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How to Hire an HR Professional Who Won't Suck

It's pretty hard to hire someone who purports to do something you don't know anything about.

We’ve worked with dozens of businesses and organizations looking for HR people in the past couple of years, and all of them have one thing in common:

They don’t know what they’re looking for.

Here are 5 things you need to know if you’re hiring HR people right now:

What do you want that person to do? Recruiting, benefits administration, payroll, employee relations, employee onboarding? Is it a one-person HR department or are there other supporting HR staff? Be clear on what you’re looking for. You’re never going to find one person who can do it all willingly. A 10-year HR veteran doesn’t want to be reviewing I-9’s all the time; they’ve graduated past that.

Don't get focused on a title. (This is especially true with schools, banks and hospitality, who love the title "HR Director"). There has been huge title creep in HR. You need to be careful what you’re getting.

We had a client last year insist on hiring an "HR Director". (With only 55 employees, they didn’t need one at that level). But they went ahead and hired one anyway. They only reviewed resumes of people who had the title “HR Director”. And they hired one.

The first day of that person's employment, she called one of my HR people with a kindergarten-level HR question. I looked up her LinkedIn profile: she was indeed an "HR Director" - at a retail store in with 6 employees.

Most clients who think they need a Senior VP level person - don’t. They can ‘settle’ for an HR Generalist person - which is all they really need.

Don't get fixated on industry experience (i.e. “we want HR people with experience working in our industry”). Trust me, you want someone to know HR first. They'll learn the school's culture and ways of operating. That's much easier than learning HR. HR is industry agnostic.

And don’t put too much emphasis on ‘experience’. You’re better off with someone with 4-5 years of HR experience at a large corporation who possesses an HR certification, than a person with 15 years of HR experience at a tiny business.

And I can’t believe this – yesterday I saw a job posting that actually said “salary commensurate with experience”. (Good thing that pay transparency is becoming a trend in many states)

The #1 requirement right now for HR people is hybrid. 2-3 days/week on site, the remainder working from home. That’s the minimum expectation. HR folks are in such demand that they're getting this perk every time - or they already have it and are not willing to give that up.

You might think you need an HR person on-site 5 days a week, but you actually don’t. Don’t miss out on a great candidate because you think it’s necessary.

Who’s going to know if that HR person is doing it wrong? From the interview to day-to-day activities, who is the HR person reporting to? Does that person know anything about HR?

Take the interview. If you’re not using a headhunter (or even if you are) - who at your company is going to gauge the candidate's HR knowledge? An example:

“We have an employee who's pregnant. How do you reconcile pregnancy disability act with the newly updated California Family Rights Act and Paid Family Leave?”

That's a question every HR pro should be able to answer.

Another good question to ask an HR candidate is:

“When you don’t know the answer to a tough HR issue, who do you go to?”

Great HR people know what they don’t know, and they have the confidence to say so. Those HR pros have resources to support them – whether employment attorneys, HR consultants, or trusted HR colleagues.

Great HR people do not google.

Technology has transformed the HR world – but most people don’t know that. The old ratio of HR people to employees was about 1:35. Today, it’s about 1:125. Technology has revolutionized HR – from digitizing files, automating employee files and requests and the like. It’s better today to hire a more junior HR person and support them with outside consultants than overpay for a serious HR pro, who is going to be unwilling to do the basics of HR (a serious HR pro has graduated far past the mundane).

Here's a link to our annual HR Jobs chart, showing what titles mean within the HR industry and approximate rates of pay.

And if you’d like to talk further, we’re here!



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