Like the rest of us, I think I'm open-minded. Now and again, though, chance events bring out the gut reaction rather than the considered one. This week I was reminded that I'm not as open-minded as I want to be.
I shouldn't have been doing the interviews. The vacancy wasn't even in my department, but the hiring colleague was called away on business the day before, and asked me to step in. I should have spent more time looking at the resumes, but you know how it is when you're busy. And anyway, the colleague had told me he was happy with both candidates based on what he'd read. He just wanted me to get them talking and form an impression. He wanted the one with more 'zip', and the one who was more 'us'. At the time, I was pretty sure I knew what he meant.
One of the resumes had obviously been sent directly by the applicant. It had a letter attached. The other had come via a recruitment agency and was set out on an impersonal standard form. That difference probably made sure that they got no more than a cursory reading, because I'm trying to break my no-good-reason habit of favouring people who apply directly. I was still scanning the first one when the candidate arrived at my office door. So I had to wing it, but it turned out to be easy. The guy was bright and enthusiastic, and knowledgeable about our firm. He was also immaculately turned out (a big thing with me). Against those Zip and Us criteria, this first candidate was ideal. I showed him out telling him quite sincerely that the conversation had made my day.
The second one was here already, said the secretary. Give me two minutes, and show him in, I said. This was the agency one. I really got nowhere deciphering their damned form before I heard the knock at the door. The winging would just have to be even more extreme this time.
This guy was a similar age, and soon turned out to be just as dazzling. For the first five minutes, I was hardly listening to what he said, I have to confess. I was just so surprised and delighted to meet a second young man with the poise and engaging manner that had hitherto deserted their whole generation. He knew just as much about us too. In fact, I can see with hindsight, he knew just the same things and answered my questions in just the same way.
Between those questions, I was taking glances at the resume, and somewhere in my brain a warning light was starting to flash. I didn't know I had a pre-programmed clone alarm, and so it was just a vague something's-wrong-here feeling at first. Then déjà-vu suddenly kicked in hard. This guy's postal address, buried deep in a corner of the convoluted form, seemed kind of familiar. I have no recollection of what I actually asked by way of clarification, but it must have been clumsy. The guy in front of me paused and I could see he was thinking carefully.
After what seemed like a minute but was probably about three seconds, his easy smile switched back on and he continued.'I'm not sure if this is important, but me and the candidate before are partners. We didn't know we were both being considered till the agency called me last week. I didn't apply directly, you see. We'd both read about the vacancy, and decided together that Adam should apply. Then when I got an invite too, I was going to say no, but Adam asked me not to drop it. We know there's only one job, but it's really important to us that one of us gets it'.
I didn't know what to say. I have no idea why I felt shocked to the core, as if this was all somehow all wrong, but I did feel like that. My resources were so engaged in locking down any outward sign of internal turmoil that I lost the power of speech. So the young man continued.'I guess you're thinking that we've played a cheap trick and maybe squeezed out another candidate', he said quietly.'If that's the case, I'm really sorry, and I withdraw my application'.
I was on complete autopilot now. I have absolutely no idea why the words came out, and I'm not particularly proud that they did. They were gut-right, sort of, that's all.'I should think so too', I said, indignantly.'We'll be hiring Adam'.
I've never seen a face light up like it. He sprang to his feet, radiant. He shook my hand, said thank-you-sir with heart-melting sincerity and practically flew out of the office. I was still gathering my shredded thoughts when the secretary paged a call through. It was my colleague, eager to know who he'd hired. I quickly rejected the notion that he'd set me up. He couldn't have noticed that his candidates shared a postal address. He'd have picked up on it.
It's funny how the hole-repairing reflex is there to save you as soon as you stop digging.'The choice was a no-brainer, Mike' I said,'so I made an offer there and then. I hope you don't mind. But I'm sure you'll be happy. He's got plenty of Zip and he's very Us'. Then something compelled me to add:'By chance I know his partner. Not that that's relevant'.
'Sounds great', came the reply.'I hope the partner didn't cloud your judgement, though, you dirty old goat. It's not her we're hiring, after all. Still, maybe I'll get to meet her too some day, eh?'
Yes and no, I thought. Yes and no.