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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Informational Interviews

I work at an organization where our managers do informational interviewers without talking with HR. Our policy per our AAP states that we only accept applications and interview candidates for open positions. Is there any harm in doing an informational interview if we have no interest in hiring them in the end?

For those of you who have never had the pleasure, an AAP is an Affirmative Action Plan and is required by the good old Federal Government for some companies. It is a huge pain in the rear end. It basically shows the government how you are going to rectify where you have "under hired" minorities. (Of course, you don't have to rectify where you have "over hired" minorities, but that's another blog post.)

All right, you're stuck with an AAP. Granted.

I'm going to now state something: Informational interviews are, by definition, not job interviews. Therefore, in theory, whether or not someone is granted an informational interview should be entirely irrelevant to your AAP. So, no harm done!

Except, I know what you are worried about. You're worried because nobody, outside some 20 year old who is writing a paper for his business class, really wants an informational interview to find out about the company; they want informational interviews to get a foot in the door. Sure, company X isn't hiring now, but if I talk to the big boss, when they are hiring, he'll remember me! Yeah! And that's where your AAP worries come about.

If you leave managers to their own devices and don't carefully monitor who comes in their doors, oh no! they might hire someone who looks like them! The horror! Yes, yes, yes, I know, as a general rule people tend to want to hire, be with, date, bowl with, people who look like them and who come from similar backgrounds. Your AAP is trying to get that to stop happening.

Now, I'm not an employment lawyer. (You all knew that line was coming, didn't you?) In fact, I might make a guess that an overly anxious employment lawyer would tell you to put an end to the informational interviews because they might give a leg up to a person who has not filled out an application yet.

I'm going to give the opposite advice. In fact, I'm also going to make a guess that your managers feel HR is a little heavy handed. They probably dislike having candidates have to be approved by HR, so they do the handy dandy "informational interview" in order to get around that. This way they can meet people without HR breathing down their necks and perhaps even gather a slate of potential candidates for when a position does open up. Because, you see, managers want the best person for the job.

I have never met any manager that just wanted the best white male for the job. Oh sure, you all roll your eyes and say, "like they are going to call up HR and say, 'Hey EHRL, I'm looking for a white male for this job, preferably with a SAHM wife and two kids.'" True, lacking the skill of legilimancy, they could be hiding their true preferences from me, but all I ever see is managers wanting the best possible person to fill the job.

Senior management wants their AAP numbers to line up. HR wants to never have to do another presentation on how we are "below target" in our accounting department, so would you please just hire a black guy so we don't have to tell you this any more, but it's just a guideline! Not a quota! No quotas here! Hire the best candidate. It would be great if it's a "diverse candidate!" But, no quotas! Gah.

I would just reiterate that informational interviews are informational and that job interviews are job interviews. I would also figure out why managers are doing so many informational interviews. You may find out that they have negative feelings towards the hiring process in general. Or, maybe they are just a bunch of friendly, networking people. (Note: When it's not a 20 year old college student asking for the interview, but a 45 year old person with a solid resume, the information flows both ways. They interviewers are networking just as much as the interviewees are. You never know when you'll run into someone again.)


Anonymous said...

"I'm going to now state something: Informational interviews are, by definition, job interviews."

Don't you mean that informational interviews are, by definition, NOT job interviews?

You state this later in the post: "I would just reiterate that informational interviews are informational and that job interviews are job interviews."

Evil HR Lady said...

Curses! Even though I told blogger not to publish this until Wednesday, it went ahead and did it, and I haven't reviewed this yet. I've edited my error. There are probably more lurking about!

Abony Holmes said...

"Oh know!"

The sarcasm about this country's history of discriminatory hiring and the (meager) efforts we've made to counter-act it is disappointing. I'd expect more from an HR professional.

Ask a Manager said...

May I just say that it causes me great distress to know that you have posts already written that you have not unveiled to us yet. I want them all RIGHT NOW.

RJ said...

hmmm. Good advice. But I still think something is missing.

Who is more likely to get an informational interview? Are diverse job-seekers as likely to get the informational interview? Does the informational interview give benefits in later applications (I'm betting it does).

If so, then you're looking at a situation where systemic bias is being strengthened.

If the organisation's having trouble recruiting evenly, then perhaps some diversity outreach may be in order. Maybe advertising that informational interviews are available, or offering mentoring?

Miss Curmudgette said...

I truly think that this is something that needs to be addressed through relationship management. As a corporate recruiter, I end up with egg on my face if I call up a potential candidate who has, unbeknownst to me, already met with and talked to the hiring manager.

I really need my managers to keep me in the loop about this stuff, because we work in the medical device industry and lots of people know each other.

If your managers are doing stuff behind your back, I would bet a lot of money that you have relationship and trust issues that need to be repaired STAT!

Anonymous said...

If the manager does an informational or informal interview with anyone, and then decides at some point to hire an individual, then at that point, the candidate should be processed and tracked through the normal process, so that the EEO information can be captured on the candidate, and any and all others who might have had the opportunity to apply for the position.

If the individual is informally meeting with the manager and marketing himself/herself with the intent to get a job, though there is no actual job posted, then this person is not truly an applicant, for tracking purposes. Otherwise, you would have to start questioning managers on whom they might know and have talked to and when, and might have received as a referral, and had lunch with, and what it meant, what was it, was it an informational interview, was it something else, did this person really want to talk to you to try to get a job, how do you qualify that? Or what if the manager found someone they wanted to hire through a situation that was not an informational interview?

Rather than drive yourself crazy, just keep it simple, and when the hiring commences, make everyone follow the same applicant tracking procedures regardless of how they came about the job.

