One of the things that happen in our world is increasing significance of various paperwork. Of course, the term “paperwork” shouldn’t be taken literarily since most documents of various kinds are processed electronically – and this strengthens this trend tremendously. In more and more places one has to present himself through various documents, either to identify himself or to prove his worth through various diplomas, certificates and the like. It has two aspects which I find particularly odious – limiting freedom and dehumanizing relations between people. While many concentrate on the former I’ve seen very few discussions of the later. And in my opinion the field in which dehumanization I’m referring to is most visible is hiring, mainly in large corporations.

We live in the age of, what I call, “database hiring” in which people seeking work are reduced to unidimensional records in recruiters’ databases. What so called “hiring managers” are looking for is not a complex individual but a set of skills easily expressible in numbers and short abbreviations. The numbers represent years of experience given candidate claims with desired list of narrowly defined skills, the abbreviations stand for various diplomas, titles or certificates are recorded next to a name and telephone in their database. Hiring therefore is nothing more than merely formulating and running a database query with the help of a more or less complex user interface.

The language reflects this change and right now “human resources” is used much more than “personnel” or “staff”. A “human resource” is just as any other resource in company’s books, it is bought, used and disposed of when necessary. It is reduced to numbers like salary, employee category, numerical evaluation of performance as well as absence etc. which can be processed to produce statistics, create rankings etc. An employee is as disposable and interchangeable as, say, a file server or a truck. When you need a new one you just specify the desired parameters, search the database and – voila! – you have your candidates.

Consequently, to get hired one has to be able to establish a visible presence in a candidates database, which can be achieved mainly through various diplomas and professional titles – the more the better. Market responds to the need and in addition to traditional, academic titles & diplomas we now have a myriad of certifications in almost any field imaginable along with dozens of titles like MCSE or PMP.

Of course, what I’m whining here about is justified by the conditions – the need to quickly react to the market conditions, fierce competition also amongst job seekers and – last but not least – systems, tools that make it the easiest way. And, indeed, all those diplomas and titles are an indication of something – although in most cases not of what they claim to guarantee. They show more than anything else one’s dedication to a certain career and willingness to play by the rules of the paperwork world.

However, this brave new world of “database recruiting” and “human resources” comes at a cost. First, it produces people who have lots of fancy credentials but are not able to perform in the real world. I’ve met some and I think everyone who had been in the trade long enough had. Second, it filters out people who are either self-learners or who have wide and diverse interests but are not very focused. Again, I think everyone can recall an example of both from his (or hers) own experience. Third, and most important loss, is that dehumanizing aspect of those practices which I mentioned. It’s more elusive, harder to define than other results but that doesn’t make it less real.

Interestingly, truly great companies have a quite different approach to both hiring and treating their people. Google is a shining example now, recruiting its people through complex problems publicly posted on the web – if someone is good enough to solve them he passes the first selection and is in the recruiting processes. Microsoft, in the days of its greatness, and Apple also used recruiters personally approaching suitable candidates rather than database queries.

But there are some good examples outside of IT. The best is of course Toyota whose good treatment of its workers is legendary – and both financial results and quality of their products show that this is a right way. And, most importantly, that there is another way than what the rest does.