Pierre Tremblay can't undo April 29, 2015, the day someone on his human resources (HR) team accidentally sent a "You didn't get the job" email to about 110 job applicants—including people the company wanted to hire. He can make sure it never happens again.
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Like that misdirected email, the happily-ever-after you want from your HR management technology can quickly turn into a nightmare. Some nightmares can't be avoided. Others can be avoided if you take steps to decrease the risk of messing up. Company owners and people managers such as Tremblay who've lived through their own HR tech nightmares also suggest pinning down exactly what you need before reviewing vendors and picking software. Ask questions. Run tests. Look past smooth-talking sales reps to grill the people who'll be managing your account. In other words, do your homework.
"This would not have happened if we had used the proper software," said Tremblay, Director of HR for Dupray, a Montreal-based maker of environmentally friendly steam cleaners and irons. "We could have avoided this by being more professional about it."
An Applicant Tracking Mistake of Their Own MakingDupray has about 30 employees at its Montreal headquarters and a total of approximately 100 worldwide. In a spring 2015 hiring blitz tied to the company's expanding business, Tremblay was looking to fill seven manager and non-manager positions. He posted job openings on Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster, and used a combination of Gmail and the company's customer relationship management (CRM) software to manage applications, schedule interviews, and handle follow ups. Tremblay and his HR team used a shared email address to receive applications and reply to job candidates. They created a master folder in Gmail for the hiring spree, and within it, unique folders for each candidate.
On the fateful day, one of Tremblay's HR colleagues meant to send a rejection letter to an applicant named Tricia. Instead, he hit "Reply All" and sent it to every name in the master hiring folder. The staffer immediately knew that he'd made a mistake but it was too late. "What was done [was] done. We needed to figure out how to fix it," Tremblay said.
He alerted the company's top brass and, together with the HR team, that evening they called or emailed everyone who'd received a "Dear Tricia" letter. The HR staff already had ruled out 90 of the 110 applicants as prospects, but Tremblay felt the company owed them all a personalized explanation of what had happened, along with reasons why they weren't being considered for a job.
Dealing with the other 20 candidates was harder. Most understood what Tremblay characterized as a "clerical error." But half a dozen were upset. One woman who'd interviewed for the same job as Tricia assumed the rejection letter meant she was getting the offer instead. In the end, six of seven people Dupray made job offers to accepted and the seventh declined for a better opportunity.
The incident led Tremblay to make several changes to his recruiting processes before hiring five more employees earlier this year. He still uses the company's CRM software, but got Dupray's in-house programmers to customize it so that emails to job applications are automated. Today, HR staff must click through a series of fail-safe reminders before any email goes out to a job candidate. "It's all about having technology verify your decision," he said. "You need to make that conscious decision that, yes, this is what I want to do."
Software That Doesn't Match the Demo A few years back, Peter Johnson thought he was being smart by evaluating a handful of cloud-based payroll vendors before picking what he thought was the best fit for his then-current employer, a fast-growing small business that had hired him to help them increase staff.
After evaluating more than seven vendors, Johnson chose a well-known, national payroll processor that was in the middle of updating its software. The vendor promoted the service as platform-agnostic, working equally well on Mac and PC operating systems (OSes). Within two weeks of rolling it out, though, Johnson said he and other Mac users on staff saw strange characters appear in the user interface (UI). There were other problems, too, including the fact that the service wasn't really cloud-based.
"There was a remote connection that had to be created through a virtual computer," Johnson explained. "What we expected to happen wasn't happening. There were starts and stops. Some of the HR professionals who were going to be living in the system day in and day out didn't want to move forward with the software and neither did I."
He pulled the plug and went with the payroll vendor that had been his second choice. The vendor who'd been his first pick didn't bill the company for anything, so the biggest cost the HR staff incurred was time they'd spent creating reports and getting data ready to use in a system they ultimately abandoned.
Looking back, Johnson said he might have uncovered potential problems by involving the company's information technology (IT) department in the vendor evaluation process so they could have asked deeper tech-related questions. "But some things you don't see until the rubber hits the road," he said. "At least we weren't two or three months into it."
Johnson used what he learned when he joined his current employer, RizePoint, a Salt Lake City-based compliance management software maker. After Johnson joined RizePoint as Vice President of HR in 2015, he was asked to choose new payroll and HR management software for the company's workforce, which numbers less than 100. This go around, he evaluated small and large vendors. For the company's HR management system, he chose a smaller vendor that it's relatively new, growing quickly, and has a "current" look and feel with which Johnson connected. Ironically, for payroll, he chose the same national vendor from which he'd previously walked away. In the interim, the vendor rebuilt its entire system. "The payroll administration function works well and the reporting module is great," he said.