Here are but a few low-lights over a 30 year career that continue to haunt me to this day ….
1. There was the time when a client called first thing Monday morning to complain that the new VP had failed to show up for his first day on the job. Frantically I tried to locate him. Fearing that his old employer had somehow induced him to stay at the last minute, I telephoned his office only to find he was no longer listed on their phone directory. Relieved, I called his home thinking there had been some sort of minor mix-up. What I found out had not been anticipated in even my worst case scenario. Apparently the candidate’s old company had hosted a farewell dinner the previous Friday evening. As the festivities wore on, the candidate had the brilliant idea that this would be the perfect time to clear the alcohol-filled air with his soon to be ex-boss. It did not go well. When it was all over, the candidate was in jail and his old boss was in the hospital, each boasting freshly bruised or broken body parts.
My client was neither amused by the explanation nor my sudden stutter as I tried to recount the events .
2. There was the time, just before accepting an offer of employment from one of our clients, that the candidate asked me if it was ‘material’ that he was going through a few ‘gender identity’ issues which might require that he/she take some time off in the next year. When I was unable to answer (or speak for that matter) the candidate asked that I raise the issue with my client, just in case. That discussion also did not go very well.
3. There was the time during a celebratory dinner at a fancy restaurant, that my just-hired candidate asked my obviously Jewish client, and his wife, to join him in raising their hands in praise of Jesus whose good graces had enabled this business union to take place. The key word proved to be ‘had’.
4. There was the military electronics client who called to say that their newly hired Director of Engineering had been arrested the night before while scaling the exterior of one of their buildings. When I subsequently asked Spiderman what had possessed him to do something so outrageous, he explained that he was simply testing a hypothesis about a flaw in the building security system.
5. There was the out-of-town client who was scheduled to interview several candidates in a hotel room. It was agreed that the candidates would call from the lobby and the client would advise them of the specific meeting room he was using. Unfortunately, when the candidates knocked on the door, the client eyed them through the peep-hole and if he did not like what he saw, he refused to open the door and called out ‘wrong room’. I received a lot of calls that day from thoroughly confused candidates. The client said afterwards that he was too busy to waste his time with individuals he was certain were wrong for the job (based I suppose on some measure of their competence via their distorted, bulbous noses as seen through the peep-hole glass).
6. There was the client with a mild form of Tourette’s (I am not making this up) who had an incredibly difficult time getting through interviews with female candidates without inadvertently editorializing about their physical attributes.
7. There was the US-based candidate who accepted a role in Canada with one of my clients. Plans for relocation proceeded well until we received a call from the flustered candidate complaining that the Canadian government was refusing to allow his wife’s fox and goat into the country. Turns out his wife was an animal rescue person (advocate, professional, whatever?) with a cast of critters that would have made Doctor Dolittle proud. She insisted that they all accompany her family in its move to the Great White North.
8. There was the self-aware client who had no intention of dealing with his uncontrollable, explosive temper, yet wanted to reduce executive turnover. He reasoned that if he made a point of provoking a disagreement and losing his temper at least once during every interview he could observe whether candidates had the ‘right stuff’ to stay with the firm once hired. There were not many second interviews….
9. There was the candidate who showed up for a scheduled interview at my office with his boss. When recruiting this candidate, our researcher had explained that we were helping an organization find someone to manage their national distribution channels. The candidate misunderstood and believed we were looking for a national distributor. Thinking he had scored a major business opportunity for his firm, this keener asked the company’s CEO to accompany him to the meeting with the intermediary. Needless to say it was one of the more awkward interviews I have ever had.
10. And finally, many years ago, I was the not-so-proud owner of a ‘classic’ rust bucket automobile. Still young, insecure and of the naïve opinion that a snazzy car mattered to potential clients, I always parked my four-wheeled beast at a distance from the front doors of clients or potential clients. On one particular occasion, I drove to the rear of the complex in which the potential client was located and spotted a few discrete parking spaces behind the industrial unit next door. However, as I drove to my little hiding spot, I did not notice that though the buildings were adjacent, there was a four foot drop between the parking lots. Before my eyes could adjust to what had seemed like an uninterrupted ocean of asphalt, my car went over the edge and landed on its nose, where it remained. As employees came out to investigate the commotion, including my potential clients, it became clear that a snazzy car was the least of my image problems on that particular day.
I could go on and on, but as these memories come back to me, I will instead pursue the urge to curl up in a fetal position and call it a day.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.