When you think of the words “human resources” what images come to mind?  What thoughts and feelings?  What emotions?

While I can’t speak for all professionals out there, there’s no question that a healthy contingent of job hunters have gotten frustrated (the most common word I hear) with HR departments and how they feel they’ve been treated during the hiring process by various folks in the HR/Recruiting field.  This isn’t terribly surprising, however.  As with any corporate profession, you’ll find a bell curve of “good” and “bad” practitioners in the HR world, some of whom bring amazing value and integrity to their work — as well as others who seem to delight in gamesmanship, paper-shuffling, and obstructionism.

Additionally, while not to excuse the bad apples, let’s cut the HR profession a little extra slack, in general, based on the fact that they are the ones forced to “play point” in the hiring process and to handle all of the communication with candidates — despite the fact that they don’t always agree with the decisions/timelines they are asked to pass along — and that they often have little control over the whims, political infighting, nepotism, and irrational thinking exhibited by the hiring managers and executives within their organization.

This being said, what else can we learn from an HR perspective of the hiring process?  To help answer this question, I recently hosted a networking event where I asked three local HR executives to participate in a panel discussion around this topic.  I’ll withhold their names from this article, since I haven’t gotten their permission to disclose them, but I want to thank these fine folks again (if they’re reading this post) for volunteering their time to the group and for the outstanding insights and contributions they brought to the discussion.

Here’s my best attempt at paraphrasing their key points:

Help us to help you; we really do want to fill the positions we list and to serve as your advocate, in most cases, but you need to arm us with precise, relevant examples of how you can meet our needs.  What specific information and achievements can you share with us that will help us sell your candidacy to the hiring manager, especially when this manager likely thinks we should be able to recruit “superman for a dollar a day” in today’s recessed marketplace?

Smile and be gracious; while it may surprise you, we have feelings, too!  It’s amazing how many candidates are pushy, rude, or don’t act the least bit friendly or nice in our interactions with them.  If you treat us as the enemy, you’re going to be finished before you even start, and you’d be amazed at just how far a smile, a little humor, and basic common courtesy can get you throughout the hiring process.

Make our job easier; we’re doing emergency surgery right now, screening hundreds of resumes for almost every published opening, so please specify the job name/number in your e-mail Subject line and include your first name, last name, and job title in the file name of your resume (e.g. Resume of John Doe — Financial Analyst.doc) to make finding your documentation as easy as possible, after the fact.

Please answer our salary questions.  While we don’t expect you to give us exact figures, you need to at least give us a rough range around the compensation you’re seeking so we don’t waste each others’ time.  We’re not going to intentionally lowball you, even in this economy, because we don’t want to deal with refilling the job six months down the road.  And please don’t quote salary.com as if it was the “Bible” of current pay rates, since their data seems to consistently be at least 10% above the real market value for most positions.

Yes, cover letters still count; but please be brief, paste these notes directly into the e-mail body, and focus your thoughts like a laser beam around the most important requirements we’ve stated in our ad.

Final tips? 1) LinkedIn is a critically important tool we use for hiring, so make sure to be on it; 2) While you can definitely follow up at least once, if we haven’t responded to you, please don’t bug us more than that — since we’ll definitely get back to you, if we’re interested and/or have any new information to report; and 3) and lastly, while not every HR person may agree, it usually IS a smart idea to go around the HR department and speak with a hiring manager directly in the company, if you’re able to find a useful networking connection there

Hopefully I’ve captured the above thoughts faithfully, based on what the panel of experts shared.  And again, I think all job hunters would do themselves a tremendous service by viewing HR as their “customer” and treating them accordingly — despite the lack of timely feedback that is often part of the process these days, as well as the occasional snippy treatment you might receive from an HR practitioner who is having a bad day or perhaps a little less “enlightened” than others.