Five years ago I was in the process of helping a client locate an exceptional sales leader for a high-profile global account position within their organization. I had arranged for the VP of Sales to meet with a very well qualified, proven group of five individuals – all of whom would undoubtedly represent the company with great aplomb and, most importantly, greatly improve customer relations and rapidly increase revenues generated from all pertinent accounts.

The interviews had been set up to take place in successive order over a period of five hours. The hiring manager and I had agreed to dissect the discussions immediately after all had been completed. Unbeknownst to me, one of the account executives (let’s call him Mark) had spoken with an associate at another company about his candidacy for the position and, upon further discussion, both had apparently decided that our new player (designated Steve) would be a better match for the role. Subsequently, they devised a plan to have Steve show up for the meeting and hope that it lasted long enough for him to avoid bodily damage.

I became aware of this fine bit of cunning immediately after I contacted Mark at the time we had assigned for a post-interview debriefing. Needless to say, I was not overly pleased. This was an individual I had never spoken with, and I knew nothing about his background and abilities. I had carefully and thoroughly prepared Mark for his evaluation the day before it was scheduled to take place. I also checked in with him the next morning to make certain all was still proceeding accordingly and to address any potential loose ends we may have thought of in the interim. He had given me excited reassurance that his interest in the position was strong and he looked forward to his engagement with the company’s leadership.

When I asked Mark why he had not simply brought Steve to my attention and let me make a proper introduction to the hiring manager, he told me that he felt there was no chance I would move forward with him due to his specific experience. Upon further discussion, I suspected he was most likely correct. Although I always put a premium on qualities such as motivation and desire (and it was clear that this individual was quite driven and he did indeed have some relevant contacts who would undoubtedly be of great assistance), his background simply was not within even the most generous outer parameters established by the hiring manager and myself.

Fantastic, I thought. Hours of networking and careful recruitment had just been undone by an errant act that would most likely not only cast a somber timbre over the entire slate of talks due to the fact that Mark was expected to be the first to appear for the sessions but, most importantly, my relationship with the hiring manager would be irrevocably damaged.

As I picked up the phone to get feedback from the VP, my initial thoughts were rather similar to those Washington must have had when he learned that Arnold was interested in signing away the fort. Perhaps not quite so vexing, but very disconcerting nonetheless. However, I had been in awkward situations such as this in the past and had found that it was always best to find the potential positives and gracefully temper any amount of ire that may be forthcoming – warranted or not. I had already spoken to the other four candidates and had not detected any signs of untoward animosity or outright disdain. Indeed all individuals had greatly enjoyed their respective conversations and looked forward to pursuing the position with all alacrity. My general outlook on things picked up ever so slightly. Even though Steve had most likely tainted the process and possibly set up a rather unpleasant round of discussions for the subsequent individuals, I started to get a feeling that things had progressed better than expected.

The other end of the line became live and I was greeted with… a laugh?

“Dan, I had a rather interesting day today,” Bob the VP said.

“Yes, Bob,” I said, “I suspect you did.”
He then explained how the unexpected guest had blown into the room, rapidly outlined the situation, and asked for 30 minutes of his time. As Steve had undoubtedly hoped, Bob figured the hour was fairly well shot anyhow and thus acceded to his request.

Things went exceptionally well. Bob told me that there was no way he would have agreed to see him based on his standard qualifications and experience. However, this particular candidate had three things going for him:

· A proven record of superb accomplishment in a wide array of fields.
· Tangible evidence of his willingness to do whatever was necessary to achieve his selected goals.
· Bob simply liked him more than the others.

The biggest surprise came next. Bob wanted to hire him on the spot. He was absolutely convinced that Steve would be an incredible asset to the company and wanted to have him join his team as soon as possible. We rapidly agreed upon terms for all parties and Steve started work there that week. He is still with the company and has consistently been ranked within the highest echelon of performers each year since he started.

This experience was quite valuable as it reinforced my belief that certain highly appropriate variables are all too often discounted in the quest to locate what is perceived to be the ideal candidate. There are a multitude of pertinent thoughts that may be extracted from this particular event. I’ll convey my thoughts on those in Part 2.