When recruiting my own team, candidates can fall into one of two categories – time-served HR and those with little or no HR experience. I find that recruiting those who have little or no HR experience is by far the best option.
Bitter experience tells me that time-served HR people come into this consultancy and they believe they already know it all. They know what they know and it is done that way because that is how they have always done it. It is very difficult to mould them into anything else or teach them another way, which is difficult when you want everyone in your business singing off the same hymn sheet. Too many of them don’t know enough about HR and nothing at all about business.
The worst experience I had was when one of my qualified and experienced HR consultants was asked to phone a client. He happened to be our grumpiest MD. In fairness, she did call this man on the Friday when he'd initially tried to reach her, but couldn’t get hold of him when she returned his call. Instead of emailing him to sayL “Sorry I missed you Mike. I’m in the office now and my direct line is xxxxx, so call me back when you’re free. Alternatively I’ll call you on Monday” (this is the standard response), she did nothing.
So when he called on Monday he was like a bear with a very sore head. From across the room I heard him growling and her saying defensively: “I DID call you on Friday and I can PROVE it”. This really didn’t help matters. When I asked her why she didn’t do what she was supposed to do about emailing, I got a “dunno” and when I drew to her attention that arguing with clients (especially him) may win the battle but loses you the war, she hunched her shoulder petulantly and sulked. Well, she was only 52 ……
While I am sure there are some very good, experienced HR people out there, I am yet to find anyone who will come in and is willing to change their ways to work with me. Many employers will recruit those with experience for ease. They consider it a pain to have to teach someone the job, but everyone has to start somewhere.
I have been driven almost mad by 'qualified' people, many of whom didn’t really know the basics. For example, last year I did some pre-interview phone screening and told them I would be asking about redundancy. They were given two days’ notice, but not a single one knew about the Ethel Austin case (a hugely important case in collective consultation around the interpretation of single establishment). I threw my hands up in the air and went back to the drawing board. Now my current in-house team is made up of non-HR people who I am training.
They all had no, or very little, knowledge of HR. I look for some basic skill sets. Having had other jobs previously, they had some business knowledge, but importantly, a willingness to listen and to learn. This has meant that I have been able to teach them about HR and employment law, and mould them into my way of working and advising.
There are pros and cons to both sides, as with everything. An experienced person can get stuck straight in. Trainees take more time but can be moulded. My team go to clients for work experience and get stuck into the role of that particular client. They gain an understanding of how their business works and it helps them to relate to the client and each situation when they are advising.
From dental clinics to builders’ merchants, my team have been there, worn the white coats, the hard hats, the toe-tectors etc, and they understand HR from different business perspectives. They’ve learned about compliance, good practice and tactics. Gradually they are running their own disciplines and dealing with 'screamers'. And they are thriving.
Relevant experience and the ability to think operationally (even when contributing strategically) are essential for HR. No one should go into HR until they have worked operationally for at least two years. Should we be re-thinking how we grow our HR function?