Executive Dementia

How to lose a job before the interview

August 20, 2008: 10:31 AM ET

As a bureaucrat, I am constantly looking for other people to do my work. I say this only half facetiously. Once you get into an office with a name on the door, when you have a door, a huge part of the job is to scope out, interview, hire and train a cadre of good people who will allow you as a manager to make the only two things that count: decisions and money.

So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to meeting this guy I'll call Gutman. He had been touted to me as the answer to a problem that I have to solve in the next couple of months. About three weeks ago, the phone rang.

"Good news," said Niela, the woman in HR who sets up such things. "Gutman is coming in on the 22nd. He's working his schedule around to make sure he can get here. Lives in Atlanta, you know. But excited about coming up here to talk with you."

Good, I thought. Guy's got a nice resume. Seems very qualified. A grown up, too, which is not all-too common these days. You'd be amazed how many guys pop out of business school covered with afterbirth and expect a seven figure deal and a corner office. This fellow has some chops, I thought. Could be the answer. A week later, the phone rang.

"A little wrinkle," said Niela. "Gutman wants us to pay for his airfare up here. And to put him up for a night, since he won't be able to make the round trip in one day."

"That's reasonable," I said. But a little tickle announced itself in the back of my stomach. I hate that tickle. It means a part of my perception mechanism that I can't quite control has slipped into gear. I began to very slightly dread meeting this Gutman. But I said to myself, wait a minute, isn't that assertiveness that exact kind of thing you're looking for in a manager? That ability to articulate his needs and get the job done to his benefit? Isn't that precisely the quality, as obnoxious as it may sometimes be, that differentiates a leader from those who are led?

A week ago or thereabouts, the phone rang again.

"What is it, Niela," I said.

"Gutman says that since his interview is on a Friday, and he has other appointments in New York, it will be difficult for him to get back to Atlanta before Sunday night. So he'd like us to handle his hotel for the weekend, plus the airfare, you know..." She paused.

"And?" I said. This was beginning to be interesting.

"And he wants us to pay for his wife to accompany him on the trip."

This was fairly astounding. Was it possible that I had stumbled on a potential CEO? Who wants such people around, even in prototype?

"Cancel Gutman," I said to Niela. And that's what we did. This Friday, my calendar looks blessedly clear, except for a couple of benign meetings with my gang.

I still have my little problem that needs to solved, of course. I just haven't acquired any new ones.

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