In the LearnVest Personal Stories series, everyday people share the details of their career and money lives, discussing the individual choices they’ve made and how it’s impacted their journey.
Today, an HR veteran with over 15 years of experience shares her insider's take on what really goes down during the hiring process.
Before launching my own consulting business, I earned my HR stripes working for everyone from big-name financial service companies to an equally big electronics and entertainment company.
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So I know firsthand the techniques that are used to vet potential employees—and it’s not all as compliant as you'd expect.
If there's one thing my time in the trenches has taught me it's that HR reps are willing to do a lot to pinpoint the right employee.
Think hiring managers aren't trolling your social media accounts? Or that having children won't impact your odds of landing a great gig?
Take it from me: These are some lesser-known, semi-sly tricks that hiring managers resort to—regularly.
We Dig (and I Mean Really Dig) Into Your Background
It goes without saying that hiring managers are going to contact your references to check whether those accolades on your résumé are legit.
But prehiring reconnaissance goes a lot further than that.
The HR community is small, and while it isn't exactly kosher, many of us will call someone we know at a company where a candidate has worked previously.
The goal is to get "off-the-record" insights about the person's work habits, personality, aptitude and more. We're getting the inside scoop—from someone who isn't on the candidate's referral list.
Don't believe me?
In the last month alone, I've received two calls from HR reps asking whether I’d vouch for former colleagues.
Another way managers dig around is through social media—especially LinkedIn.
After scanning a person's LinkedIn network, I've become skeptical about candidates who don't have enough industry connections. It makes me question if they're overmarketing themselves.
Of course, being mindful of what you post on all of your social media channels is a no-brainer. I've even heard of managers who snoop on their own employees' accounts to see if they've been talking poorly about the company.
Have Kids? Why You Might Not Have the Job ...
Although it's illegal for an employer to take someone's family into account when considering them for a position, that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
Personally, I don't believe this is usually malicious or deliberate. But a candidate can't control what might be lurking in a hiring manager's subconscious. ("Will this person really get the job done if they've got little kids waiting at home?")
And it’s not just HR managers who fall prey to this kind of second-guessing.
I once worked at a financial organization where the internal sales team was mostly comprised of guys fresh out of college. When they interviewed new employees, I found out many of them used the opportunity to suss out if a candidate had kids by posing questions like, "What do you like to do on the weekends?" It was a tactic to see if the person would bring up little league or other kid-centric activities.
Knowing that new employees would be required to work long hours, these guys assumed that children would make these candidates less committed—and less likely to party after work and wholeheartedly embrace the company culture.
Certain hiring managers (especially those who don't have a legal background) really want to make sure that the person they hire is a good culture fit—someone who'll make a good employee and buddy.
But this impulse can end up alienating qualified candidates simply because they don't gel on a personal level. In the case of that financial company, it created a bias against women—and we, in HR, brought the practice to a screeching halt.
And while we're on the topic of bias, I hate to say it, but if a woman is interviewing while pregnant, she's probably better off keeping that to herself until she knows she's got the job.
It’s especially relevant at the executive level, when the stakes are typically higher. While a manager would never come out and say it, my experience leads me to believe that mothers, in general, do get passed over more than childless applicants.
The Offer You Get Often Has Plenty of Wiggle Room
During the hiring process, salary negotiations are par for the course. But most managers can offer you way more than they let on.
That said, they probably can't budge too much when it comes to base salary—there’s typically a range in mind before the interview ever takes place. But they can throw in different types of financial extras.
Sign-on bonuses, for starters, are attractive to HR managers because they don't reoccur or show up in the employee's salary line. And many hiring managers are willing and able to throw in a onetime cash-out if that's what it takes to seal the deal.
"I've even seen people successfully negotiate to have a new company match the last job's total compensation package."
The same goes for relocation packages. While some companies have rigid policies in place when it comes to relocating new hires, it's still very much a gray area that many HR managers have no problem negotiating.
The catch, not surprisingly, is that interviewers aren't exactly eager to offer up such perks. It’s up to you to ask.
Bringing up a sign-on bonus or relocation package will likely get you more traction than if you focus on the salary alone. Even so, that doesn't mean negotiating the base salary isn't still worth it—but you'll need to convince the HR manager why you should be at the higher end of their preestablished range.
I've even seen people successfully negotiate to have a new company match the last job's total compensation package.
Mutual Exits Are More Common Than You Think
If an employee quits—as opposed to getting laid off—severance and unemployment benefits likely go out the window. So from a financial standpoint, it appears to be in a company's best interest to have a less-than-stellar employee quit on their own.
Would a manager ever deliberately try to get a disliked employee to voluntarily hit the road? I’ve heard it happens—but it’s more likely to come from a direct manager, and the HR person may find out about it after the fact, when the manager shares that they "rode a guy hard" until he quit.
I think sometimes these managers struggle with giving feedback and coaching employees, or run into situations where they feel backed up against a wall. The end result is that they run out of patience—and make crummy management decisions.
A few of my current clients have experienced this kind of passive-aggressive approach, and I encouraged them to negotiate a happier ending by way of a desirable exit package.
Essentially, the company allows the employee to leave on certain mutually-agreed-upon terms. In some cases, it may require the employee to stay until a certain end date, finish a particular project, or agree not to take talent from the company for a set amount of time. In return, the employee receives a specific amount of money, known as a retention payment.
The deal, known as a mutual separation, isn't considered severance. It's also something that happens all of the time behind closed doors.
It’s yet another example of how established employees and new hires alike can even the playing field—so long as they're informed.