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Wanted Someone Who Really iWants-i to Be Hired

Commentary: With a lousy economy, high unemployment and more than 100 people vying for one maintenance job, an HR professional thought it would be easy to find stellar candidates and easily make a hire. But that’s not what happened.

May 14, 2009
Related Topics: The HR Profession, Candidate Sourcing
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I work in human resources because I love the feeling I get when I hire someone. When I get to deliver the message to a person who really wants and needs a job that he has one working for our business, I’m rewarded with smiles and gratitude. I find it very fulfilling to know that I am helping to put food on the table and a roof over somebody’s head. I haven’t gotten to feel that very much in the last few months.

The economic downturn has changed everything—except, perhaps, how quirky people can be about important issues such as finding, getting and keeping a job. Those of us in HR get to see that up close, as I did recently at the casino where I’ve practiced my craft for 25 years.

Very few employees are leaving their jobs with us. And so it came as a big surprise to me when we recently had to discharge three employees—a maintenance person, a food server and a beverage server. I was amazed that in this economy, anyone would violate policies or procedures and risk losing a job, but it happened. Like a lot of HR people, firing employees is my least favorite part of the job. Even though I’m just delivering the message that someone’s behavior or decisions has led to a termination, that doesn’t make it any easier for me. The only upside in this instance was that I was going to get to hire people to fill the three spots.

While I was composing an ad and a job description for our Web site, I was listening to a local talk radio show. The topic was unemployment, and the host said people need not stay unemployed. He believed that some folks just weren’t looking in the right place for a job, and he invited employers to call in and list any openings that we had. And so I called.

I gave the name of our business, the jobs I had available and our phone number. I barely had time to finish becoming a radio personality and hang up when the phone rang. It was an applicant, interested in one of the jobs I had just described. When I hung up from that call, I saw I had voice mail messages—21 of them, in fact, recorded in the 2½ minutes that I had been on the air. Every single one asked about the jobs I’d mentioned. I was astonished.

After I ran the ad for the positions, I got more than 100 additional applicants—just for the maintenance job. It graphically demonstrated to me how sad—how bad—the job market is. For the other two positions, I had 67 applicants. It was wonderful to be busy doing what I love doing—hiring people.

But I was in for another surprise. With more than 100 people vying for the maintenance job, I expected that I would find stellar candidates. That was not the case.

When I asked one man for his salary requirement, he told me it was a minimum of $80 an hour. We were, needless to say, too far apart. When another found out that we have a waiting period of six months for benefits, he withdrew. One failed to endear himself to me by asking how many smoking breaks would be allowed. A few never returned for an interview when they realized we require pre-employment drug tests.

Phone discussions eliminated a few more hopefuls. One who asked if he could live in our hotel if he got the job. We don’t have a hotel—just a casino, and we don’t let people sleep on the craps tables. There was another who wanted to know where the property was located. He knew the casino’s name. We have a Web site. Failing that, Mapquest, anyone? Another asked if I knew what bus he should take to get to us. Two more said if they got the job, they couldn’t start for at least a month.

The 60-plus hopefuls for the two remaining jobs were equally tough to work through. Some men who had never worked in a bar applied for the cocktail position. I was saddened to have some seniors applying for a job that would require that they be on their feet for an eight-hour shift. A couple applicants indicated they could only work on certain days. I marveled at the paradox: so many people out of work, so many who said they truly wanted the job, yet so many who restricted what they would do, when they would do it, and what salary they’d accept.

Eventually, we hired three people we felt would best fit our needs. The reactions of each person were very gratifying to me. None of the successful applicants asked about our address or our housing. They didn’t balk at the drug tests. They didn’t expect us to hold the jobs for a month for them. None asked for the smoking-break schedule.

I think the radio host was right: It is indeed a rotten job market. But some applicants make it worse for themselves. Even for an HR person who loves hiring people, some job candidates make it downright impossible.

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