Evil HR Lady said...

ask a manager--hee. Truth be told, my computer has broken AGAIN. (See, you quit your job and you have no IT department to fix your computer.) I've ordered a new one, but it won't be here until the end of August. So, I only have computer access ocassionally. When I do, I write as much as I can and schedule the posts.

class-factotum said...

history of discriminatory hiring and the (meager) efforts we've made to counter-act it is disappointing.

Yes! Why aren't companies firing all the men and replacing them with women? Their labor costs would drop because women are paid only 75% of what men make! It's because they want to pay more to discriminate!

Seraphine said...

just fyi ehrl, the repetitive chinese characters in the previous post are basically meaningless. it's spam.

Lynn said...

class-factotum and EHRL:

Snarky attempts at humour about the very long systemic bias in hiring that has gone on in most industries on North America do nothing to actually solve the problem.

You have an issue with how things are handled currently... check. Care to recommend actual alternatives?

class-factotum said...

Lynn, yes, I do.

Quit asking me my race when I complete my college or grad school* application, apply for a mortgage**, sign up to take an evening Portuguese class, apply to be a Peace Corps volunteer or register as a new patient with a doctor. Quit asking me my race when I apply for a job. Look at my qualifications.

Make decisions based on ability, not color. It just doesn't seem that complicated.

* White students were held to a higher admission standard than black or hispanic students at the University of Texas. What's THAT all about?

** NO tax money involved, 50% down payment, credit score >800 -- why is my race relevant?

Lynn said...

class-factotum: And how does that solve the problem of systemic bias? Whether you want to believe it or not - people tend to hire those that look and think like them, ability comes up later. Typically this is unconscious - sometimes it isn't.

I used to work in schools. This is a traditionally female sector (with a few very distinct exceptions). True story: A friend would love to be a kindergarten teacher - has all the qualifications and has some related experience. Never makes it past the in-person interview. Why? He's male and men clearly make people uncomfortable in that role.

So until people can ACTUALLY hire based on ability - you'll need to give some other solution.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, yes, yes, I know, as a general rule people tend to want to hire, be with, date, bowl with, people who look like them and who come from similar backgrounds."

"I have never met any manager that just wanted the best white male for the job."

Isn't that contradictory? If you know that people tend to want to hire people like them then every manager you've met has had that tendency too.

I think RJ had the right idea: see if the informational interviews are being conducted with minorities and, if not, do some outreach.

Anonymous said...

@class-factotum: Then just stop answering the question. I've yet to come across any form that asked for race that actually *required* you to answer that part. No, your race isn't relevant. That's why it's not considered. It's asked for federal reporting purposes.

Did you see the part where EHRL explained what an AAP is? Well, Equal Housing Lenders have to do the same thing. Public college? Same deal. The Peace Corps...unless they get government money I'm guessing they ask because they want to be able to say that they're a diverse organization.

Anonymous said...

I agree in theory, but I do think there could be AA implications. The HM has to be very clear that it is an informational only and you have to be careful there is no disparate impact on underutilized groups i.e. they better not be doing it reduce protected classes. While it is rare to have a hiring manager say I want a 38 year old white male with a S@HW and 2 kids. I have come across plenty of hiring manager that hire for "fit" and there doesn't seem to be much defining fit other then race/gender.

First thing you should do is figure out if your hiring process is broken, hopefully HR is not impeding hiring. If it is broken, fix it.

First I'd figure out if something is broken in you hiring process (hopefully not HR) and fix it.

Olivia said...

I work with a lot of managers from a different country. In their home country, they are able to freely discriminate based on age, and to a lesser degree based on sex. While I truly believe that most of them really do want to hire the best person for the job, I see very clearly (because they're very candid) how their backgrounds very clearly effect their thinking processes. (For example, they're very nervous to hire an older employee - not because they have any problem with old people, but they think the person will be uncomfortable working with younger people, or will will want retire at 60, which is mandatory retirement age in their country.) So, I have to work constantly with them to make sure they understand we can't assume those things about applicants.

Therefore, I have to disagree that we can trust that managers will do the right thing. While I believe they are trying to do the right thing, they bring all kinds of non-legally-permissable ideas about what the "right thing" is into an interview.

I do have a couple of ideas on how to try to eliminate some bias, although it's cumbersome:

Avoid the face to face or even voice to voice interview. Give questionnaires with a time limit for response. (accomodation might be required for those with disabilities). Do an interview via IM. Try one of these before narrowing the field. Then do the face-to-face. In theory, you'll have done the first round of screening without any kind of visual bias.

some other, more radical ideas: As resumes come in, give them either a non-gender specific pseudonym, or a number, and eliminate non-business affiliation information which might indicate sex/race/religion/etc.
Do the questionnaire thing as the job posting, insead of asking for resume submission. You'll eliminate resume spammers, recruiters, and semi-interested types, as well as possibly cut down on fabrication of qualifications. Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Another Anonymous said: "I've yet to come across any form that asked for race that actually *required* you to answer that part."

The last time I applied for a mortgage, I tried to leave it blank. Later the bank employee explained that if people leave it blank, they are required to fill it out with their best guess.

Anonymous said...

Evil HR lady acts as if minorities have the upper hand in job hunting. When 98% of corporate America is made up of Whites (that is an actual stat look it up)...then yes I would say we have a little problem.

leda said...

I recently found this blog, and I appreciate the great advice you're giving, Evil HR Lady. You seem like a warm and deeply ethical person, and that's why the implication in this post that institutionalized racism doesn't exist and continue to harm job applicants today, is really surprising. And disappointing. Affirmative action is just a "pain in the rear"? It isn't to someone who has experienced the frustration of racial discrimination in real life.