March 28, 2011

Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?

Filed under: Getting in the door, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks

In the March 29, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that employers’ demands are very inappropriate. She says she’s applying for a job — not a loan. What’s up with consent forms to access personal credit records and other private information?

I had a good phone interview for a job that seems interesting. I’m visiting them next week for an interview. Today, they sent me an e-mail application (a wee bit premature… I’m not sure I want to apply until after the in-person interview) and, more shocking, a consent form to check my credit report. I think this is beyond inappropriate, not to mention the fact that my report is locked because my husband had his identity stolen a few years ago, and we have no idea where it was swiped from.

So, my question, how do I politely tell them I’m not filling out the forms until after the interview, and until I’ve decided to move forward? Do I even need to explain about the credit report? Is this a new thing? Why on earth would they need my credit report in the first place? They’re not loaning me money.

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Proctology?Imagine being asked to fill out a marriage license and to take a blood test before you have a first date with someone. Or to hand over your credit report before visiting a car dealer? Or to bend over for an exam before going on a job interview?

The explanation for this is simple. The HR department at this company doesn’t recruit or impress. This company’s HR department practices Pure Bureaucracy. Clueless about attracting talent, it serves warrants for information instead. I’m surprised they haven’t asked you to provide a urine sample yet. (Don’t laugh.)

You are right to question the request, and to decline to provide the information until after you have met with the hiring manager. If the company doesn’t have adequate information on which to base an interview, then it should not be talking to you.

Will saying “No” result in the interview getting cancelled? It might. There is always the chance that a company will dump you if you don’t do what it asks. On the other hand, most such requests are routine, and when people ignore them, companies often don’t even notice until it’s “too late.”

Here are your options:

  • Politely tell them you’d like to meet with the manager first. “If there’s mutual interest, then I’d be glad to fill out the forms. But a meeting is necessary to help us both decide that.”
  • Just ignore the request, show up, and do the interview. If they ask where the paperwork is, don’t pretend you forgot or were too busy. That would make you appear irresponsible. Instead, use the statement above. By then, you’re there, and they can deal with it.
  • Give them what they want. I don’t think this is a good option, because as you point out, it not only puts you at risk, it’s inappropriate and it’s a waste of your time.

I would not provide consent for a credit report, or even fill out application forms, until after you decide you’re really interested… [The rest of this advice is in the newsletter. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

If they press you, and you’re still interested in talking to a company that funds a bureaucracy, I I’d be frank: Your credit is locked because your identity has already been stolen:

How to Say It
“Many companies rely on third parties to perform credit and background investigations, and I know some of that checking is done overseas, in countries with no privacy protections. Having been seriously burned, my policy is not to grant consent unless I know exactly who is doing the checking, who will have access to my private information, and what will happen to it afterwards. I don’t permit my private information to be stored in anyone’s database. My lawyer would slap me if I did otherwise — this has already cost my husband and me a lot of money. I’m sure you understand.”

You could also ask the employer to sign a letter accepting liability if your information falls into the wrong hands. Then ask for a list of names of people who will have access to the information.

How to Say It
“I’m sure you realize… [Sorry, you’ve gotta get the free newsletter for the rest…]

Invasions of privacy by employers who have no vested interest in you, and that have not put their own skin into the game yet, are common. This is not a new thing… But again — taking a strong position could cost you an interview or a job. It’s up to you how far you go…

Sometimes you’ve got to wonder which department you’re walking into when you appear for a job interview. Is this HR, or Proctology? If people keep letting employers, investigators and background checkers poke around where they don’t belong, can the doctor be far behind?

Do companies seriously believe they’re recruiting when they tell you to drop trou and stand for inspection? Even before an interview? That’s not recruiting. It’s a joke. How far will HR go to abuse people before it tries to attract them? How impressed are you with a company that behaves this way?

And HR wonders why there’s a “talent shortage.” The only shortage is of common sense when recruiting and hiring. What do you do when employers want to check your teeth before they make you smile? (In case anyone got offended, I switched metaphors… so please post your comments and share your stories and suggestions.)


58 Comments on “Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?”
By Nick Corcodilos
April 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm

@IT Pro: My guess is that this “company” poached legal terms from multiple websites in an effort to “protect itself” and to “maximize its return on investment.”

In other words, the people running this company are not worth talking to.

But your main point is well worth repeating: Stuff like this does not happen without the support of dopey job hunters who will do anything to get nothing but the promise of a possible job lead.

Gimme a break. Great story. Thanks for sharing it. Online job hunting and recruiting have degenerated into trolling for bait fish using rotten fish heads.

By Congress Should Act
May 1, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Yet another typical example of a stupid abuse that Congress will have to regulate. For the vast majority of employees, their credit is no more relevant to their work than a degree is to their intelligence. Using either as a proxy for the other is just another lazy way to screen out imaginary risks.

