September 28, 2018

Imagine

Just for a moment

by Chris Thomas

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Photo by Veronica Benavides

Imagine that you’ve been placed on a hiring committee for a corporate giant — Google, Ford, Wal-Mart, Kraft — that kind of company. Or maybe you’ve been asked to be part of a search committee for a dean for a Harvard, Stanford, or the University of Virginia.

Imagine that you’ve got a candidate in for interviews. He’s got a stellar resume full of valuable experience, loads of great network connections, and is even maintains good social relations with several other members of the committee.

And during these interviews someone comes to you or one of your colleagues and says “he did something awful to me.” Maybe it was a long time ago. Maybe there are some inconsistencies in the story. Maybe he denies it. But the accusation is there and the question hangs in the air.

Now imagine that, one by one, others come forward too. And sure, maybe their stories are a little disjointed but, then again, most people’s recollections are. Human memory is weird like that. Maybe you think they suggest a pattern of behavior rather than a single, isolated incident or maybe you figure them for attention-seekers who are coming out of the woodwork because this is a big deal, after all, and the spotlight is on you, the position you’re trying to fill, and the candidate you’re interviewing.

Maybe the first accusation was a hoax and the second was a crank and the third? The fourth? How can you be sure? And, more importantly, do you really have to be?

After all, your loyalty, your duty, and your responsibility isn’t to the candidate asking you to hire him for this lofty and prestigious job. It’s to the institution you serve and the people who depend on it. Your obligation is to the process designed to protect them. Be they stock-holders, a board of visitors, students, or constituents: your job is to keep their best interests at heart. Your responsibility is to find the best person to fill the position.

Not this person. Not that person. **The best **person.

And there are other people. Other candidates with stellar resumes full of valuable experience, loads of great network connections, and who come recommended in all of those elite social circles. Other candidates who haven’t been accused once, twice, thrice, even four times. The process exists to protect them too, to prevent favoritism, the sunk cost fallacy, or simple laziness from denying them their fair shot at the position.

Are you doing your duty to your stockholders, your board, your students, or whathaveyou if you ignore those other potential applicants? If you dismiss those eligible, qualified many who haven’t been accused?

Is the best choice for the position really someone who’s public image has been so tarnished? One who berates the committee for weighing the evidence? One who lets emotion, bitterness, anger, and spite color their response to the questions that your responsibility to the process compels you to ask?

And if not, what does your duty demand of you? And what should the people depending on you do if you fail in that duty?

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