The Secret Candidate – or is it? – lining up for an interview. Photo: Shutterstock/HRville

Thursday 7th April 2016

The Secret Candidate

Meet the HRD who’s looking for a job – and sharing the experience
The Secret Candidate

I’ve recently found myself back on the job market. I resigned before finding another job. One person called me ‘brave’, another called me ‘stupid’. I’m not such a fan of the latter, but I understand the sentiment. (Thanks, Dad.)

Hitting the job trail again has provided me with fascinating insights into businesses that are looking for a new HR Director. From the reasons they want HR on the board – not all of which are admirable – to the interesting ways in which they interview, given the person they’re meeting is an expert in precisely that.

In this column, I’m not just sharing my experiences for my, and I hope your, amusement. I believe that by detailing them I might be able to help improve HR interview processes in some small way.

Even if it’s just helping people do the simple things well.

Simple things like being on time. (I am, so why aren’t you?) Arriving at the right venue, and knowing who I am. (My name is a good starting point, and try reading my CV before asking really dumb questions.)

Simple things such as remembering my answers to those dumb questions, so you don’t ask the same ones four times. Also, looking me in the eye. (And that’s coming from someone who has to work really hard on eye contact.)

And knowing how to answer simple questions like, ‘So Bob, what would you like your HRD to achieve within the business?’

I’m starting with an encounter from a previous job-hunting expedition a few years back. The reason I’m pulling this from memory will soon become painfully evident.

‘Not a fan’

On paper, it should have been a home run as it ticked lots of my boxes: high growth, the right industry, successful leadership, but still had lots to do from a people perspective.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a massive waste of my time.

Everything was going well until the founder, who had remained virtually silent for the last twenty minutes save for a few grunts, piped up that he wasn’t a fan of ‘HR People’. We were ‘all the same’.

He was looking for ‘something different’ and told me that he wished he could employ a theatre director to the role. He or she would, he opined, do a much better job than any candidate he’d seen thus far.

Now to be honest, I’m hearing similar chat more and more. And it’s getting a little boring. CEOs and founders who have little knowledge of people strategy telling me they want to be like Google, Facebook or Netflix.

What they fail to recognise is that all of these business can only do ‘different’ things (though seeing as they all do it now, is it really that unique?) when they have the culture, values and basics in place – which the organisations interviewing me don’t.

You shouldn’t invest in sleep pods, pal, if you have no employees to put in them (and there’s no real reason for them being there in the first place…)

Anyway that’s for another post. Back to this particular story and a quick question.

No sourpuss

If you’re interviewing an HR professional, during the meeting should you:

  1. Slag them off?
  2. Slag off their work to date?
  3. Slag off the businesses that they’ve worked for?
  4. All of the above?
  5. None of the above?

As the founder had told me that, basically, I didn’t have the right type of jazz hands for the role, I left the interview before it had concluded.

Because not only had they chosen option D, they’d done so after reading my CV and deciding to bring me back after a first exploratory interview.

I’m not a sourpuss when it comes to rejection. You have to find the right candidate for your business, and not everyone likes my particular cup of tea.

However, don’t waste people’s time. Is it too much of an ask for you to read my CV, and research the companies I’ve worked for and the things I’ve done? Then, if I don’t match your criteria, just don’t invite me in to meet you.

I’d have a far more positive view of you as a business if you did these things.

That particular vacancy remains open. (My interview was over two years ago.) I’ve had five further headhunt calls about it. (I’m not going back.)

So if you’re reading this, Mr Founder, the correct option is E: you’re welcome, and if you take my advice you may just find your HR superstar.

About the author

The Secret Candidate

The Secret Candidate has been an HRD in various, well-known UK companies. He's currently looking for a role in the south of England. Offers of interviews are welcomed, but make sure you get your recruitment house in order first.