is getting to the bottom of his reluctance. In a nice way we need to make it clear that the technology is here to stay and technological advances in human resources are no different than advances in any other line of business. We simply aren’t going back to paper applications and snail-mail resumes. The business and the market won’t let us. Approaches to take with this manager are:

• Explain that hiding away from the software is no excuse in today’s environment.
• Tell them it’s easier than they think.
• Work with the manager to get to the real issue.
• Offer to go through the software again to familiarize the manager with the system, but do not let it become standard operating procedure. You have your job to do, and using the software is part of the manager’s job.

Bluntly put, blaming it on the software is probably the lamest excuse out there. It usually means that the manager is challenged on time, past history, or lack of experience. Our job is to find out what’s really going on so we can use the right tools or the right line of questioning to get to the right solution.

The key to creating a partnership with our managers is not to demand that they accommodate our requests. We need to sell them on the benefits of working with us and the value of their input. We really are trying to find them the best person out there, but we can’t do it alone. Jobs keep changing and the needs of the organization keep evolving. To be effective in meeting the needs of our managers, keep the lines of communication open so we know what they need and can anticipate when they’ll need it. The better we get at predicting what we can do to help their business run smoothly, the more they will see us as the partners we strive to be. Then we won’t have to go chasing after them; they’ll be soliciting our input because they fully understand the value and benefit to them of working more closely with us.

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