…..when you are interviewing for a position when the last one, two or three people (or more) have failed

…or they are no longer there for one reason or another. This is a relatively extreme example but it demonstrates problems that hiring authorities and companies create for themselves… and therefore create for a candidate.

Almost two years ago one of our clients hired a first line manager whose job was to help the second line manager mentor a number of salespeople. Part of the position’s responsibility was to sell but also help 15 to 16 sales reps (mostly junior) through their sales process. Unfortunately, the first guy they hired left after about seven months ostensibly because he couldn’t get along with the guy he reported to, who was not the second line manager, but the second line manager’s boss.

Three or four months later after interviewing eight or nine candidates, they hired a second guy. His background and experience was pretty perfect and he was a good hire. Unfortunately, he shared some information about his company…physical documents…with a friend of his at another company. Somehow, it got out that he shared this information and his company considered it proprietary information, claimed that he violated company policy and let him go. He is actually a really good guy and what he did really, by most standards, wasn’t any big deal. The information you shared was not top-secret, -“how we built the atom bomb and plan to use it” type of stuff. It was really pretty benign. But enough people found out about the incident so the company felt like they needed to fire the guy to make an example.

So, they start looking for another person. But keep in mind over the past almost a year that all of this had been going on. They probably interviewed 15 to 20 qualified candidates. What they look for is pretty hard to find although it’s a really good job with a really good company. So, once they started over there were already a number of people they had eliminated and there was a slim number of qualified candidates to continue pursuing.

Now, nobody ever admit to this, but having done this for so long, I  am absolutely certain that the vice president in charge of this whole thing feels like he is under a microscope. This is an unfortunate situation that happens more often than people even imagine. When anybody, VP, CEO, warehouse manager, maintenance manager… any manager of a group of people hires two people that don’t work out back to back they rapidly think, and often correctly, that he or she is being watched very carefully. Someone they report to who reports to someone else who reports to someone else are all wondering, “what’s wrong with this manager…  she or he hires doofuses; therefore, they must be a doofus.”

The truth is that this kind of thing happens all the time. It’s mostly just plain bad luck. But it is just plain too easy to “blame,” in this case, the vice president. So, he or she thinks to themselves, “I really don’t want to make a mistake. I really want to be careful about the next person that I hire. I can’t afford to hire the wrong person and… (look like a doofus).

So, what happens? The interviewing process gets longer and gets harder. The company interviews candidates ad infinitum. In this case it’s taken almost 18 months and at least 30 candidates. Twice in that period of time the company found two really good candidates, but they were so careful to not make a mistake they put them through six or seven interviews over a period of four or five weeks, but lost both candidates to other companies who moved faster. One candidate they offered the job to after six weeks of interviewing got hired by one of their competitors the day they made him the offer. The competitor the candidate went to work for initially interviewed the candidate on a Monday and hired him that Friday. They did it in four days!

The longer this kind of thing goes on, the more difficult it is for the vice president. He is really not to “blame.” He is simply acting the way any normal human being would. The longer this whole thing goes on, the more he has to worry about how he appears to the rest of the company. He is probably way too self-conscious about the whole mess, but it’s simply human nature.

We are still interviewing. Some recruiters would just drop this whole thing and figure it’s just not worth it and they should simply cut their losses of investment of time and effort and move on to someone who is in a rational position to make a decent decision. The client is really not hard to work for, they’ve just gotten themselves in such a psychological ditch and created their own problem. Forty seven years ago I worked in higher education and it was there, I heard this statement that, “not to decide is to decide.” One of the reasons that I left higher education is it’s run by committees. Committees can’t much decide anything. (You know what a camel is, don’t you? It’s a horse gone to committee).

Eventually the pain of needing someone in this position will overcome the emotional and psychological strain of the risk in hiring someone for it.

If you are a candidate interviewing in a situation even similar to this and you find out that the last two (or three or four) hires have not worked out very well, be ready for the gauntlet… be ready to try to be Mr. or Ms. Perfect. I know it’s not fair, but life isn’t fair. Just be ready for it.


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