Ask the Headhunter: How to tell HR to take a hike (without sounding like a jerk)

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Job seekers prepare for career fair to open at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, January 6, 2011. (Related words: jobs, jobs report, job hunt, job search, job fair, interview, resume) Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

When HR demands that you meet or talk with a “screener” before meeting the hiring manager, you need to learn how to say NO, and you need to start saying NO right now, says jobs guru Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: Your column last week reminded me that most of what HR does makes no sense and that it’s not smart to bend to HR’s will when I’m looking for a job.

READ MORE: 6 things that HR should stop doing right now.

HR always wants me to do a meeting with them first before they’ll let me talk to the hiring manager, but that’s a guarantee of doom! HR knows nothing about the work I do and rejects me before I can even meet with someone who is qualified to judge me and what I can do. I know your advice is to tell HR to take a hike, but how do I actually say that without sounding like a jerk?

“I know your advice is to tell HR to take a hike, but how do I actually say that without sounding like a jerk?”

Nick Corcodilos: Last week we discussed what HR should stop doing if it wants to hire effectively and to clean up its reputation. Now I’ll suggest what you need to start doing right now if you want to improve your chances of landing the right job.

“How to say it” is a big part of Ask The Headhunter — and I know this is where people often stumble. They know they have to push back sometimes when an employer makes demands, but they freeze up when it comes to actually expressing themselves.

READ MORE: How to get the respect you deserve in a job interview

I get it. I used to wonder what the problem was, but I’ve realized that unless you’re dealing with these situations all the time, it’s hard to come up with the right words. Some readers can do it; others can’t.

When HR demands that you meet or talk with a “screener” before meeting the hiring manager, you need to learn how to say NO, and you need to start saying NO right now. This is so important that I cover it in detail in “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles,” pp. 5-6:

Candidates don’t realize they can insist on interviewing only with the manager. (Why waste time with anyone else?)

How to Say It

If the employer insists that you meet with a personnel jockey before the hiring manager, try this:

“I’m afraid my schedule is very busy, and my time is limited. I’d be glad to meet with a representative from your HR department, but only after the hiring manager and I have met and decided that there’s a clear, mutual interest in working together. Once that’s established, of course I’ll make time to meet with HR.”

If the company balks, be firm.

“Thanks for your interest, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. If the manager decides to meet with me, I’d be glad to schedule some time.”

Then let it go. Move on to another opportunity, where the employer respects you and your time.

Is this risky? Of course it is. But so is wasting your time with someone who isn’t qualified to evaluate you. “Playing along” isn’t going to change this. It’ll just demoralize and frustrate you.

Saying no emphasizes that your time is not free — it’s valuable.

Saying no emphasizes that your time is not free — it’s valuable. And while you might respect HR’s role in hiring, you’re no dummy — you know that only the hiring manager is qualified to judge you. If the employer is really interested in you, HR will back off and respect your wishes and your time. If they’re just putting you through a meat grinder, then it’s better to find out up front. That’s what makes this a good test of whether this is really an opportunity or the blind leading the blind.

I’m glad you found last week’s column helpful. But it wasn’t just a challenge to HR. It’s also a challenge to you. Are you willing to stand up for yourself and for sound business practices?

READ MORE: Employers, respect job applicants. Your company’s reputation depends on it

HR’s behavior will not change as long as job seekers keep agreeing to silly demands. If you want to optimize your chances of winning the right job, keep your standards high, and don’t do foolish things just because someone tells you to. Start saying NO. Insist on meeting with the hiring manager first.

Dear Readers: Are there “magic words” you use when confronted with unreasonable demands while you’re applying for jobs? Please share the problems you face and “how you say it.” Let’s talk about where you draw the line and what works.


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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