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Why They Rejected The Best HR Candidate They’d Ever Interviewed — The Shocking Truth Revealed!

Date Posted: 20/May/2017

I recently ran into Taylor at a national SHRM conference where he was one of the featured speakers. 

We first met years ago when he was interviewing at our company for an HR executive position,

Seeing him again, we agreed to meet for coffee early the next morning to catch up.

As we sat down to enjoy our brews, I asked him why he decided not to join our company.

He revealed the REAL story — something I’d never heard before.

............................................

It took place in 2006. He was interviewing with us for the HR job of his dreams. He was one of the two finalists. It was a job he wanted desperately to land.

This was the third (and hopefully, last) round of interviews. He’d already talked to twenty people including most of the key HR staff. On this day, he is to see the Division President and members of his senior executive team.

And he is also there to see Wade. 

Wade heads up Human Resources for the international group and is about to retire.

Wade has been with the company for thirty-two years and he’s the last name on the interview list.

And as soon as Taylor arrives at Wade’s office and shakes his hand, he knows right away he’s not like the rest of the folks he’s interviewed with.

First of all, Wade is balding, has gray hair, is overweight and talks and moves rather slowly. Everyone else Taylor has seen so far are roughly in their late thirties to early forties and are aggressive, quick-talking type A personalities.

Secondly, Wade appears to be about sixty old. The glasses he’s wearing are definitely not in style and his attire could use some updating.

Taylor thinks this is an absolute waste of time. I’m a superstar. This guy’s a joke. And he wonders: “Why the hell am I spending time with him?” 

So at the end of the interview Wade asks him, “Do you have any questions?”

Taylor thinks this has been an easy interview. Wade asked him pretty basic questions and he crushed them with his brilliant and thorough answers.

He has no questions for Wade.

Taylor leaves the building knowing he has impressed the hell out of the other executive interviewers. He’s proud of himself. He’s managed these meetings well and he’s excited. And, he’s absolutely convinced, without a doubt, that he’ll be hired as the new VP of Human Resources for the Quaker Oats Foods group.

Three days later, he gets a call from Mary, the Chief HR Officer for the company. Mary is leading the search committee to fill the job Taylor is interviewing for.

As soon as he sees her name on his caller ID, he’s thinking, “This is it! This is the offer! Hot damn!”

When he picks up, Mary cuts right to the chase and says, “We’d like you to come in again.”

Confused and disappointed, Taylor, replies: “Mary, you want me to come in for a fourth time…”

“Yes, we need to talk. Since your office is only a few blocks away, hopefully it's not a big inconvenience..."

He agrees.

When he comes in, Mary gets right to the point: “Taylor, we’re very, very impressed with you. You frankly blew us away. The President liked you, the senior leadership team liked you, and so have the hundreds of other people we’ve had you meet. I know this has been a long interview process, so thank you for your patience.”

She went on, “In fact, we all agree that with your experience and all your accomplishments…

You’re probably the best HR candidate we’ve ever seen!”

Then Mary took…a…long…pause…and…uttered: “But we have some major concerns.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“About what?”

“About your interview with Wade.”

“Wade? You mean the Wade who’s about to retire?”

Said Mary: “Yep, same guy.  You were quite engaging and super-aggressive with everyone else with your questions. But you weren't with Wade. In fact, he said you seemed uncomfortable throughout the whole interview and barely answered his questions. At the end, he asked you a number of times if you had any questions, and you said no. And I think he said finally, ‘So you have no questions for me?’ and you shook your head, frowned and then looked at your watch twice as if you couldn’t wait for the interview to end.”

“Let me tell you a few things about Wade. He’s a nice guy. And until he retires and we find his replacement, he still heads up HR for our International group, which is the single largest division in this company. Yes, he’s slowed down a lot. Someday you will, and someday I will too.”

“Wade at one time was our best HR executive. Bright. Sharp. Aggressive. That is, until his heart attack. Years ago, he launched the first ever Leadership Institute at this company that the executives still rave about. He drove the first initiatives to improve the representation of women in executive positions. And today, he serves as a wise, trusted advisor to many of the executives on the President’s team and to the union leaders at our factory locations.”

“We’ll all miss him when he leaves the company next month. And believe it or not, ten years ago, he held the exact same job you’re interviewing for, which is why he was on your interview schedule.”

“And Taylor, let me tell you one other thing…

“Wade hired me!”

“So, if Wade isn’t as sharp as he used to be, he’s still a lovely person, and a good human being. He done well with our organization and the knowledge he has about this place is priceless. Everyone loves and respects him.”

“We’re not sure what all this says about you and your character or why you choose to treat him the way you did. But whatever your reason was, it was wrong.”

“Our senior leadership team is concerned that in this job you’ll be dealing with and negotiating with a number of powerful and influential union leaders who have been with us for over 30 years. Many are nearing retirement just like Wade. While we have our battles and disagreements with the union, we always treat their leaders and our senior employees with the utmost respect. We are worried that if you can’t be respectful of Wade, an executive who has forged a terrific legacy with our company, we don’t know how you’ll relate to others who may not be as quick or brilliant as you are.”

“Taylor, you are an outstanding candidate and I could have told you all this by phone. But you’ve invested lots of time going through our interview process. So we owe you the truth. And I somehow thought, since you work nearby, you deserved to hear it in person.”

And the truth is this…

“We will NOT be offering you the job. I’m sorry.”

Taylor sat stunned and speechless.

He felt his whole world crashing down on his head. Mary had just put up a mirror and let him see vividly what a total jerk he had been. No one had ever took him apart like that before. Ever. Wade was a nice person – not sharp as he used to be, not as cool as he used to be, not young, not energetic – but a nice man, and a very accomplished leader worthy of respect.

Someone he treated shamefully.

And it cost Taylor a terrific job that he wanted.

He didn't deny that he treated Wade differently. But he tried to rationalize his behavior to Mary and begged for another chance.  She indicated that the decision was final and it was too late. They had offered the job to another candidate, who accepted it the previous day.

End of story.

………………………………

To say I was shocked at hearing all this would be an understatement. And, I’m sure it showed on my face. I thanked him for sharing this with me and being so upfront and brutally candid. Taylor took one last sip of his coffee, looked up at me, nodded and just smiled. While painful at the time, I could tell after all these years he had finally come to terms with this experience.

He told me that this was a lesson that forever changed him as an HR leader and it’s one he often shares when he’s mentoring up and coming managers.

Simply put, what he learned was this:

“You cannot judge a book by its cover. Some people may not appear as competent, or as smart, or as gifted as you are (or you think you are). But they, like everyone else, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Frankly, there’s nothing new about this message. But what makes it meaningful and powerful for Taylor is that he has the personal experience that goes with it…and that’s what makes it makes it real for him.

Today, he is the top HR executive of a well-known computer security company and reports to the CEO.

By all accounts, he’s hugely successful and highly respected.

It’s been years since his episode with Wade happened.

But it’s a painful lesson that changed him forever.

And it’s a lesson he’s never forgotten.

Culled from

Alan Collins - Founder, Success in HR






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