Reflections on fairness in staffing


I’ll call him “Jay.” He’s a bright, lively, dear little boy nearing the end of his fourth year. He’s a member of my extended family. And what a joy he is.

Jay and I have several special activities that we share together. We especially have fun playing cards. He is alert enough to grasp the concepts of the differences between the cards, as well as the challenge of matching them in a game such as “Old Maid” or “Go Fish.” We’re still working on the concepts of taking turns, following rules, and playing fairly.

Jay is only four years old, after all! So, when he gets frustrated because the game is moving too slowly or his hand isn’t winning, he disrupts the game by taking over the deck and sorting out the cards until he finds the ones he wants. He smiles. I smile. And life is good after all.

You’re smiling too, aren’t you?! A knowing smile. He’s only four years old. And he’s such a sweet, loving little boy. He’s still a little young to have his ego bruised by absolute insistence on taking turns, following rules, playing fairly every time. I take this no-cheating approach more frequently each time we play, but there’s still an occasional time that I let him be a little boy, relent from insisting on the rules, and redirect the game to teach him something different.

Hold that thought for a moment and let me tell you about an “aha!” that recently shocked me. I wasn’t thinking about Jay at all. I was in my office, taking three quick phonecalls in succession.

The first call was from a terrific local candidate with marvelous work history. “Tom,” a person whose résumé had just arrived by email a moment earlier, insisted that he must be given the name, phone number, and email address of our client who was hiring for an engineering position because he wants to tell them himself what a perfect candidate he is for this opening. Hmmmmm.

The second call was also from a great applicant with a breadth of skills and training. “Karen” argued that she would be ideal for the insurance customer service position, even though her résumé offers not one word about office work, much less the required highly-specialized industry expertise. She said, “I have experience; it’s just not on my résumé.” Hmmmmm.

The third call came in as I was ending the second. “I want you to present me to your client, even though I don’t have the experience they need. I know you have other candidates who do, but I really need that accounting job!” Unlike everyone else, right?! Hmmmmm.

Something fired in my neural network as the last call ended. I thought of Jay. Then I thought of playing cards with Jay. It only took a moment to realize why my brain made the leap. AHA!

All three of these individuals who called are truly solid local candidates in terms of their training, skills, and work tenures. I value them. I appreciate them. And I’ll do my utmost to effectively represent them when suitable openings arise.

But the “aha” for me was the realization of why such phonecalls make me so uncomfortable. Each one was basically asking me to cheat. Asking me to break the rules just for them. Asking me to ignore what would be fair to all of the other also-outstanding candidates.

Between you and me, I don’t believe that any of them realized the implications of what they were asking me to do. They’re good people. Good people who are caught up in their own urgencies and desperation. I can empathize with that. But we’re not four years old when it comes to the rules of gaining employment.

It’s a fine line to walk, I’ll admit. Every applicant is trying to stand out. Trying to be more persuasive. Trying to be most proactive. Trying to be uniquely persistent. Still, as adults who need to “play” within the rules of fairness, let’s tiptoe cautiously when we approach that line. No cheating. No exceptions.

Republished with permission. Originally published by Elyse on her employee/job seeker blog in 2009.

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