My hair is the reason America’s hiring practices and talent strategy is off

I’ll make no secret about a couple of different facts: for one, while I’m currently a graduate student, my schedule is such that I could be working full-time or part-time, and this would be beneficial in terms of bills and helping out my wife, who’s being a saint right now. I’ve been looking around for months and, honestly, I’ve had no luck. This ties into the second thing I’m upfront about: I’m a big dude, and I talk slowly (I’m from the Northeast but most people assume I’m from the South) and until I was about 25-26, I didn’t know about salad forks or nice shoes, so I’m a little behind in those areas, for sure. I’ve talked about hiring on this blog before, and talked a little broadly about HR (I’m actually really interested in doing recruiting jobs, because I think talent is honestly the biggest thing a company can build on), but I wanted to relay a little anecdote from this week and tie it back into some broader trends.

I got rejected from a job yesterday. I won’t name the company or anything, and to be honest, I’m not completely sure I even wanted it. Still, because I’ve been having a run of craptastic luck on the job front, sometimes I ask for feedback when I get the reject/decline letter. I understand this isn’t often going to come — there are legal trickeries to what you can say about why you rejected a candidate, of course — but I got a doozy of one yesterday, where some of the biggest claims against me were “my hair” (which was unkempt, apparently) and the fact that my resume wasn’t in a padfolio. It should be noted that I could have brought a padfolio — that’s my bad, because I do own one — but the hair situation is a little odder. It was about -3 degrees when I did this interview. When I took off my hat to wait for the first person, I did adjust my hair, because I figured, you know, I was just trudging through tundra in a hat, maybe my hair is askew. I thought I did a good job matting it, but apparently not. This hair thing resonated. Ultimately, no job for me.

There’s a lot of stuff at play here, but the basic idea for me is that the hiring process/system is a bit flawed. Most companies spend a lot of money on ATS, or applicant tracking systems — stuff like Taleo and things powered by SalesForce. These are necessary, because companies want data on applicants and want everything in one place. For the candidate, they can be a bit frustrating in terms of having to fill out eight different screens of data, all of which is on your 1-page resume. Recruiters don’t even love Taleo. The ATS is good in some ways, but at a broader level, what it does is allow the actual connective part of a talent search — the interaction, the fitting in with the team, the networking — to fade away in favor of “Fill this out” or “Check our website.” It’s hard to get good people that way.

Another issue I’ve seen — and I’ve seen this with some big, Fortune 100 style companies — is the resume pair-down problem. Oftentimes, the people in the hiring manager range — 38 or above, middle to high middle management, potentially frazzled by a series of new responsibilities (a stereotype, yes, but oft accurate) — will do a first discussion with a recruiter about a specific role and throw out about 10-12 things that the candidate needs to have, often based on needs that have come up recently, and often based on needs that the hiring manager has been criticized about from above. There are good candidates everywhere, but very few people have all 12 of these things that someone is listing — so someone with 7, who could develop the other five in the role, is often cast out on first glance. That’s not a good thing.

Here’s another problem that I ran into the other day, and one that didn’t involve my hair: I applied for a gig helping to coordinate “rotational programs” for a company — essentially, I’d be helping recruit summer MBAs, working with their managers to determine if they got a full-time offer, and then helping coordinate their first 18 months of work in terms of activities, etc. Sounds fun and interesting (well, at least to me). I’ve never done this exact thing, but I’ve run on-boarding programs and other logistically-driven programs and whatnot. I got an interview for this job! Meaning, it seemed, someone looked at my resume and said, after a scan, “Well, it’s not all there, but I see some potential…” I was jazzed. Within three minutes of the phone call commencing, the recruiter said to me, “Well, it’s not all there, but …” I waited for the “… we see potential” and instead I got “… I’m not thinking this is a fit.” Boom, roasted.

This is the resume pair-down problem: American office life can be myopic. You are focused on the next quarter, or the next meeting, or the next project. There’s very little long-term view and planning in play; there are often many people tasked with that, but they too become focused on the day-to-day, hour-to-hour (only natural). So the hiring model becomes focused on the now, meaning we need people with these exact skills who can come in and do this right now. That’s awesome, but it’s not always going to be the case, especially with geographic restrictions. Sometimes you need the 7-of-12 skills person because he or she is a better fit than the 10-of-12 skills person, and, more importantly, maybe as that 7-of-12 grows his/her additional skills, he/she will be more valuable to the company going forward. 10-of-12 might only be able to do this job. Now we have management gridlock.

There are thousands of posts all over the Internet about improving your recruitment process and talent strategy, including here, here, here, and here. There’s also a ton of videos, like this one:

And this one:

The single most important thing in life — basically be it marriage, sex, athletics, a job, anything — is fit. Does this person fit with this team/culture and could this person stay here for a bit and develop and maybe become a leader? Fit is everything. However you plan to assess that, that’s what your process and strategy needs to channel around.

Now, with regards to my hair story, I probably wasn’t the best fit — so it’s all good. And look, superficiality matters, and we all know that by about the age of nine. That’s what happened. I did that part wrong and it’s on me. But in terms of the broader talent approach we’re seeing in America right now, some changes need to be made — it’s a challenge of the future.

Ted Bauer


  1. Ted.
    1.) I love you.
    2.) Next time bring a comb or better yet wear a fancy silken top hat.
    3.) I really appreciate this post. This was something that I thought about a TON when we were looking for new hires at my old job (and I was secretly job searching myself at the time). The way I see it is this: if you’re looking for someone to do a job, and your requirement is that they’re already done basically that exact job before, then you are looking for someone complacent and dull. Good luck with that.

    What do you think about the trend (is this even a trend? I might have made it up) of people putting their picture on resumes?

  2. Reblogged this on Plopcorn: Hot Buttered Fun and commented:
    Some interesting stuff here. Ted makes a point about “fit”: “The single most important thing in life — basically be it marriage, sex, athletics, a job, anything — is fit. Does this person fit with this team/culture and could this person stay here for a bit and develop and maybe become a leader? Fit is everything. However you plan to assess that, that’s what your process and strategy needs to channel around” which I think people in charge of hiring ought to be more up front about; I’d guarantee most job offers given are a result of the hiring manager *liking* a person a lot and less about their actual qualifications. Anyway, thanks Ted!

  3. I had to google Padfolio. I probably wouldn’t have fit either.

    On a more serious note, there are equity issues at play when everything is about fit. Fit can be used as code for “be like us and our team” and that can make things stagnate and bring in a lot of unconscious bias.

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