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Round Up the Usual Candidates

April 26, 2011

Over the course of my many years in HR I’ve interviewed thousands of candidates.  I’ve worked in a variety of industries so I’ve had staffing responsibilities for positions
ranging from dishwashers to Loan Officers to Research Scientists in the biomedical field. Lots of resumes, lots of phone calls, and lots of interviews.

Now generally, when I needed to fill a Research Scientist position or that of an RN or Physical Therapist, I tended not to have folks in my candidate pool who didn’t meet some pretty specific education, skill and experience requirements.  But when I’ve worked to recruit for various service, administrative or even sales positions, I’ve gotten resumes and/or collected applications from a wide and vast pool of job seekers.

Over the years I’ve received resumes and/or inquiries from strippers, mortician’s assistants, and people with 15 years customer service experience in a library setting; prison library that is.  I’ve talked with waitresses who put themselves through school working at a certain establishment (logo of a nocturnal winged animal that lives in the woods) and had adopted the same dress code standards for their personal lives as for their work uniform.   I’ve interviewed former hookers (really), pimps (truly) and people who embezzled from their former employer.

One memorable interview many years ago was with a man who worked for 10 years at an establishment that turned out to be an “Adult Book/Toy Store.”  I was interviewing him for a sales/service position which required someone with the capacity to successfully cross-sell products to customers.  As we dove into the guts of the interview, he regaled me with some stellar examples of how he did just that – customers came into the store and made a purchase of some sort of latex item and he made sure to inform them about other products that that could be of ‘assistance’.  He provided me with lots of examples of his experience managing multiple tasks and priorities – he managed the counter and rang up sales, stocked shelves and simultaneously kept track of the little 25-cent movie-booths in the back.  He took notice of which genres his repeat customers enjoyed and made product recommendations to them on their next visit to the store. He was smart, personable and friendly.  It was certainly the first (and thus far only) interview where I had to ask serious questions about the sorts of products his store carried, but after the meeting I knew he was totally a good candidate for an open position.

My next step was to send him on to the hiring manager, and I used the same tactic he had used with me – I didn’t clarify the sort of business in which he worked.  You see, on his resume which I had received prior to scheduling the interview, he listed “Assistant Store Manager, 19xx – 19xx, All-Star Books.”  Until he sat down across from me during the interview, I had no idea that “All-Star Books” was the business-entity name for the store dba “Adult XXX Store.”  He didn’t lie or falsify anything.  But he probably assumed that some uptight staffing specialist (me) at Conservative Company ABC (mine) would have passed right over the resume of some guy working at a porn store. (note – I did give the hiring manager a bit of a hint about his non-traditional industry experience, but asked her to keep an open mind and focus on WHAT he did, not WHERE he did it).

Now I wish I could say that we hired him, that he was the most fantastic employee ever brought on board and that he broke all sorts of sales records. But alas, I can’t say that.  We ended up filling the position with another candidate and Mr. Dirk Diggler continued, presumably, to work for All-Star Books.

Did we not take him seriously because of the industry in which he worked?  Quite honestly I can’t recall that the hiring manager made a big deal out of it; we always had a wealth of candidates for open positions and would have settled on the best overall choice.  The again, maybe she didn’t bring it up because she was too embarrassed to have a conversation with ME about Dirk’s experience cross-selling ‘marital aids.’

Fairly recently I became aware of a job seeker looking to make the move from that place with the logo of a nocturnal winged animal that lives in the woods.  I’m sure she works pretty hard – they serve lots of cold beer, fairly decent food and tend to be thronged with fans when sporting events are televised. 

But what will she experience in the job market?  Are there employers out there that won’t consider her due to “where” she worked?  Do hiring managers and/or HR professionals/recruiters think this way?

And what have you done when faced with the candidacy of someone who was NOT the usual candidate?

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 26, 2011 9:02 pm

    I love stories about interviews and interesting candidates, and this is one of the best! When I was part of a team staffing a new factory in the midwest, I talked with teachers, bank tellers, miners, chicken farmers, and even a former pro baseball pitcher about why their skills would be additive to our team.
    I also tried to let the hiring manager know only pertinent information, as bias is everywhere. You did that exactly right.
    In answer to your question, I tried to do exactly as you did – avoid the non-traditional nature of the candidate, and promote the aspects of their capabilities that supported moving them forward in the process.

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