Learning From Mistakes: Trying to Place Travis

May 2, 2011
image source: opensourceway

The great major champion golfer Jack Nicklaus was renown for many things. One of the least notable, but most poignant, was his amazing knack for really only remembering the good experiences in his illustrious career. His memory of seemingly every detail of winning moments is legendary. He can go back 30 years and tell you the club, yardage, wind direction, and how many clouds were in the sky for a single shot during a 72-hole tournament. Meanwhile, he could not recite any bit of the history that occurred during any of his defeats. No reason to hold on too tightly to bad memories anyway. I mean, who wants to carry that garbage around?

This kind of “selective memory” I’m sure has some psychological effect on elite performers. If all you can remember is the good, than your confidence is bound to remain high at all times. So, how do we learn from our failures if they are so easily deleted from our minds? Nicklaus has also said that he is able to learn from past experiences but move on quickly and “stay in the moment.” The real question is: how can we as recruiters adopt this mentality while still learning from our miscues? It’s a balancing act to be certain, but one that must be done.

It is funny, though, that as I try to reflect back on the biggest disappointments in my relatively short career, not much comes to mind. However, I distinctly recall vivid details from many of my most prized placements. The “feel good” moments are ones that I have held onto, and likely always will. I have, like all of you, endured countless gut punches as well. A few continue to stand out, and one recent experience is still very top of mind.

I had placed a candidate, Travis, a few years ago in a payroll position. He started as a part-timer and grew into a permanent role as a Payroll Manager at the company. By all accounts, it was a great deal for everyone, and Travis grew into being a true payroll expert. Over the course of the last year, however, he had been regularly clocking 70 hours per week, was taking work home every night, and was burning out. He decided to resign, which is a decision I’m sure he regrets on some level now. That being said, at the time I know it was a breath of fresh air for him. But as time wore on in his job search the pressure started to mount.

It should be noted here that I really like Travis. He was one of my first placements, and his personality is such that you want good things for him. I relate well to him as he has two little girls at home like I do. He is a genuine, articulate, and sincere person. When things started to go sour in his job, I took that hard because I had placed him there. I felt culpable in causing his pain, and wanted to make it go away if I could. In that respect, even though I advised against it, when he told me he was resigning I was happy for him. I knew that the job was taking a toll on him, and now that he had given notice I could go to work and help find him something better. But better had not come almost two months into his search.

Finally one day, my division received an order that was referred from our administrative staffing division. It seemed very benign at the time, but as I read through the role description I realized that it read like Travis’ resume. Once I reached the end, I was fairly certain this was a great match for Travis. Even the industry and company size were seemingly perfect matches for what I knew he ideally wanted. I called the hiring manager, who was the owner of the company, marketed Travis, and worked to secure my search terms. He verbally agreed to our terms, he signed my contract, and an interview with Travis was arranged for the following day. I called Travis to let him know where he was going, and who he was interviewing with. I began to talk about the position, and let Travis know what to expect in the interview.

“Nate, this is exactly what I want!” Travis assured me as we spoke about the position. “Thank you so much. This is it!” Everything was falling into place for a dream placement. Get the search, set up one interview, and close — all in 24 hours.

The interview went off as planned the next day and Travis called me immediately after. “Nate, I got it!”

“What? What did you get?” I asked, hoping he meant the job.

“I got the job.” He replied confidently. “I mean, I can’t imagine that I didn’t.” Now, this is where I began to worry. Almost every time in my recruiter life a candidate has been this sure, something has fallen apart for them. I soldiered on though and did not give hint of my doubt. Travis went on to walk me through all the details of the events, and by the end, I had gone from skeptical to sold. It did indeed seem like an open and shut case. He was actually giving the owner consultation of his payroll system and telling them what he could do to help them.

At the end of the interview, the owner told Travis, “When you start, I want you to just take charge…..What number do I call to make an offer?” Then, the other shoe apparently dropped. As Travis was preparing to leave from the interview, the client uttered to him the words that have never accompanied a placement for me or any of my candidates. “You do realize there is a fee for me hiring you, right? Would you be willing to sign an agreement that you would pay back the fee if you left after a certain amount of time?”

“Sure!” Travis said back to him without missing a beat. As Travis said, he wanted this job and would do what he needed to in order to get it. My heart sank as he explained this final detail of his interview. This has happened two other times in my recollection, where the client attempted to gain acknowledgement from my candidate of presence, and amount of the fee associated with hiring them. Both times before, the client ended up finding a lesser-qualified candidate without a fee attached.

I closed the conversation with Travis and tried not to show him my concern. I called the owner of the client company and we talked for about five minutes. In this conversation he confirmed that he really liked Travis, and thinks he could do the job very well. But…..wait for it…..”The fee is large and we need to meet one more person.” They interviewed one more person, and did end up hiring that person. But not before making Travis and I agonize for two additional days (also another dead giveaway of an impending fall through).

“You’re kidding me!” Travis said in disbelief after I broke the news that he did not get the job. He rehashed the interview and quickly drew the same conclusion I had three days prior. “Do you think the fee was the issue, since he was asking me to sign something?”

“It may have been,” I said it thinking it must have been, but maintaining some benefit of the doubt for my client. We both just kind of stammered and stuttered together on the phone for a few minutes. What can you say really at that point? We just kind of both agreed that we were one opportunity closer to finding something better.

This one hurt. They all do, but this one more than most because Travis is such a good person. It’s a fact of our jobs that we invest a little more emotionally into placing the people we genuinely like. Also, it hurt bad because I had mentally notched that one into my production report. To have it “taken away” took the wind from my sails for a good day or two. Luckily, it was on a Friday and I had the weekend to recoup. What if it had been on a Monday? I wonder how my productivity would have suffered the rest of the week. What I take from this experience, and hopefully all of them like this, is a lesson I learn from the “big billers” in my office. They are able to shake these experiences off quickly and move on just like the great Jack Nicklaus. Not because they don’t care, but because they DO care. They use these experiences as mojo, and fuel to get them to their next placement. They know conclusively that after a negative, they are that much closer to placing their “Travis.”

As for Travis, he remains in great spirits, and knows something good is around the corner for him. His positivity is a redeeming and magnetic quality that I appreciate very much. As I write this, I am getting ready to blast through a call list of prospective buyers for my resident Payroll expert. Gotta go. Stay tuned….


Travis update….8:42 AM EDT, 5/18/11: I am happy to report Travis is in his 2nd week at a new job I placed him at as a Payroll Manager. He is relieved to be working again and getting settled in with his new employer. It’s a great day indeed!

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!