As his business has continued to grow, a business owner we'll call "Shelley" has found it challenging to find qualified employees to add to her team. Because it was still a small operation, she figures that it's important for her to get every hire right to avoid wreaking havoc on the rest of her workplace.
For several years, through trade shows and networking events, Shelley has known a fellow we're calling "Blake." Blake had a great reputation for the work he'd done for a much larger company doing similar work to Shelley's company, and for years Blake has expressed an interest in joining Shelley's company should an opportunity arise.
While she had heard from others about how solid a job Blake had done at his other positions, there were also rumblings that he might not be such a great colleague with whom to work. Shelley had no evidence that anything specific ever occurred, but suggestions that Blake was a bit of a bully to those workers reporting to him and hints that he might have made some employees uncomfortable by asking them on dates gave her pause.
"I need someone strong who can do the job," Shelley says. "No one has ever indicated that Blake can't do the type of work I would need him to do." Plus, she reports that Blake has always come across respectful and professional when she has met him.
Because she has several pending jobs that will require her to staff up her company quickly, Shelley feels some urgency in hiring on new employees.
Is it wrong, Shelley asks, to use these suspicions as a reason not to hire Blake, particularly when she needs to fill open positions at her company?
For many readers, it might come as no surprise that someone who has a bit of a reputation for behaving badly with employees who report to him or work alongside him manages to treat those to whom he reports quite well. Too many of us have witnessed colleagues who are excellent at "managing up" while miserable when it comes to the way they treat those who have little to no power of them in the workplace.
That may or may not be the case with Blake. Shelley simply doesn't know enough.
Shelley should do the same thing she does with any prospective hire and that's to seek references about his experience and qualifications. Rather than rely on random chatter about his strengths or weaknesses, she should check each out. If she has any reservation whatsoever about Blake's or any other prospective employee's ability to behave appropriately in the workplace, she should pass on making the hire.
If she believes any prospective employee's bad behavior should be overlooked because he's good at his job, she risks creating a hostile environment for her existing employees and jeopardizing her company's prospects for the long-term.
When screening prospective employees, the right thing is to do as thorough a job in screening them as possible and not to overlook significant flaws simply because there's a desperate need to get someone in place to do the job.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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