Gambling for Hires

Oct 19, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
photo by Todd Klassy

Recruitment, at times, can seem a lot like a poker game. The client is the dealer, and every candidate is a player. At prescribed stages in the game, all cards are hidden, and bit by bit, each individual reveals his or her hand. Each show of cards is a risk. Sometimes the dealer wins, which is good because that means the game can remain solvent for other players to enjoy. At other times the players win, which is also positive, since a losing game draws no players. As long as the odds are relatively even and everyone abides by the rules, the game can go on. But what happens when a player steps up who doesn’t play by the rules?

A contract recruiter friend of mine — let’s call her Susan — has a reputation for respecting the rules of the game, and she expects her clients and candidates to follow suit. Because of this, a situation about two years ago shook her up, one in which a candidate seemingly decided to make his own rules.

At the time, Susan was recruiting sales candidates for a prominent organization, one with many customers as well as many aggressive competitors. With her flair for nailing her clients’ needs, Susan brought this company a candidate, Kevin, who seemed to be a perfect match for the job and the organization. He worked for the client’s primary competitor, so had an in-depth understanding of the business. He had a solid reputation with both his peers and his customers. In addition, his reasons for wanting to change organizations seemed deeply personal, not at all tinged with bitterness.

As part of the last interview round, the hiring manager spoke with Kevin in depth about the largest customer that he would support if he were hired in order to be certain of two things: first, that Kevin would understand fully the expectations of this specific role, and second, that she, the hiring manager, could be confident of Kevin’s ability to support the customer appropriately. This last interview round led to a job offer.

Kevin, Susan, and Susan’s client did the usual offer negotiation dance which resulted in an acceptance and the selection of a start date. Kevin seemed eager to wrap things up with his current employer and start his new job. However, at the eleventh hour, Kevin rescinded his acceptance citing vague reasons for his change of heart. Susan’s client was disappointed, of course, but Susan quickly found her a new, equally exceptional candidate who joined the client’s team. All seemed to turn out well in the end, with the company, final candidate and Susan all feeling as if they’d won.

Then came the game-changer. Around this same time, a new division within the client’s customer organization, the one Kevin had learned about during his interviews, opened its doors. About two weeks after Kevin reneged on his acceptance of the job, Susan’s client — the hiring manager — had to participate in a sales pitch to win this new segment of her customer’s business. As she and her team walked into the client’s office building to give their sales presentation, they passed the pitch team for her primary competitor, Kevin’s employer. The hiring manager stared at them in disbelief as she realized that Kevin was a member of this competitor’s sales team bidding on her customer’s new division. Needless to say, both the hiring manager and Susan felt that their confidence had been betrayed.

Unfortunately, to this day, Susan doesn’t know how this turn of events occurred. Was it deliberate or coincidence? Did Kevin share the information he learned during his interview with his employer, leading to Kevin’s assignment to the pitch team? Was this just an unfortunate twist of fate, one that Kevin possibly couldn’t reveal to his employer out of fear of showing too many of his own cards and revealing who tried to hire him away?

Susan’s client took a gamble, or rather an educated risk, in sharing confidential customer information with Kevin during the interview process. She showed her cards, as it were, to ensure that her next bet — hiring him onto her team — would likely pay off. Unfortunately, in this case she took a risk that not only didn’t pay off, it put her in a precarious position because the rules as she understood them — that information shared in confidence during an interview should remain in confidence — possibly were not followed.

Have you ever been on either side of a similar situation? What would you do if you were Susan or the hiring manager? What would you do if you were Kevin?

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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