Finding a Job in HR: Just Say No

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You’re looking for a job in Human Resources. You want to make a difference and be a respected and high performing member of an organization. You’ve done the work of defining your value, and further refined it into your professional belief system. Now it’s time to think about which organizations match best to your needs and desires. But before we do this, let’s talk about power.

In this stagnant economy, there’s a tendency by candidates seeking work to be less discriminating about the types of jobs they’re willing to do. It can be for many reasons–an eagerness to get their career started, financial pressures, creating a sense of self worth that comes from working–and they’re respectable reasons. With that, I would encourage HR job seekers to understand, practice, and feel comfortable with this word: NO.


“No” is a powerful word in the recruitment arena. When companies let you know that you’re not being considered for the position applied for, essentially they’re saying, “No, we’re not going to hire you.” In the recruitment process “No” is a brick wall, a punch in the gut, a signal that things didn’t go as planned.

(As an aside, Bill Boorman, a recovering Recruiter now turned consultant, shared a great experience at the #truNewYork unconference that was held recently. With one company he worked with, a multinational restaurant chain opening a brand new location, candidates that didn’t get selected weren’t told “No.” They were told, “Not now” and encouraged to reapply at a later time. In other words, they shifted the candidate’s perception. You didn’t feel as if you had one shot to be a part of this company and that’s that; it just didn’t work out at this time. A simple and brilliant statement to better manage the recruitment process for candidates.)


So how does this word benefit job seekers? Here are a few ways:

  • It helps to define what your core values. In a previous post I discussed that your professional belief system helps to define which roles and/or companies you want to be a part of. Implicit in that is that not all roles/companies will be suitable for you at this time. In essence, you’re already saying no to any company not inline with your professional belief system. Being able to say no based on them tests and strengthens this system.
  • It gives you a measure of power in the recruitment process. At one time when I was between roles I was approached by a recruitment firm. They liked my resume and wanted to talk about a position available that they felt I would be suited for. I had a great conversation and learned some valuable things about the company. In the end I said, “No.” It wasn’t the right fit. It wasn’t easy to do; even as I said it I was screaming in my head, “Dude, you have bills to pay!” Yet I knew that if I accepted the role I wouldn’t be the asset they needed me to be. It wouldn’t have been fair to them or me.
  • It’s a signal to those around you that you have standards. As a consultant, I receive offers from numerous people and companies asking for my help. Sometimes it’s a simple question, other times it’s for more. When it comes to my services, I will say no to parties that don’t meet my standards for professional behavior. For example, if they want me to beta test their product for free, or offer me a chance to blog on their website for ridiculously low pay. It’s not just about the money; sometimes the company isn’t one I want to do business with. I also don’t do business with spammers. Saying no reinforces to others that your knowledge, skills, and abilities have value.


In conclusion, being able to say no tests and reinforces your professional belief system, gives you a measure of power, and signals your professional standards to those around you. Used correctly, it reduces distractions from your HR job search. Be mindful of its power and get comfortable with saying, “No.”

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