A very good friend of mine was the Operations Manager of a mid-sized video production house in Manhattan. When one of his best producers left and they'd picked up two major clients, he decided that there was room to bring on a new full-time producer and got the position approved.
So, like a good corporate citizen, he went to HR and they turned his fairly simple requirements into a long and complicated online ad that went out to all the major job boards. Two weeks later, he was given a pile of résumés.
After reading them, he went back to HR and said, "You know, none of these people really seem to have what we need. I'm just not excited about any of them and I know that there are better people out there."
He was told that all the résumés submitted had been gone through very carefully and the ones he was holding were definitely and absolutely the pick of the crop.
As he was standing in the HR office, he noticed a pile of résumés on a side table and began to leaf through them.
"Wow," he said. "These people look great! Much better than the ones you've given me. What's wrong with them?"
Well, they were eliminated because they didn't have a degree in Communications."
"But Communications majors are a joke and, anyway, they weren't even being offered when these people went to college."
"It's a requirement on the official Job Request so they were eliminated."
"Who put that requirement in? I didn't."
"We did. We're a Communications company so employees should have a Communications degree."
There was a second pile underneath those doomed because they lacked the proper college major. He picked them up and started reading. These were even better - strong, experienced people with network experience, awards and great references.
So what was wrong with them?
"They were making too much money at their last job. We don't think they'll be happy working at the wages we want to pay them."
My friend practically exploded. "We're in a recession! These people are all out of work - don't you think they could learn to get by on what's available? Heck, I have."
He hired someone from the reject piles who, to my knowledge, is still at the company.
The lesson here is that, since HR people almost never know what it is that their company does, their criteria for selection have to be based on looking for a precise fit to a specific - and generally arbitrary - set qualifications. There is no room in their world for anyone who has ever gone outside the proverbial box and yet these are precisely the people who are the most likely to be the best hires.