I once hired a senior reporter who, on his second day on the job, didn’t come back after lunch.
I panicked. We had a small staff and couldn’t afford to have any pieces go MIA.
He’d come with glowing recommendations, and he’d been an editor at a fair-sized newspaper, so surely he possessed some sense of responsibility.
And certainly he had some comprehension of what the consequences would be — the “hammer-boot” analogy Nick Fury mentions in “The Avengers” movie.
As it turned out, when I got him on the phone later, he confessed he had a severe headache, for which lying down was the only remedy. He’d be back bright and cheery the next morning and, no, he’d never vanish again without letting me know.
Over the years he turned out to be one of the best hires I’d ever made. He went on to run a paper in Eastern Europe and now reports for a West Coast business newspaper.
Another reporter I hired a few years later also had presented himself with excellent references and spotless writing samples. But within a matter of months there would be whole chunks of the day when he supposedly was visiting, say, a manufacturing plant, but officials there have no idea where he was — certainly not at their facility.
It turned out — and I learned this from a friend working on the other side of the state who’d heard from an acquaintance of hers — that my errant reporter had taken a job with another paper. He hadn’t bothered to tell me this, nor inform his new employer he was spending time pretending to write stories for me.
All of which, I guess, just goes to show what a tricky business hiring can be.
It’s true fresh employees take chances — learning the expectations, spoken and otherwise, adapting to the corporate culture, sometimes even moving great distances to take the job.
Managers view it from the other end: They invest time and money recruiting and then training new folk, all on a gamble they’ll catch on, do well and — with a bit luck — stay for more than a year or two.
And by golly no one enjoys spending precious hours you don’t really have sifting through resumes, making calls and sitting through sometimes mind-numbingly painful interview sessions — “Surely you can think of one reason why you want to work here, can’t you?”
Early 20th-century Antarctic explorer Ernest Shacklteon once said about hiring for a crew upon whose life you might have to depend: “You don’t need a long interview. You need an intense one.”
But like the joke about the guy who tells the psychiatrist why he won’t divorce his wife who believes she’s a chicken — because, he points out, he needs the eggs — we hire to keep the wheels turning at our companies and in our economy.
Yet our misgivings about the interview process can’t be the primary reason why so many companies confess, in this time of economic high anxiety, they refuse to bring on more people.
Reasons given have been myriad, but here are some highlights:
Managers contend job candidates aren’t up on the evolving technical skills. Worse, the people who show up at job fairs can’t do even basic math and couldn’t tell you how many inches are in a foot to save their necks.
They don’t know how to think through problems, or how to work collaboratively. Nor do they know they should call in when they’re going to be late for work.
In short, they don’t know enough to come in out of the rain, to hear some hiring managers tell it.
What the heck, look at the cash you can keep in the tiller with fewer folk out on the floor.
JPMorgan told The Economist magazine that 61 percent of its American clients are hesitant to take on new help because of the looming catastrophe that is the so-called fiscal cliff — the massive mix of new taxes, returning taxes and whopping government spending cuts for thousands of programs that could come in the new year, unless Congress decides to actually do its job, if it’s not too much bother. (Some estimates put the potential damage at a frightening five percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.)
David Cote, head of Honeywell, told The Economist that “Everybody’s nervous.” As John Schlifske, chairman and CEO of Northwestern Mutual, said to me when he was in town in September, his company is conserving its “resources.”
So here we sit, with national employment stuck in a very bad part of the woods — no matter which calculations you chose to accept as gospel. (My bet: Don’t get attached to any of them.)
Leaders need to lead, not wait for politicians in Washington, D.C., Brussels or China to check which way the wind is blowing.
Waiting for things to get better won’t make it so. That’s your job.