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25 Things Your HR Department Isn’t Telling You

HR professionals reveal their insider secrets, including what they think about the hiring process, your resume, and even how you send them thank-you notes.

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It pays to get along

“The No. 1 thing in job security is your relationship with your boss. Even if he says, ‘I’m sorry I really wanted to keep you, but they made me lay you off,’ that’s almost never true. He probably made that decision.”—Cynthia Shapiro, former human resource executive and author of  Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know

“Even in jobs where you test applicants and those with the top scores are supposed to get the job, I’ve seen hiring managers fix scores to get the people they like.” —HR representative in the manufacturing industry. 

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It’s network or not work

“Networking does not mean using Facebook or Linked In. It means going to events, getting your face in front of people and setting up informational interviews.”—A human resources professional in New York City

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Don’t get too friendly with HR

“If you have a question, come to my office. Don’t corner me in the bathroom.”—HR professional at a mid-sized firm in North Carolina

“My LinkedIn profile is for myself, a way for me to find another job. It’s not a way to find a job with me.”—A human resources professional in New York City

“Don’t stalk me.”—A human resources professional in New York City. 

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Be professional at all times

“Children and hobbies do not belong on a résumé. And never, ever say, ‘Now that my kids are in college, I’m ready to get back in the workforce.’ “—HR professional at a mid-sized firm in North Carolina

“I had somebody list their prison time as a job. And an exotic dancer who called herself a ‘customer service representative.’ “—Sharlyn Lauby, human resources consultant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla

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Don’t “be yourself” in an interview

“Someone might tell you to ‘Be yourself’ in the interview. Don’t be yourself. That’s the worst advice ever. We don’t want people who are neurotic and quirky and whatever else. All we care about is your skill and experience.”—Laurie Ruettimann, HR consultant and speaker in Raleigh, N.C.

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Be wary of office romances

“I know many of you met your former spouse at the company. But the thing is, for every one of you, there are five people it doesn’t work out as well for. And your office romance can and will be held against you.”—Kris Dunn, chief human resources officer at Atlanta-based Kinetix who blogs at HRcapitalist.com 

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Use unemployed time wisely

“It doesn’t take 40 hours a week to look for a job. So if you’re unemployed, do something: take classes, meet people, go to industry meetings, start a blog, read a book a week. Just don’t sit on the couch and eat Doritos.” —Ben Eubanks, HR professional in Alabama. Here are the worst mistakes of first-time job hunters.

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Thank you Writing Anniversary

Be appropriate when saying “Thank you”

“I once had someone send me Forget-me-not seeds with their thank you note. Yes, thank me for taking the time, that’s great. But sending me seeds? That’s weird.”—Sharlyn Lauby, human resources consultant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“One time a candidate sent—I love this—a thank you card with a professional picture of herself, which quite honestly became the running joke for weeks. The picture was blown up and posted in my office with hearts drawn around it.”—HR director at a financial services firm. These are secrets your boss won’t tell you, but you need to know.

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Be original with your answers during an interview

“In interviews, everyone works well with others, and everyone learns quickly. Please tell me something else.” —HR manager in St. Cloud, Minn. These are the interview outfit mistakes that could cost you the job. 

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HR knows more about you thank you think

“You’re right to be paranoid. The company is always watching you, and there’s a record of everything you do: every phone call, every text, every tweet and instant message. At most companies, they save that data forever.”—Laurie Ruettimann, HR consultant and speaker in Raleigh, N.C.

“I know a lot more about you when you walk in the door than you realize. I’ll search for you on the web and often use my own personal network to do a pre-interview reference check.”—Senior HR Executive in New York City

“I have better things to do than deal with who slept with who, or who’s talking about you behind your back. Sometimes I feel like a high school guidance counselor.”—HR professional at a mid-sized firm in North Carolina

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Organization is essential during the application process

“If you call to check on the status of your résumé and I ask, ‘What job did you apply for?” If you don’t know, you’re done.”—HR professional at a mid-sized firm in North Carolina. Here are the weirdest jobs you didn’t know you could apply for. 

