Confessions of the HR Department: "Drunk and bleeding is never a good start to an interview"

I have had to tell people their breath stinks, their thong shows, their flatulence is making their office mate gag, and that their perfume smells like rotting cat food.
Publish date:
March 12, 2012
career, work, jobs, hr

For the past 20 years (wow that hurts to type) I have worked in HR. I have hired hundreds of people, fired my fair share and laid off far too many. I have listened to people cry, bitch, moan, and scream. It's the best job ever.

I love people. People are messy, unpredictable, predictable, mean, caring, nasty, and unbelievable. All in the same day. It's my job to help the “human” element of a company perform at maximum efficiency. All this, and I play a killer game of buzzword bingo.

When I am not optimizing the bandwidth of my employer’s human capital or socializing a new message on a granular level (BINGO!), these are some of the deep thoughts that run through my brain:

Drunk and bleeding is never a good start to an interview.

Best candidate ever? Bleeding through shredded tights and positively reeking of alcohol. Then she excused herself for a moment to smoke a cigarette outside my office. Ladies and Gentlemen, the rare interview trifecta of poor judgment! What position was she hoping to land? Nurse.

Trite as it sounds, interviews are like dating. Show me your best self. Keep the crazy hidden until we’re going steady.

Excessive Self Esteem is an epidemic sweeping our country.

It may require a telethon. Excessive self-esteem is a condition lovingly coined by a colleague of mine. I have shamelessly adopted it. Symptoms include the belief that the sun shines out of your ass, the steadfast conviction that everyone has a problem except you, and a pervasive sense of entitlement. I assert that we could all use a healthy dose of self-awareness. No matter our contribution to a company, we are almost all replaceable and should try our best to act with grace and gratitude in our professional lives.

Do you own a mirror?

I only ask because I can’t believe you would possibly want me to know that you have pierced nipples. That I can see thanks to your sheer shirt-no bra combo. Or maybe you do want me to know? Then this conversation is going to go in a whole other direction… Yes, workplace “dress codes” vary greatly. But nobody ever went wrong by covering up their cash and prizes.

This hurts us as much as it hurts you.

Ah, the less pleasant part of my job. Firings. Lay-offs. Disciplinary actions. We have a heart. We understand how much of your sense of self is tied to your job. I genuinely feel for every employee I have ever had to fire or lay off. That doesn’t mean you maybe didn’t deserve to lose your job, but we do actually feel your pain, shock and embarrassment when it finally goes down. The HR professional who does not feel should not be in HR.

Feedback is a gift.

I have had to tell people their breath stinks, their thong shows, their flatulence is making their office mate gag, and that their perfume smells like rotting cat food. Lots of people rely on HR to have the difficult or embarrassing conversations they can’t have. We try and facilitate these conversations more than actually take them over, but sometimes the task falls to us to deliver the tough love.

Ever have to tell the person across the desk from you that their fly is down? And said person was free-balling it? Think about that the next time you struggle with telling a stranger they have toilet paper on their shoe.

There is a fine line between persistence and stalking.

I have been stalked no less than 3 times by people seeking jobs at various companies I have consulted with. Police involvement and all. There is a real reason I have a panic button in my office and I’m not afraid to use it. My job requires me to enter a closed-door environment with lots of strangers I meet on the Internet. It’s not nearly as hot as it sounds.

Next week on Lifetime Television: "Mommy I Interviewed with Danger" starring Jennifer Love Hewitt.

So many really, really smart people don’t understand their benefits.

Or read our emails. Now I realize far too many of us are uninsured or underinsured. Even more people don’t fully understand, or take the time to understand, what benefits they have, how to maximize them and how to access them. You pay good money for these things! Your employer pays even more. We want you to use and understand them. I could write a novel about this. Actually, I would have our benefits specialist write it because benefits can be damn tricky!

Here’s an assignment for everyone: See if your employer offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and find out what services they offer. You will feel like you won the lottery. Kind of.

A corollary to this thought is this -- when you don’t read benefits emails from us, you are missing deadlines and burning money. I sometimes think the surest way to have something ignored is to send it from HR. And that hurts my feelings.

I wish I had as much power as you seem to think I do.

No, I can’t singlehandedly get you a raise, different assignment or a nicer office. I can’t change your goals or the business plan of the company. HR is a support function. We provide guidance and a different point of view for our leaders. We use influence any way we can and we have to prove our value to the organization every damn day. It is our role to help the business achieve its goals. And sometimes that’s the opposite of power.

Take your performance off the table. Want to talk to me about your unfair boss or the co-worker that seems to get away with murder? Great, I’m all ears. But rest assured, I will ask about your job performance. If you slack off or don’t perform the core function of your job well, it’s pretty hard to tell if your manager is being mean, or just, you know, managing you.

There are awful bosses out there and some co-workers do nothing all day and seem to get all the breaks. But 9 times out of 10, your job performance plays into how you are treated. Remove all performance issues and it’s much easier to sort it out. I am fortunate that a wise woman shared this advice with me when I needed to hear it otherwise I would have been fired. And I do not have the inner thigh strength to work the pole.

Now, make no mistake, if you are being harassed, truly mistreated or the victim of a hostile work environment, I have your back and will make it my business to protect you. Which brings me to…

Your labia may be unique, but I’ve seen so many it doesn’t really faze me or make me love you any less.

Much like the gynecologist sees your most personal parts and doesn’t giggle, there is very little you can tell me that will shock me. Marital problems, financial woes, rehab, sexual harassment, mental illness? I’ve heard it all. I don’t forever look at you as the one who can’t make deadlines because your head hasn’t been in the game since you husband left you for the nanny. You will not always be the guy we sent to treatment for drinking on the job.

When you come to me for help, tell me your tale in its entirety. Tell me what you need, how you feel and how it’s affecting you. There is no shame in needing help. I would much rather you came to me so we can face it together than have to clean up after you.

This profession has been very good to me and I love what I do. My job teaches me something new every day and has left me with little if any internal filter. I ask complete strangers what they make and frequently offer up unsolicited career advice to my friends.

It’s a calling and a curse. No one ever says “Woo Hoo!! HR is here” when we enter an office happy hour, but you’d miss us if we disappeared.