Archive for September, 2011

Put the Gun Down!

September 21, 2011

We all commit lapses in judgment.  All of us.  Even you.  The question is how can we reduce the frequency of these occurrences while minimizing the negative impact when they take place?  This especially bears significance during the interview cycle.

Yesterday, I had to give a candidate the unfortunate news that the position he had been vying for was offered to another candidate.  This is a conversation I never relish, even when the chosen candidate is also one of mine (not the case this go-around).  After I reached out to convey the disappointing news, this is what I receive via email for a response:

“Do you really think I believe what you wrote??  Come on man, I’m much more clever than that.  Have you ever watched the show The Mentalist?  I see right through everything…Patrick Jane is me in a nutshell.  Good luck!”

Of course, I didn’t dignify his email with a response.  Instead, he goes into the universal DNU recruitment category (Do Not Use).  This live wire freakazoid will never have me or anyone in my network as an advocate.

Recently, a candidate was turned down early in the interview process due to a less-than-favorable behavioral profile assessment result.  Without checking with me first, the candidate fired off flame-o-grams to the CEO, CFO, and two other key execs, telling them how their basis for decision-making is flawed, pathetic and doomed to failure.  That certainly didn’t get him into anyone’s good graces, least of which mine, as that put me in a compromised position with the hiring client company.

I remember the first time this sort of thing happened to me.  I broke the news to a candidate that he didn’t do well in the initial interview and was not moving forward in the process.  Trying to provide specific constructive feedback, given in the spirit of helping him improve, I was met with surprising belligerence.  It ended quickly with:  “Don’t you ever present me and my resume to anyone ever again!”  Though flustered, I found it was by far, one of the easiest promises I’ve ever had to keep.

This type of misguided reaction occurs often enough to warrant some reflection.  Why do people blow up and ultimately shoot themselves in the foot?  We can only surmise that several forces are at play.  First, acute insecurity is a likely trigger.  After all, these candidates’ all-too-delicate self-esteem has been undermined.  To them, being turned down is in effect a personal affront.  Instead of viewing the situation as a potential learning and growth experience, they suddenly transform into injured wild animals.  And there’s nothing more dangerous and unpredictable than an injured wild animal.

Shooting oneself in the foot can be much more subtle.  How many times have you finished a round of interviews, believing that you aced each meeting, only to be turned down for no explicable reason?  Sometimes, it’s something you did or said while other times, you could be a victim of circumstance.

For example, some years ago as VP for a small software company, I was looking to backfill a Marketing Manager position.  The incumbent was terminated because she didn’t accomplish her projects or objectives satisfactorily, all the while annoying the entire staff with her relentless know-it-all attitude.  During the interview process to replace her, one candidate appeared competent, but was talking too much and going off on tangents.  There was one moment that crystallized it for all of us on the interview team when this candidate proclaimed in matter-of-fact terms:  “I’m well-known as an endless source of useless trivia.”  Painful memories of the terminated Marketing Manager suddenly plagued our collective consciousness and that was all we needed.  On to the next candidate.

Generally, something happens in interviews that turns people off.  The challenge, of course is gaining specific actionable feedback.  In this highly litigious and vindictive business environment, hiring companies have become less and less forthcoming about their real reasons for passing up on candidates.

Instead of relying upon sketchy feedback, candidates are better served to build up their self-awareness muscle group.  How can you do this?  Not easily and certainly not quickly.  As a career coach, I have often given candidates the homework assignment of discussing their communication tendencies openly and honestly with trusted friends, colleagues and family members.  When nervous, do you talk too much, go off-topic or come off as stiff?  Do you struggle to maintain eye contact or establish rapport?  Do you sometimes demonstrate a lack of preparedness, trying instead to do things off the cuff?  What are some of your idiosyncrasies?  Vulnerabilities?  The more you learn about the delta between people’s perceptions of how you interact and your own perceptions, the more you’ll be able to recalibrate your own self-awareness antennae.

Candidates are not alone when it comes to deal-breaking gaffes.  I had a client company who was in serious discussions with one of my candidates.  The Board of Directors member who met with the candidate then turned around and told his network outside the company about this candidate, including his name, and why they were passing on him.  Well, sure enough, the news traveled fast and soon made its way right back to the candidate, who was both mortified and irate over this flagrant disregard for confidentiality, let alone the divulgence of negative information about him.  Of course, none of his positive attributes was shared, but even if they were, all interviews must be conducted in full confidentiality – a point that is specified in most recruiter search agreements.  As a result, that company is likely getting its name tarnished for its lack of professionalism and trust.

In this relentless fast pace world, where nanoseconds are the new minutes and getting off the grid is reserved only for sleep, it’s all too easy to commit errors in judgment.  We simply don’t have the luxury of time to think things through.  Yet, when faced with the possibility of forming conclusions that could very well be premature, spouting off to executives or recruiters over issues you should hold yourself accountable for, or divulging confidential information, STOP!  Take a deep breath, vent with a friend or therapist, or better yet, sleep on it.  Give your better judgment and sense of tact a chance to catch up to the heat of the moment.  Put the gun down and step away.

Action items:

1.  As much as you want to lash out at someone over an unfortunate circumstance, stop and compare what you may gain in short-term gratification vs. the long-term negative ramifications it may cause with that person and presumably, many people in that person’s network.

2.  When you receive disappointing news, your first impulse should not be to adopt a victim mentality, but rather a desire to learn, improve, and become stronger.

3.  We are our own worst enemies.  So as the saying goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  Self-awareness is key to effective interpersonal skills.