Meet my friends Pam and Ron. Pam has been trying to hire a marketing specialist for months. Not enough experience, too much experience, degree in botany, no industry experience; the list of reasons not to hire someone is endless. Ron, on the other hand, has been wandering, with his spider plant, around the parking lots of office towers for similar number of months hoping to get a job as a marketing analyst. He’s a good fit for Pam’s job. In fact, he’s applied for it online three or four times now. Pam wouldn’t, of course, know this because this is where the 25-year-olds show up with their sticks and aggressive poultry. Stay with me.

The great cities of antiquity had walls. Walls were a terrific way to keep out unpleasant people who might depose the ruler, knock-up Broken telephone 2the debutantes and forget to make the bed on the way out. But I think we can agree that the city-states which rose to greatness owed more to who they let in than to who they kept out. Sure, the odd Vandal slips in with the poets, blacksmiths, bakers and video game designers, but on the whole, a locked-down city is a pretty dull and temporary place if all you do is pour boiling oil on everyone who rings the bell. Which brings me to the HR department. Stay with me.

Deep within the bustling centre of the modern equivalent of the city-state we affectionately call the workplace, there are countless managers stressing out about the talent shortage. Projects are not getting done, existing staff are starting to hoard crackers and empty desks are being used to store the holiday ornaments. Economists tell us North America has a giant productivity gap. Can’t think why.

Meanwhile, down at the East Gate, Bethany the 25-year-old HR analyst stands with her pointy Hello Kitty pike pole in hand, firm in her resolve to keep out the Wrong Sort of People. This is her job and nobody is getting past her until they satisfy Bethany of their worthiness for an interview. Once past the nasty, hissing swans in the moat below, job seekers are confronted with Bethany’s potentially lethal behavior-based screening questions. “Tell me,” she will whisper, “about a time when you thought of bringing a gun to work?” and on it will go.

Pity the job seeker who thinks the behavioural shibboleth is all they need to nail down. Bethany’s next instrument is the Job Description. Easily the least competently produced document in most organizations, This is two or three pages of random and mostly meaningless twaddle against which Bethany must measure all who pass before her. Never mind that Bethany doesn’t really understand what demand generation strategy design means, her job is to match the words on her little card to the resume in front of her. Only when Bethany shouts “Bingo!” does the job seeker gain entry.

And don’t try to ask Bethany any questions that aren’t in the Job Description:

“What is the work environment like?” you will ask.
“Why it’s a challenging and fast-paced environment,” she will say.
“What kind of marketing automation tools do you use?”
“Why, we use challenging and fast-paced tools.”.
“Do you serve muffins in breakfast meetings?”
“Only the challenging and fast-paced kind.

Well at least she’s consistent.

As unpleasant as Bethany might be, let’s not hate her for it. (we should hate her for being 25, though) She never got the memo about the projects and the crackers and so forth. She’s in HR and, dammit, she’s going to keep things safe. And just because Bethany is super cute and knows more emoticons than she does integers, it is wise not to underestimate how nasty she can be when you sneak a candidate in through the loading dock. Bethany most certainly will have none of that going on. She’ll find that candidate, even if they’ve already been hired, and make them tell her about a time they knew they were right but New Girl was on and they couldn’t say anything.

I am fairly certain that Pam has not met Bethany. All Pam knows is that she put in a requisition months ago, along with a job description she found in the elevator, and the few candidates they’ve sent along are totally not going to work out.

Now if the problem were only Bethany, it would be easy to solve: Bethany isn’t stupid and, without much effort, she can probably be turned into a decently informed recruiting machine who goes out and finds amazing applicants for all of the open roles. But we have some other gates in our corporate walls, and they are guarded just as fiercely. Next week we’ll look at the one guarded by ART. And I don’t mean Garfunkel. I mean Automated Recruiting Technology.

In case you were wondering, Ron and Pam had coffee last week and he’s going in for an interview. Don’t tell Bethany; it’ll just make her sad.