By Chris
March 23, 2012 at 3:13 am

I always find it rather ironic that with this barrage of requests for credit checks, facebook passwords and other pre-op requirements that employers consistently, over the last couple of decades, also complain about the increasing difficulty of finding qualified and strong candidates. Think a process that has nothing to do with a candidate might be the answer?

In my company we do not do this for any position unless absolutely required – after acceptance of a job offer. Background checks are always done. Credit checks only if you are in a position that will give access and authority over corporate finances. Social network passwords (or even using it to review candidates) – not allowed. College degrees are not even a requirement unless the position really requires it (such as having a law degree to pass bar for our legal department). In fact, not to knock those with a college education, the education level in our company with the highest percentage of consistently high performers is – “Some College”. Funny, that is usually the same education level of many wealthy and successful business people also.

I have found, by eliminating most of the junk above which has nothing to do with whether a candidate can perform a job or not has helped us find great people. As the owner and CEO of the business, not to sound cold, but that is all I care about at the end of the day – can a candidate perform the position and contribute to the success of the company. All the other stuff has nothing to do with this.

In the past, I once was recruited into a company that had the same attitude my company currently does in hiring. In 25 years, it was the best group of people I had every worked with in my career. Everyone was excellent at their job and contributed to the success of the company. Strange that what they did was ignore these silly practices and ended up with a company of great talent (and it showed in the remarkable growth and company performance).

So, in the end, who are these practices really hurting? The company itself. These are simply practices in self-defeat.

By Chris
March 23, 2012 at 3:27 am

@Ed Parsons:

Sorry, have to disagree with your reasoning on two grounds.

First, people are the backbone of any company – not cogs in a machine. The success of failure of a company is based on this, and nothing else! Stop acting as if everyone is a cog.

Second, these practices have not, in any way, shape or form been proven to produce better candidates or hires – AT ALL! In fact, these practices have proven the opposite. So, as a business owner, I would ask you to show me the metrics that these practices, which are NOT required by law, are producing better candidates.

It is not about forms and procedures, it is about finding the best people for the job. Somewhere, this has been lost along the way for many, many companies.

By Todd
May 30, 2012 at 1:50 am

I was recently told that because of a great amount of medical debt, I was not employable by a given IT company. As such, I went looking for details about my report, and obtained a free copy of my report from transunion. On this report it showed the hiring company had recently requested a copy of my report. It showed a great amount of detail, but not my credit score. Most of the entries were in fact related to medical debt. It varies by state, but I wonder if this was being considered by the hiring company, as it is illegal in some places to consider this as part of the score. Additionally, there is no facility to re-score an individual omitting some or all of the entries related to medical bills. There were a couple errors on the report as well, nothing huge, totaling around $350. There was one entry which is recent from an eviction, following a job loss, which together with a couple utilities totaled about $3750. So to sum up, a total amount of bad debt just over $4000, prevents me from getting a $12 per hour job!? What has our country come to? I have spent considerable time and expense in the past to correct my bad debt, and until these medical bills happened it was all fixed. Now that my wife is diagnosed as epileptic the bills have tapered off, but to get that diagnosis we built up around $30k in bad debt. Recently my youngest son started having symptoms similar to my wife. I am stuck in a situation now where I cannot find work, and may have many thousands in new debt due to this medical condition my dependants have. Without a doubt, this should be completely illegal, and doesn’t relate at all to wether or not the individual can perform a given job. In the IT industry, PCI compliance is a norm. However, weeding out the people who will not steal information (like credit card numbers) has nothing to do with a persons credit rating. It could be argued that anyone who hasn’t been caught doing this may have already done it, with just as much intelligence behind the arguement (none). In fact it could probably go further to state that those with poor credit accept it, and pay for it to a far greater extent than anyone else in our society, monetarily and socially speaking. This all just makes me feel sick to my stomach, as I am a great computer tech and administrator. We need to stop letting big business treat us like dog sh1t and take a stand.

By Anna Mouse
June 9, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Speaking of HR and not so good hiring decisions/processes. I was working at one of the largest employers in the USA and I overheard the HR staff talking about a potential hire. One HR person said that he (the candidate) did not seem like a people person. To put this into perspective – the job they were tasked with filling would be an accounting position pulling data from various systems and would required intense concentration throughout the day. Furthermore, for one reason or another the terminals and desk were located in the basement with no windows and no co-workers. Now why in the world would you need a “people person” for a job where you could likely make it through the day without speaking to another human being?

By Nick Corcodilos
June 9, 2014 at 10:28 pm

@Anna Mouse: Because when HR pulls on the latex glove to check the candidate, HR knows best.

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number
August 12, 2014 at 12:04 pm

[…] It’s time for employers to stop demanding information they don’t need to recruit you. Today, HR departments ask for the kitchen sink simply because they have a database for kitchen sinks. “We’ll just get all the person’s data up front, so we don’t have to do it later.” More cynically, “We’ll get all their data before we even decide they’re viable candidates because then we can use a keyword scan to quickly reject people we haven’t even talked to yet.” (Less politely: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?) […]

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