All is Not as it Seems: HR Lessons from Christmas in Connecticut

One of the movies I most look forward to watching each year is Christmas in Connecticut starring Barbara Stanwyck. It’s more romantic comedy than HR How To, but there are a few potential lessons.


barbara stanwyck

A Quick(ish) Summary

Elizabeth Lane writes a popular column for a women’s magazine describing her idyllic life as a homemaker on a picturesque farm with her husband and young son. Unlike the perfect homemaker image she portrays, in real life she is single, lives in a small apartment in NYC, and can’t cook. The recipes she writes about come from a friend who owns a restaurant and her descriptions of the farm are based on one owned by John, a successful architect whom she has repeatedly turned down for marriage. When her publisher invites himself and a war hero to her farm for Christmas, she knows he will learn the truth and she’ll lose her job. Desperate, she agrees to marry John and host Christmas at the farm. But, before they can be married by a local Judge, the guests arrive and chaos ensues as they try to hold the farce together.



  1. There’s a reason for checking references and verifying credentials. This is too obvious not to mention. It’s never revealed how she got the job but, because of her popularity, it would have cost the magazine considerable embarrassment and credibility if anyone discovered the truth.


  1. Job requirements are a filter, not a guarantee. Deception aside, she was very successful because her skill as a writer and imaginative detail overshadowed her inexperience as a homemaker. I don’t condone deception, but it does raise an important issue.


Job requirements are an easy way to identify and separate out the people most likely to be successful at a job. But in many cases, the “requirements” are just a best guess or even arbitrary and don’t truly have much to do with job performance (I’ll spare you my rants about college degrees or personality profiles). Too often, meeting all the requirements does not guarantee a person will be successful in the job while rejecting many who might be high performers.


Do any of your job requirements unnecessarily screen out people who might otherwise be fantastic? It’s easy to see if those hired are successful, but hard to tell which of those eliminated might otherwise have been successful. So, how do you know?


  1. The best ideas are those useful to you. She had zero expertise with anything she wrote about yet her readers revered her as the ideal they aspired to be. She didn’t have the credentials but she made the information useful to her readers.


Today, there is a lot of HR content pumped into the interwebz. Some is good, some sounds good, and some is just noise. Too much is positioned as cutting edge, aspirational HR Truth-with-a-capital-T when there is no one-size-fits-all. Different people and different situations are, well, different, and what works for one person in one situation might be an ugly fail in another. We all need to be discerning in deciding if something is true, useful, and could work in our particular situation. Caveat emptor.



  1. Connection with customers is crucial. When one column mentioned she was looking for a specific type of rocking chair, 40 readers purchased and shipped chairs to her as a gift. That’s connection.


What kind of connection does your HR team have with employees and managers? Are they raving fans, indifferent, or openly hostile? If HR was about to be outsourced, would employees fight to keep your team or cheer?



  1. Performance trumps. (Spoiler!) The publisher fired her for dishonesty and hired her back at double her pay when he realized he lost one of his most popular writers. It’s a reminder that, right or wrong, people who excel are often given a degree of latitude the average person never experiences.


Has your HR department created enough credibility and results to be given the benefit of the doubt and be listened to even when your advice or actions run counter to what leadership wants to do?



  1. Your choice. Watch the movie and let me know your biggest takeaways.



This post was written by Broc Edwards. Broc is a speaker and blogger on business, HR, and learning and development topics and has published the book “What Thinks You? A Fool’s Eye View of Human Resources”. Connect with him on Twitter @brocedwards or his website or blog fool (with a plan).

Is It Time To Re-Write That Job Posting?

If your HR Department is like mine, you’re juggling everything from applicant sourcing to COBRA administration and all points in between.

So when you write a job posting that effectively describes the role and responsibilities, you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot and found the Holy Grail! And you use that same post and verbiage over and over … and over and over … and over and over.

And once more again for good measure.

Over time, however, even the best of job postings get stale. And if you keep doing the old copy/paste of the same verbiage over and over, you’re eventually going to see a dip in both the quality and quantity of applicants for your positions. Why?

  • Applicants don’t read. We’ve heard over and over that recruiters and hiring managers only spend 5 – 10 seconds looking at applications. Well, applicants aren’t spending much more time looking at the jobs they’re applying to, either. They spend about 15 – 20 seconds reading job postings. So if you’re not updating your postings, you’ll end up with lots of duplicate applicants who either won’t remember applying before or will apply again because they don’t think you saw them the first time.


  • Applicants know you’re not serious. Whether it is your career site or a job board, the serious seeker sees when you’re using the same posting again and again without changing anything. When applicants see that you’re not serious enough about your postings to make routine adjustments, they think you’re not serious about your job requirements. So if you’re not updating your postings, you’ll end up with under-qualified and/or long-shot applicants who think their annoyance persistence might just pay off.


