Five lessons from HR expert Liz Ryan

April 12, 2017
Five lessons from HR expert Liz Ryan

Image by Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock, Inc
From time to time, I like to look at different perspectives on the world of human resources. For example, you might remember the three practical lessons we extracted from work published by organisational psychologist Cary Cooper.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to an HR and career expert who is shaping the world’s attitude to HR and recruitment. Liz Ryan is the founder and CEO of Human Workplace. She has written more than 2,000 articles for Forbes, mostly answering questions from employees who need good, practical HR and employment advice. She also writes for many other prominent publications, including the Huffington Post and Business Week.

She offers advice mostly geared towards job seekers, helping them to improve their employability. But her insights can be easily taken on-board by employers, HR professionals and recruiters. Here are five things she can teach you.

1. Stop asking candidates for their salary history

It’s easy to see that Liz is passionate about this topic, because she has written dozens of articles about it. She has also answered dozens of questions about this issue, sent in by concerned job seekers. But what exactly is wrong with asking a candidate for their current, or indeed previous salaries?

“Employers don’t need your past salary information” explains Liz, writing about salary history on Forbes. “They use it as shorthand to evaluate what they’ll have to pay to get you on board.”

The point Liz makes over and over again, is that asking such a personal question sends a clear message to the candidate – it says that you are trying to work out how little you can get away with paying them. If you want talented people to respect you as an employer, then avoid anything that makes you sound like you’re trying to penny pinch. Instead, ask for a candidate’s salary target. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be able to work out whether or not they’re worth that much – without trying to pin your offer against an amount they’re currently earning.

2. Be a leader, not a supervisor

When talking about what motivates people to work hard, Liz mentions that you can’t really force people to care about something that, well, they don’t care about. Behind the façade of job titles and hierarchies, she says that everybody is a person first.

Writing on her Human Workplace website, she says “I am a person, first. I love my job, and I deserve to love my job and my job deserves to have someone in it who cares about it as much as I do. But my life comes first.”

As such, Liz advises leaders to lead, not supervise. Understand that people are people, and stop trying to squeeze precise actions and behaviours from them!

“Leadership is cheaper than supervision by a mile” she says. “The more human we can be at work and everywhere, the better it will be for all of us”.

3. HR should be about caring for people, not filling out spreadsheets

In an article Liz wrote for, she talks about how too many new companies fail to recognise the need for a good, people-focused HR department.

“If you have a junior, embedded HR person on your staff” she suggests, “that person’s job is to listen to the team and keep the energy moving in your workplace – not to sit at a computer updating employee records.”

All sorts of human issues can arise during every stage of business growth and development. If you only see HR as a department where paper gets pushed across a desk, then you’re ill-equipped to handle these issues.

4. Interviews are NOT interrogations

Something Liz does a lot of, is replying to letters from job seekers who are trying to make sense of how badly some recruiters and HR reps treat them. In a letter she published on LinkedIn last month, we read the story of Beatrice – and how her recent interview was less of a fit-finding exercise, and more of an aggressive interrogation.

“[The hiring manager] asked me ‘if I hire you, what’s the biggest deficiency I’m going to have to correct in you?’” Beatrice writes. “I almost started laughing at that point! When will these fearful, Neanderthal managers disappear from the scene?”

Liz responded in her usual fashion – by congratulating Beatrice on dodging a bullet by refusing the job. And she leaves some sage advice for hiring managers everywhere – reminding us that interviews are about finding a good fit, not about intimidating candidates.

“[The hiring manager] is limiting his talent pool to self-esteem-challenged people who will put up with his bullying” Liz writes. Is that the kind of workforce you want to build?

5. Take action when people complain

Nobody likes hearing complaints. But be warned – when employees stop complaining, it’s a sign things are going south.

As Liz explains in an article she wrote for Bloomberg, “people stop complaining when they realize their energy is best invested elsewhere – and they’ve started sending out resumes.”

So the next time somebody complains, take time to understand what’s making them unhappy. And where possible, take steps to fix it! Otherwise, you could have a turnover crisis on your hands.

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