What "Entry Level" Really Means

So I was perusing job boards, as I'm wont to do, and came across this from FP1 Strategies, which seems to be a right-leaning campaign consulting/marketing shop in DC. Here's a screenshot for posterity: 

entry level.PNG

Two things jumped out at me here: 

  1. The posting says right up top that they're looking for an "entry level" candidate, and
  2. The posting strongly prefers candidates with an SHRM C-P and/or PHR credential

Now, those two aren't completely mutually exclusive, but they're close. Entry level candidates, to my mind, have 0-1 years of relevant experience. An entry level job should be one that someone with the right attributes can pick up and thrive in without specific experience in the role coming in. 

You can get those certifications with 0-1 years of experience in HR. It requires you to have gotten an HR-specific degree and, in most cases, still have spent a year in an HR role. 

So, this posting isn't egregious, per se. There are probably people who meet those preferred qualifications and are, still, technically entry level. But it's unlikely. In order to be a well-qualified entry-level applicant to this job, you have to basically have known that HR was what you wanted to do from your second year of college. 

Some people do! And that's OK. 

But this is definitely an uncomfortable stretching of the definition of entry level to me, because it's absolutely not in the spirit of entry level. You have to have significant HR knowledge, and in most cases some on-the-ground experience, to get those certifications. 

FP1, here, feels like they're trying to cheat. They state it's an entry-level job (and you can bet it has entry-level pay) but the only actually entry level candidates for this job are absolute unicorns. Maybe they'll get one, maybe they'll end up hiring an actual entry-level person who, like many entry-level people, isn't really sure what they want to do in life and think that dipping a toe in HR might be a good move. Maybe they'll end up hiring someone with a couple years HR experience, with a certification, and just pay them an entry-level salary, which they'll take for any number of reasons. 

Is this something I'm grabbing my pitchfork and protest signs for? Nah. But I ultimately wouldn't apply for this job, not because of the entry-level salary (though, also that, as I'm not entry level), but because this posting reads to me as being in bad faith. Working in an HR department that creates a job posting like this would be like nails on a chalkboard for me, every day. And maybe that's fine; I'm idealistic, and while it's hard to find an HR department that shares that idealism, being able to read this and know there will be a cultural mismatch is as good a reason to skip over a job as any. There are lots of not-idealistic HR people. Lots of them are happy to nickel and dime job offers, trying to get experienced and skilled candidates at an entry-level salary.

Hopefully, as the economy continues to improve, there will be less of those, but honestly, I doubt it. Millennials are still behind in wages, and likely will be our entire careers, and there are more people than ever that simply need a job. And there will always be companies (and HR departments) that are content to lowball offers for those people. Business isn't amoral. We like to separate "professionalism" from our sense of right and wrong, just and unjust, and economic anxiety makes it easier to do that. But ultimately, businesses don't do things. People do. This posting, and whatever strategy is behind it, was written by a person, approved by some number of other people, and the hiring plan will be executed by people. The people working at FP1 will hire another person to join them, and all of these choices will have impacts on actual people living actual lives. 

Business choices, including job postings and hiring decisions, sometimes seem like they're made in a moral vacuum, but they're not. That's why it's important to take the time to be thoughtful and deliberate about how you create a job posting, or go about your hiring process. Your mission can be as important as you like, but some of the biggest impacts of the organizations we (as people!) create and run are not on our mission, but on the people we work with along the way. 

I don't mean to imply that FP1 is a morally bankrupt employer or anything, but I do think that posting a job as entry level has to mean something, and what it means has moral implications. If you want an experienced professional, then put up a posting for one, and pay them commensurately. If you're going to call it entry level, then at least make it accessible to truly entry-level people, not a small handful of people who have been dreaming of HR since 4th grade.