  • Applicants are perceptive. Remember, while you’re screening someone for that opening in your company, that someone is also screening you. When applicants see that you’re postings are routinely recycled, they wonder what kind of organization they’d be working for. How can you legitimately claim to be forward-thinking, innovative and cutting-edge if you haven’t updated your job post wording in over a year or more? If you want to attract top talent but you’re not updating your postings, you’ll end up running off those high performing applicants who think you won’t be able to further develop their talents.

Don’t cause open jobs to linger longer and hurt your talent pool by using stale job postings. If you’re not yielding the applicants that you want and need, it’s probably time to update that old faithful job posting with some fresh new wording.




Bringing that “Back to School” Magic to HR – part 2

In yesterday’s post, I talked about 3 simple ways HR can create magic for new hires like teachers going back to school. This post continues that thought by taking a look at how teacher’s set the tone and expectations in their classroom at the start of the new year …

My kids are in Year Round school. So for me, back to school happened right after the Independence Day holiday. My son started 4th grade while my daughter started 2nd grade.

On “Meet the Teacher” day, I was really impressed with the hallway of 2nd grade classes that would be my daughter’s new dwelling. The decorative themes were super creative; the desks and learning areas were all setup with supplies and inspiring instructions. The energy was bubbling over — it made me want to sit down to color, cut or create something!!



My son’s classroom was a little more low-key on decor. It was still warm and welcoming; however, it was clear that some serious learning was about to go down in that room. It made me sit up a little straighter and listen more intently to what was being said and done in that room.

In the midst of the buying supplies, clothes and shoes while snapping pictures and feeling nostalgic over how much and how fast our kids have grown, we lose sight of the hard work to come. Teachers don’t. Alongside the excitement and magic, teachers are setting the tone for the year through expectations.

In my son’s class this year, we had to sign a learning contract. It outlined the expectations for him as a student and me as his parent as well as his teacher’s commitments to us. I’d never seen anything like it before! I felt the weight of what this school year was going to mean for both of us in a way I really hadn’t before.

HR should do the same with new employees and employees promoted/reclassified into new positions in our organizations. Arguably, this should happen whenever a pay increase is given as well … but I’ll save that for another post.

HR must make sure our onboarding and orientation programs go beyond the customary signing of the I9 form, tax paperwork and acknowledgement of policy. We should seize the opportunity to set forth the expectations and metrics for success — for the employee, the supervisor and the manager. Set the tone and atmosphere by writing these down for everyone impacted to sign and agree. Outline how often the person will be evaluated against expectations and what financial gains, if any, they are likely to get. Make it plain from the outset so everyone knows and can legitimately be held accountable for outcomes.

To whom more is given, more is required and requirements shouldn’t be a guessing game or something discussed only when the person has missed the mark. Like teachers at the start of the new school year, HR should outline objectives and goals at the start of any a change in the employment relationship. This will ensure everyone starts out (and hopefully stays) on the path to success.



The Quest for an ATS

I’ve spent much of the last year working to improve my organization’s recruiting and hiring processes. One of the main goals was moving our application process completely online. Being a small staff, we have to make optimal use of technology to track the success of our hiring. Like all organizations, we need to maintain a steady flow of appropriate applicants to staff our business. And we need to be able to report and track those metrics.

Finding a reputable, affordable vendor to partner with was both too easy and too hard. Because there are dozens and scores out there! And they all proclaim to be the best at what they do … Fortunately, I have a professional network full of really smart and savvy HR geniuses to help navigate the selection minefield. Their recommendations have been invaluable. Who you know continues to matter almost as much as what you know.

In making a selection, one thing that was really important was the system’s ability to send notifications to the candidates about their status throughout the process. We get hundred of applications each month. Communicating with each applicant is important to us — especially because so many of them are or become customers. How we treat them during the hiring process has larger impact that we have to always keep in mind … More than just the standard “we received your application and will contact you if interested,” we hoped for something that would communicate automatically if the applicant didn’t meet current needs, didn’t score in the benchmarked range for assessments or just wasn’t a fit without making them so upset that they would never want to visit our locations or purchase our products again … It didn’t seem like a lot to ask.

But it turned out that it was. Repeatedly, I heard that the notices desired were not either not available or not recommended because there was too much risk involved in rejecting or upsetting the potential candidate.

Huh? So letting someone who has applied to work for you think you either never looked at their application and/or looked at it didn’t think enough of the person to respond at all is the better option??

C’mon man!!!

Applicants are screaming for feedback about their status. They want to know if they are in or out. They want to know if they are in the running or should move onto other opportunities. We should give it to them. There has to be a way to do that and still be lawful, appropriate and respectful.

If there isn’t, there should be. So I’ll keep looking and working until I find it or create it. The quest for the perfect applicant tracking system is far from over …

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