I’d love to say that I am perfect and haven’t ever made a mistake in my career, but we all know that just isn’t the case. While this isn’t like the time I set an ATM on fire, it is one of those moments that I relive over and over again with more than a little remorse. See if you can learn any lessons from my own experience…

Years ago I was recruiting for technical writers to join a growing team that I was putting together to support a government contract. Instead of the usual ones and twos, I was hiring a dozen people for this position at one time. It wasn’t your run of the mill tech writer opening, either. I was looking for people with experience writing to military specifications. I needed writers that could do some illustrations. I also needed at least one of the hires to know how to be a “provisioner,” the hardest job I’ve ever had to fill (yes, even harder than helicopter instructor pilots).

The skill set was very obscure, and I had to sift through tons of unqualified resumes to find the few that were a good fit. All this was capped off by an unreasonable deadline set by the customer–a surefire recipe for disaster.

Despite all of the things working against me, I was feeling pretty confident. We had an employee referral or two, and since it is a relatively tight community, I was able to get feedback on some candidates to know which would be a good fit and which wouldn’t before investing time into building rapport with each. I had a great first round of interviews with our pool of applicants, and we were moving a good number of them forward to talk with the hiring manager and the technical lead on the team.

I was working long hours, as I usually did during heavy recruiting seasons of the year. As with many small companies, I was wearing all of the HR hats, and recruiting was one of many of my duties. When a big effort spun up, it would put other things on hold, no matter how critical they might be. I’ll never forget trying to set up a performance improvement plan for a staff member, investigate another for harassment, and try to find a pilot to go to Hawaii for a year-long contract. I survived those hectic weeks purely on Diet Mountain Dew, which I no longer consume.

Anyway, I was working hard. One thing that I have always felt was a differentiator for me as a recruiter and HR leader was that I put the extra effort into communications, and it had paid off. I got massive results from my LinkedIn invitations to candidates. I had high readership and engagement from internal staff on HR communications I developed. I knew that skill set, while it took time that could be used on other activities, was going to continue paying dividends over time. But one day, for some reason, I snapped.

Yes, I snapped. If you’ve ever met me in person, you’d have a hard time believing I could snap at anything. And yet I did. 

One of the candidates I was chasing for the final slot had been leading me on and was slowly becoming less responsive as the days went by. I thought I might be losing him, but despite everything I put into every conversation, there didn’t seem to be a way to turn it around.

Finally I asked him point blank what the issue was. Why was he backing off? Was there something I could do to fix it?

And the guy responded with something that drove me over the edge.

He said that he had heard the company wasn’t very good to its employees and that he wasn’t interested in working at a place like that.

And it happened. I. Went. Off. 

Now, before I tell you what I said, I want you to understand something. I had worked for the company since it was a startup. I knew every employee and spouse by name, and I was pretty darn good about knowing their kids, too. People loved the company and the work. We had phenomenal leadership and a great mission. We prided ourselves in taking care of our people financially, professionally, and personally.

One time, an employee’s house blew away in a tornado on his first day of work. We all pitched in to make sure he had leave to cover his time away with his family to pick up the pieces. We really worked hard to take care of these people just like they were family. I agonized over absolutely every detail to make sure the company was the kind of place that I would be proud of my own kids working for. I had employees from our partner companies calling me daily asking how they could join our team because our employees were so darn happy with their jobs and the company.

And this guy had the nerve to lie and say that we didn’t care. 

I responded back to the guy and told him that after reviewing his resume, I didn’t think he was a good fit for the company. Now, or ever. We didn’t need people like him on the team anyway. Good riddance. So long, jerk…

And you know what? I felt great! It was so awesome to get that off my chest.

For about five minutes.

Then I realized I had just treated this guy the way that the fictional company he imagined us to be would have done. And I am still kicking myself all these years later for doing it and proving him right.

Within half an hour I sent an apology, attempting to salvage the contact for future efforts even though I knew it was probably toast. The next morning I immediately went to my boss and explained what I had done, telling her that I had even apologized after the fact. She knew that I was going to beat myself up about it worse than anything she could do, so she let me off the hook.

What’s the lesson here? The moral of the story? Well, we all know that we should never respond to anyone, in any situation, in a spirit of anger. That time it got the best of me. I also learned that I should never respond to emotionally-charged situations via email on my cell phone, because I tend to be more direct and less concerned with the message in general when I’m responding via that method. Painful reminders that stick with me to this very day. The final one is to try and keep stress from getting to you. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but we all know it never leads to positive outcomes.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the guy never replied back to anything. I never talked with him again, and I can’t even remember his name at this point. But I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I read that note from him. Or how it felt when I realized what I had done.