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Never say yes right away

“Never accept the job immediately. Say you need to think about it overnight. Once you sign on the dotted line there’s no room for negotiation.”—A human resources professional in New York City

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Companies will find a reason to lay you off

“Your job isn’t safe just because you’re pregnant or a new mom. Lots of people get pink slips while they’re on maternity leave. Companies can do it as part of a larger layoff, include you in there and create a justification for it.” –Cynthia Shapiro

“Companies do have blacklists. It’s not written down anywhere but it’s a list of people they’d be happy to get rid of if the opportunity arises. If you feel invisible, if you’re getting bad assignments, if your boss is ignoring you, or if they move your office, you’re probably on it.” –Cynthia Shapiro

“When we had someone go out on disability and we knew he was faking it, we didn’t want to go to court to prove it. So we put him on the end of the assembly line in a job where we knew he wouldn’t succeed. Eventually, we were able to fire him.” –HR pro at a mid-level staffing firm

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Paid leave likely means you will be terminated

“Generally speaking, you only put someone on paid leave if you’re pretty certain that they might be terminated from the company once you do your investigation.” –Kris Dunn

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Some managers let go of employees at the beginning of the day

“I don’t lay people off at the end of the day because I think it’s rotten to get a whole workday out of someone, then lay them off. I always lay them off in the morning.” –A human resources professional in New York City. 

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Don’t walk away after getting fired

“If you get fired, don’t just stomp out and go on with your life. The company may be willing to give you some severance, especially if you can point to someone different from you who didn’t get as severe a punishment. Just saying, ‘Well, I talked to my attorney’ (even if you don’t have an attorney) can also give you some leverage.'” —Suzanne Lucas, a former HR executive and the  “Evil HR lady” on bnet.com

“I may say ‘I’m terminating you because you didn’t meet performance measures.’ I’m not going to say it’s because you’re a pain in the butt and piss people off every time you interact with them.'”—HR Manager at a healthcare facility. Try these expert-backed secrets to succeed at your job.

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Yes, there is discrimination when hiring—but it doesn’t always stem from HR

“I was asked by one CEO to hire the long-legged girl with the long dark hair even though she didn’t have the right skills. Another time, I was instructed not to hire anyone with children because the company had too many people leaving for soccer games. That kind of thing happens all the time.”—Cynthia Shapiro

“I’ve seen managers not hire a woman because the environment is mostly male, and they’re worried that no matter how smart or talented she is, she won’t fit in.” –HR representative at a Fortune 500 financial services firm

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Working hard isn’t the only thing you have to do for a raise

“Many people think, ‘If I work extra hard, I’m going to get noticed.’ But it doesn’t work that way. If you want to advance, some of the responsibility falls on you to toot your own horn. Make sure your supervisor and your supervisor’s supervisor are well of aware of what you’re contributing.” –Michael Slade, HR director at Eric Mower and Associates, an integrated marketing communications agency.

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Raises often depend on timing

“Some companies do everybody’s raises on their anniversary dates. I’m not a fan of that because if the budget comes out in January, those poor people hired in December get, ‘Oh sorry, we’d like to give you more but we gave a huge increase to Bob so you’re just going to get 2 percent.'” –Suzanne Lucas. 

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“No updates” is code for “there’s another candidate”

“If it’s been a week or two and I tell you ‘I don’t have an update yet,’ that often means there’s a better candidate we’re talking to, but we can’t tell you that in case they decide not to take the job.” –Recruiting consultant Rich DeMatteo. Philadelphia, Pa. Try these smart ways to build trust with your boss.

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Cropped hands of businessman opening envelope with paycheck

Avoid mentioning a specific salary number in the interview process

“If we ask ‘What salary are you looking for?’ say you’re flexible or say it depends on the responsibilities of the job. Try not to name a salary unless we really push you, because that gives us a leg up in the negotiating.”—A human resources professional in New York City

“Don’t lie about your salary. Ever. Even if your employer doesn’t tell us (and most do), we’ll find out eventually. I’ve terminated two people for doing that.”—A human resources professional in New York City

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Unfortunate life circumstances won’t land you the job

“Don’t ever tell me that you have to have this job because you’re going to lose your house, your kids have nothing to eat, your mother has cancer. Companies aren’t a charity.”—Suzanne Lucas. Here are a few things you should do when you lose your job.

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HR isn’t the only department that knows your salary

“Yes, I have access to everyone’s salary but I don’t look unless I have to. There’s nothing worse than having to reprimand someone, and then seeing they make $60,000 more than me.”—HR professional at a midsize firm in North Carolina

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The content of your résumé is most important

“We get résumés on fancy schmantzy papers. We get them with gold-pressed lettering. We get them in binders and in document protectors with ribbons. None of that sways me.”—HR Manager in St. Cloud, Minnesota

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Apply for positions that are in your wheelhouse

“98 percent of the résumés we receive when we post a position on a big jobs site are junk, come from people who are nowhere near qualified. We’ll get a guy who’s a bar manager applying for a director of public affairs position. Or a shoe salesman. That’s why we like posting jobs on websites that target specific industries.”—Michael Slade, HR director at Eric Mower and Associates, an integrated marketing communications agency.