Is the best one always the right one?

Going along the lines of the theory that it’s stupid to have two candidates for U.S. president yet 50 candidates for Miss America, I got to thinking about interviewing for jobs and how we think it’s perfectly normal to put a candidate through myriad interviews but yet prospective dates get a once-over from us. The only question we need to ask of a potential date is whether they sleep with women, and if the “interviews” are exhaustive, they can land themselves any position they want! 😉

I hired wonderful people at my old job, but my methods were nothing short of unconventional and I caused great grief to the HR person. And I admit, she was right about something. (*grits teeth, hits self on head with hammer*) Well, mostly, anyway.

I had a position open for a writer; after holding several roles by myself for eight months, I didn’t exactly have the time to do interviews. But when I was threatened that the position would be taken out of the budget if I didn’t hop to it, well, I found the time. 😉 Understand, I performed a lot of work and super-high-quality work at that, so I wasn’t overly impressed with the candidate pool. The person I ended up hiring, though, I’d gotten a good vibe from her resume alone. I believe in signs; I’m no dummy. I got her in for an interview.

I had four candidates; she made thet semi-finals. I’d chosen another guy to come into the semi-finals. And this is where I fought with HR and another person who was asked to be in on the interviews. I’d thought the girl was too ambitious, too talented, too GOOD for the job. She was driven and well-spoken and just emanated a no-bullshit aura. I loved her; she reminded me of me in a lot of ways.

And … I didn’t want to punish her by dragging her into that environment.

The guy? Perfect fit. Perfect, I say. Laid-back. Chose the chair in my office that practically hid him from my sight. (The girl took the one with the clear view of me. I notice these things.) He was sweet and charming yet shy and seemed like he’d be good (better) in a support role. I wanted to choose him.

This was where I went 10 rounds with the other employees. They thought I was nuts, that I was passing up great talent for OK talent. That I was passing up the more professional candidate for the one that fit our culture better. Which, how is that a bad thing? In a sea of mediocrity and my best friend and I were the only overachievers, how could I in my right mind take someone like us and ask them to survive there?

Here’s how funny life is. I did extend the offer to the kid. He hid for four days until finally sending me an e-mail that he accepted a better offer doing sports reporting. And good for him. I wished him well. I was pissed that he strung me along, but hey, I wouldn’t have wanted to work there either, in retrospect!

The girl was available and we did offer her the job. And the thing is, not only was she freaking awesome at her job, but she also became a very, very good friend. Her experience at the job was a good one because I was very much the “umbrella manager” — i.e., when Upper McManagement rained down their shitstorms, my people didn’t feel it. And they knew it. I kept them informed (maybe too much so, I admit) but kept them out of the line of fire.

It’s kind of funny how the details matter. I had asked my hire what she really liked about the position when we were talking about it, and of course it fit her goals blah blah blah. But then she said, “I saw your necklace, and I knew right away that no matter what the job might bring, you and I would click.”

And I’d smiled at her and said, “Same with you.”

My necklace was a sterling-silver martini charm, very tiny, with a tiny green crystal atop it to serve as the olive. Her necklace was a pentagram. And it’s not that I know a lot about earth-based religions (I respect, appreciate and sometimes even borrow their rituals), but I figured that’d scare the hell out of everyone and make them leave us alone. 🙂

I guess I type all this to say that just by interviewing someone, you can get a feel but you don’t really know what kind of worker they’ll be. I am a ditzy interviewee; I get off-topic and force myself a little too hard to hold eye contact sometimes and I like to stare at inanimate objects when I’m telling a story because I don’t want to see everyone’s reaction until I’m done telling my tale. I blow all the behavioral indicators out of the water and tend to be a frustrating candidate when it’s my turn to tap-dance. But what I lack in my initial presentation, I more than compensate for in 12-hour workdays and personal time/plans sacrificed to get the job done, and done well. And a virtual spigot of idea flow, if only anyone wants to turn on the faucet.

And that’s a high standard to hold other people to. But then again, why shouldn’t you?

I think what I liked best about my staff were that they let me be the idea generator. They knew I would talk a mile a minute and forget everything I said two hours later. They were the types to write down everything and come back with a, “Hey, that thing you mentioned? I did some research and if we did X, we could make that happen.”

And that’s what I need right now. I shoot out ideas all day but when all is said and done, I’m my own clean-up crew. And if nobody heard me say the idea, well, it never happened. I don’t mean to say I’m holding anything back; I’m just trying to realistically get through a day. Am I impressing anyone? Not really. But is my sanity in check? More or less.

But my hire held me very accountable, and while I saw that coming in her interviews (and it made me uncomfortable), it helped me in a big way. I am OK with failing myself. I cannot fail anyone else. And I wanted to do whatever it took to be a respectable leader. I think I achieved that. You can only lead those who want to follow you. And surrounding yourself with those kinds of people who have complementary skills yet with compatible personalities is the challenge. I don’t wish this process on anybody, but having had time to reflect on it, I’ll be more ready for it next time around.

As for my hire? She’s still there, getting paid more in the lower position than I made doing everybody’s jobs simultaneously. She feels bad that she works half the amount of hours that I did (and do, now that I’ve moved on). I think she does her job well, but they don’t ask much of her, and she’s OK with that. And the truth is, we both know she’s capable of so much more. I really do feel like I did her a disservice, bringing her into that unchallenging environment. But as she reminds me, she had a life and the rest of us who are so hell-bent on “challenging” ourselves have no lives and nothing to look forward to when we’re not at work.

That said, who the hell am I to decide about a person’s ambitions? I hate it when other people are right! 😉

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