Over the years I’ve recruited many, many more people. I’ve never again responded to any of them, no matter the situation, in anger or in a way that would embarrass the company or myself. That was a painful lesson to learn and one that still haunts me when I think about it, but I am glad to know that it only took one instance to make it stick with me.

Ever done anything embarrassing as an HR or recruiting pro? Feel free to respond anonymously in the comments. 

That\’s a snazzy title if I do say so myself! Where did it come from? Well, I was reminiscing about crazy work stories with my coworker, and I then remembered that I\’d never really told the story of how I set an ATM on fire while on the job. So… Here we go!

In the summer after I graduated high school, I wanted to get a job other than working for my parents as I had for several years. So I talked with a friend who was a branch manager at a local bank and she recommended me for the summer hire program. So for the first time in my life, I went to interview for a job.

Needless to say, I got the job. And strangely like my current profession, I was one of the only men to do the job of a bank teller. :-) Anyway, I had been working at different banks in the area, rotating to a new one every other week. Finally I ended up at a location that I really liked. The other tellers were friendly and really enjoyed having me around.

A new opportunity Continue reading

Friday free for allFridays are turning into a sort of free for all. I often get requests about what l’m working on, and I also have a hard time keeping track of everything that’s going on around me, so I’ll share a few updates.

  • My buddy Stephen Harrison’s blog “HRwhY?” has opened officially, and I hope you’re subscribed. You can expect good things from him.
  • My pal Robin Schooling wrote a guest post on HR fishbowl in the #TrenchHR series.
  • I now have (for your viewing pleasure) a random post generator. The formatting is wonky, but the content is still good.
  • I also created a RocketHR page, because a lot of people don’t realize I also write a blog for my local SHRM chapter. Continue reading

After all of the “end of 2009” and “here comes 2010” posts I’ve been reading, I realized I haven’t done my own! I checked my phone, and I have lots of jumbled ideas. Maybe I can straighten them out and have some smooth sailing into the new year. Let’s unpack, shall we? I’m just typing as fast as I can and will probably miss quite a few things.

Looking back at 2009

Created UpstartHR

I created UpstartHR and really got into writing online. It’s been an eye-opening experience for me, and I am thrilled to be a part of an amazing community.

Made LOTS of friends

I don’t have the space or time to mention all of the friends and acquaintances I’ve made this year. Andrew, April, Jim, Victorio, Trish, Steve B., Steve H., Rich, Lance, Chris F., Crystal, Joan, Margo, Mark, Paul, Michael, Kelly, Alicia, and Allen are just the tip of the iceberg. If I didn’t mention your name, please leave a comment below and hassle me for it. I promise it’s not on purpose.

HRevolution Continue reading

local shrm chapterNote: this post is not encouraging anyone to spam a group of people. It’s only a recount of my own experience. If you spam your local HR pros, you could get booted from the SHRM chapter. Fair warning!

Back in the spring of 2009, I started looking for my first HR job. While I graduated college a year earlier than that, I had to work for my employer for a year since they paid for my final semester of college. I knew that it was time to step out of the small pond and jump into the world of HR with both feet. At that time, I was working with Andrew at Jobacle as a staff writer. In a fortunate coincidence, I had interviewed JT O’Donnell for a story on the Jobacle blog, and after a brief mention that I was job searching, we began to work together. JT is a great career coach, and her company, CAREEREALISM, is the place to go if you’re a job seeker looking for help.

Within a week, an entry level HR position with a local nonprofit opened up. I went for it. I wrote a cover letter, attached my resume, and sent it to their in-house recruiter. The only problem is that I knew that everyone else who applied for the job would do that exact same thing. I had to make it better. Continue reading

merry freaking christmasI’m pretty good friends with Steve at HR Gumbo. We talked about this a good bit before we both posted. You might like to read his post on regulating holidays to make sure you get the “whole” story.

I’m definitely one of those people who gets angry when their company tells them how they can and cannot celebrate the approaching holiday. My last job was like that. My current one isn’t. I work in a radically different culture from a public institution. I’m in the far extreme side of the spectrum. The nonprofit organization that I work for is technically classified as a church, if that gives you any indication. But if someone brought in something representing another holiday, I can’t see us bashing their head in for it.

Christmas decorations rant Continue reading

human resource leadershipHuman resources is a vital function for an organization’s survival. With the proper tools, a good HR department can turn sticky problems around, increase revenues, and lead/challenge the organization to become better overall. The only problem?

Many organizations lack strong human resources leadership.

That fault may be intra-organization or intra-department. If the human resources staff has weak leadership, then there’s a good chance that HR within the entire organization is weak as well. If the organization has weak leadership, then there’s a good chance that they won’t give HR a chance to shine. Whatever the case, weakness like that can cripple an organization.

We All Know and Hate It Continue reading