Candidates with Hickeys

(I’m on vacation – I originally posted this in Feb. 2010 over at Fistful of Talent. Also going on 16,123 days of never having a Hickey!)

Kris Dunn, our the HR Capitalist, had a blog post “How To Destroy a Lifetime of Trust as an HR Pro in a Single Day…” where he explained how a direct report broke the cardinal rule in HR and shared confidential information, or more specifically tried to use confidential information for personal gain. It wasn’t something illegal, it had nothing to do with their individual functional performance as a Director of HR, but what this person did was destroy the trust they had with their leader (although I could argue that if a HR Pro can’t keep confidential information confidential – you probably do have a performance issue). Good post – go over and read it, if you haven’t.

The post got me thinking though about how a person recovers from this type of transgression. (Also take a look at this WSJ article “How a Black Mark Can Derail a Job Search“.  As a leader, Kris was pained for sure, because this person had “High-Potential” and was an “A” player.  But when certain things happen, professionally, you have to cut ties and move on.  So now, this Hi-Po has a huge Hickey.  Interestingly though, this Hickey can’t be seen when you look at their resume or interview them in person, but it’s a Hickey they can’t get rid of.  So, barring a life-turtleneck how does one cover this puppy up?

It’s interesting because I think that probably the best of us have a hickey or two that we would rather not have our current or future employer know about.  Sometimes they’re big-giant-in-the-back-of-a-Chevy-17-year-old-I-will-love-you-forever hickeys and sometimes they’re just oops-I-lingered-a-little-too-long type of hickeys. Either way, I would rather not expose my hickeys and have to worry about how this will impact the rest of my professional life. And here’s where most people drive themselves crazy.

As HR Pros I think it’s important for us to be able to help our organizations determine the relative value of individuals.  This person was a rock star at ABC company – did something wrong, couldn’t maintain that position any longer with ABC because of said incident, and lost their job – now we have a chance to pick up a Rock Star (and probably for a discount).  The question you have to ask is not could we live with this person if they did the same thing here?  Because that really isn’t the question – you already have that answer – No.  The question is: do we feel this person learned from said wrong doing and is there any risk of them doing it again?  You might come to the conclusion – yes, they’ve learned, and yes, there is potential they might do it again (let’s face it, if they did it once, they’ve shown they can do it, so there’s always a risk) – but it’s a risk we are willing to take.

So how does someone come back from a transgression at work? The answer is that they have some help.  Eventually, someone is going to ask the question, “why aren’t you with ABC Company anymore?”  They’ll give you the canned answer they’ve been developing since the moment they lost their job. If you’re a good interviewer, you won’t buy the first answer:  “I mean really?!  So, you decided it was better off not to have a job. Is what you’re telling me?!”,  and you will dig to see the hickey.  Hickeys are funny in that you really can’t take your eyes off of them, but for those who can get by the hickeys, you might just find a great talent who is grateful for the second chance.

But, you also might find someone who just likes being in the back of that Chevy and getting Hickeys. You’re the HR Pro, though, and that’s really why your company pays your salary, to mitigate risk versus the quality of talent your organization needs to succeed.  So, you have to ask yourself, can you live with a Hickey or not?

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