Back-Channel Hiring Becoming Normal Practice: Unfair?

Back-channel hiring is when a job will go unadvertised or advertised internally and filled by hiring managers who rely on their own contacts, networking within a select pool, or with someone already in mind for the position before posting it publicly.

With a weak labor market, back-channel methods are becoming the rule, not the exception. Many open jobs are never advertised at all, or are posted only after a leading candidate has been acknowledged. Sometimes a hiring manager will even create a new position ahead of schedule to accommodate a favored prospect.

Why do companies post seemingly open positions only after a potential hire has been identified, or skip posting altogether? The practice is legal and omnipresent in all work environments. However, it is especially frustrating for job-seekers not in the know, who don’t realize they’re applying for an unattainable position, as they hang in perpetual limbo hoping to hear back for an interview. Please see “Seven In Ten Businesses Affected By A Bad Hire: Whose Fault Is It?

Hiring managers defend the practice, indicating they can’t afford to wait. If they feel they have an ideal candidate in mind, they move rapidly to attain them in lieu of posting the position for all to apply. According to The Wall Street Journal, while this “hidden” job market frustrates applicants, companies point out that it is perfectly legal to hire without advertising a job or to advertise one almost certain to be filled by an insider. They say internal hires generally perform better than external ones, at least initially, as research has shown.

Job-seekers would rather the position not be advertised at all if the hiring managers are not intending to hire beyond their nepotism or favoritism of those within their network. It’s misleading and creates false hope in the mind of the person seeking a job, thinking perhaps this will be the one. However, if all jobs were handled that way, the scales would always be tipped in the unfair advantage of some over others.

There are no legally specific requirements for employers to advertise every job vacancy that arises. However, the risk in recruiting friends, family or other contacts of current employees without advertising a vacancy externally is that this may give rise to allegations of unlawful discrimination.

The practice of back-channel hiring skirts the lines of legality regarding Equal Employment Opportunity, monitored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal law enforcement agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. The EEOC investigates discrimination complaints based on an individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, genetic information, retaliation for reporting, and participating in a discriminatory practice.

Ideally, anyone applicable for the position should be given the opportunity to apply for it, and can potentially fall within the protection of the EEOC if they feel they were unfairly overlooked and discriminated. Applicants who do not hear about a vacancy until it is too late to apply for it because candidates have been sought through an informal recruitment process may be able to claim discrimination on the basis that the recruitment method was a discriminatory arrangement.

If the best fit for a position just so happens to be someone you know it is not a deplorable concept to alert them to the job. It is how most of us hear about opportunities, networking through friends and loved ones. But for hiring managers it is a slippery-slope of trying to even-handedly weigh the best candidates when friends are involved.

The Wall Street Journal suggests ways of making yourself stand out in hopes of getting in on the inside track with hiring managers who are prolific about conducting business in this manner. They suggested frequently making coffee and lunch dates with managers in other departments so you can be on their radar in the event your department is downsized. Be candid with your boss if you are concerned about a potential higher up position opening up, as you want the focus on you and not someone else. Seek networking opportunities with hiring managers. Duncan Mathison, co-author of “Unlock the Hidden Job Market,” says:

“A lot of people make the mistake of just showing up at a networking event and meeting with other unemployed people.” But he does not suggest ways of making direct connections with hiring managers other than to engage in panel discussions about key issues and participating in happy hour.

How is this helpful to the unemployed? How do you find the in with the in man or woman? How are you expected to network when the only commonality you have with a hiring manager is that you need a job and they might have one to offer? But you don’t want any job, you want the one you are best suited for. This explains why some people resort to street-walking with sandwich-board resumes. Some people are introverts or socially awkward. Are they expected to only network online? I can just imagine what the inboxes of some hiring managers’ look like if people are expected to endear themselves to them on a personal level in order to be in the know for an upcoming inside job.

Hence why there should be a more fair application processes in place, allowing a potential applicant to see a real job posting, reply to it, and wait to hear something (if anything) back on whether or not they are in consideration for the position. If for any reason a company feels there is someone internally that can do the job better, offer it to them first and don’t bother stringing along the hopes of others with a faux ad. If they don’t want the position, great, please post it for the rest of us.