Back when networking was (almost) illegal

Note: I still observe what is happening in corporate hiring and retention. I freelance and consult because that’s presented the best opportunities for me. But it’s not a religion. If the perfect job comes along, I’m open to it . . . but I’m not actively looking.

Back in the 1970s I was affirmative action / equal employment opportunity officer for an Ohio state government agency.

I wasn’t exactly in the front lines of fighting for truth, justice and the American way of life.

In fact, most of what I did involved maintaining records on agency staffing by race, gender and disability.

The second part of the job was planning and conducting training on how to implement affirmative action and equal employment opportunity.

Ready for the most important lesson I taught?

Even if you don’t intentionally discriminate, there is another form of discrimination called “disparate effect.” Disparate effect is when your hiring practices unintentionally discriminate.

For instance, people tend to have friends and relatives similar to themselves. So if you hire people because they have been recommended by current employees, you are perpetuating discriminatory hiring practices.

Let me make that a little clearer: Don’t hire people because they are relatives or friends of current employees. Intentionally recruit beyond this inner circle.

Yes, you read that right! Networking used to be bad! Verging on illegal!

The solution?

Gather more resumes! I would preach.

Of course in those days we didn’t have the Internet. No Monster. No CareerBuilder. The main tool for recruitment was the metropolitan Sunday paper’s career sections (that is “sections” with an “S” at the end because there were so many job ads). State agencies also made special efforts to advertise in minority newspapers, on community bulletin boards, with administrators at relevant professional colleges, etc.

Today the HR function appears to be in a state of meltdown. Too many resumes are overwhelming the system—even with electronic sorting software and interns to sort manually.

So they have turned to a great solution. (I’m being sarcastic here.) Give special attention to resumes hand carried to the hiring manager by a current employee. Then consign everything submitted through public channels to the recycling bin.

Experts agree that networking is the most effective way to get a job. That’s true at the moment, but that doesn’t mean the situation is desirable.

When executives and HR personnel become complacent and decide to go with well-connected candidates, even at the expense of well-qualified candidates, that’s a sad, sad story.


5 responses to “Back when networking was (almost) illegal

  1. Pingback: Twitted by DianaSchneidman

  2. I’m sure we both long for the day when people are finally hired based on nothing except their ability to do the job. If it does arrive, I anticipate much debate over the methods used to gauge that ability!

  3. Steve, I agree. One of the big questions is what do you do about applicants who are overqualified. Do you hire the person who is best qualified (which may mean tremendously overqualified) or do you hire the person who exactly meets the stated job requirements?

  4. I used to work for a New York publisher, one of only two that were union organized at the time. When a job opening occurred, supervisors would conduct quiet, word-of-mouth searches,; surreptitiously interview off site; select a candidate; and then post the job in the restrooms. As you can guess, no one who actually applied ever quite fit the specs. Everyone was happy (except the occasional applicant), and the union looked the other way.

  5. Jim, yes, essentially that is what is happening now at some employers. However, “networking” is in no way surreptitious. It’s simply the way things are done. HR managers and others who volunteer their time to speak to job clubs recommend networking without any recognition that the process shortchanges those who are better qualified but lack connections.

    Another thing that is amusing (but very sad) is all the time and money put into writing the “perfect” resume. But in practice, the best resume is the one that is hand-carried in by a top executive and has a note like “Joe’s golf buddy” written in the top margin. If you’ve got the right notation, it doesn’t matter that your profile paragraph is full of meaningless jargon and there’s a typo on page 2.

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