I was having dinner with a couple colleagues recently and the topic of vetting new hires came up. We shared insights on what has worked and what hasn’t. We professed that we always follow the rules of what to ask and what not to ask. We all seemed to know the difference between buying someone a proper meal versus “entertaining” someone and we swore that we never tried to lure an employee from a competitor. We all lost the staring contest. Blink-blink. Wink-wink.
We compared notes on how to quiz interviewees on past experiences, future ambitions, their strengths and their weaknesses, all while trying to discern “where they want to be in five years.” I hate that question. I don’t know where I want to be in five minutes, let alone five years!
We agreed that we all perform our due diligence by checking every reference they provide. Ever have a prospective employee give you a reference that was not happy with his or her performance? I wouldn’t either.
We finally arrived at the conclusion that no matter how good someone looks on paper, no matter how many times you interview them, and no matter how many people say they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, you never really know what you are getting — until they have worked with you for a while.
This is where the conversation really got interesting. The “remember that guy/girl who…” stories started to emerge and quickly turned into a contest of the best of the worst. The conversation went something like this…
Me: Remember that guy who we thought was really out there pounding the pavement? The seemingly true rainmaker? He went through business cards like they were going out of style, but he never seemed to land any clients. After a call from a store manager, we found out he was trying to land the ladies by handing out business cards in the produce aisle. Hmm…
Colleague 1: Ooh, remember that intern? She came up to me one day with a (dirty) knife in her hand and said, “I’m gonna cut them.” Excuse me? “I’m gonna cut them.” Who are you going to cut? “I’m gonna cut anyone who doesn’t wash their dishes.” And she was serious! Hmm….
Colleague 2: Yeah, but what about that married guy who lived two blocks from the office but kept a pillow under his desk? We found him sleeping under the desk one day and one morning caught him coming down the attic stairs with dust bunnies all over his clothes and a severe case of bed-head. Hmm…..
Dude at the bar: (Hiccup) I can beat all of those. The best of the worst was Spidermatt.
Me: You mean Spiderman?
Dude at the bar: No (Hiccup) Spidermatt! I was working late one night and looked out the window. I saw someone dancing on the roof of the building across the street. I looked closer. It was Matt. He was dancing…on the roof (Hiccup) in the rain. He waved to me. When he came back to the office I asked him what the heck he was doing. “I was dancing in the rain!” On the roof? “Yeah!” How did you get up there? “I climbed the parking lot wall!” The wall was 12 inches wide, started at 8 feet above grade, stepped up three times, then met the second story roof. Matt was just over 5 feet tall. (Burp) Spidermatt! Hmm…
All names were changed to protect the innocent — except for the Dude… and Spidermatt!
Andy Sciarabba, P.E., is a principal with T.G. Miller, P.C., Engineers and Surveyors in Ithaca, N.Y. T.G. Miller, P.C. (www.tgmillerpc.com) is a consulting civil engineering and surveying firm that serves municipal, commercial, institutional, and private clients throughout central New York. Please send him comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.