Lessons Learned the Hard Way
By Stephen L. Spaulding, MBA, DASPR, Physician Recruiter, Duke Medicine, Durham, NC
In the first few months of my job with Duke Medicine, my boss at the time shared a story with me about a memorable candidate interview. This story made a lasting impression on me. My boss said that she was preparing for a long day of interviews that would require a substantial amount of walking across campus, when her candidate showed up for the visit in a new pair of knock-out pumps. Within the first hour, the fabulous shoes were causing distracting levels of discomfort. Between interviews, my boss took the candidate to buy a more comfortable pair of shoes. The interviews continued and everyone was happy, thanks to the extra service my boss provided.
I have my own version of this story with one of my candidates, but with less than successful results! I picked up my candidate at the hotel and got to the first interview on time. However, the interviewer was late — he told us he was getting a haircut. The candidate, self-consciously and almost to himself, commented that he also really needed a haircut, but had not been able to get one at the airport. “Here is my chance,” I said to myself, thinking this could be my chance to provide that extra level of service that my boss had shared with me earlier. I found a gap in the itinerary, just before dinner, and made arrangements to take the candidate to the barber for a haircut.
Unfortunately the super s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n haircut nearly killed me; time crept until we were painfully late for the departmental dinner. When we finally arrived, everyone — including the department and my boss — was livid. For the entire following year, I went on to eat self-inflicted crow. The saving grace for me was that the candidate did sign. He thought the haircut was a lovely gesture, but I learned a huge lesson!
Lesson One: It’s About the Candidate, Not Me
Past experience in the hospitality industry taught me to operate with a concierge mentality, a mindset that problems are to be welcomed, leaned in on and solved. But when is “more” too much? When is “more” just “more”? My biggest mistake in this case was in thinking of myself rather than the candidate. While the haircut was his, the “glory” was mine. I was blinded by a need to prove myself to my employer and my boss. Had I truly been thinking of the candidate, I would have asked what he really wanted before making arrangements for the haircut on my own. He assumed I was on top of the whole thing, but by not including him we were not on the same page.
Lesson Two: Think Ahead and Stick to the Itinerary
My boss and I came to a conclusion that generally works well: stick to the itinerary. In other words, execute the planned itinerary as it is, arriving on time, at the right spot, keeping in mind that uncontrollable events do come up. Had I followed this edict, I likely would not have added a haircut to the itinerary.
A co-worker shared a story in which she, with the best intentions, ran a candidate ragged escorting them from one place to another. At one point the candidate stopped the recruiter and weakly quipped, “can we stop a second and have something to drink?” We have all done some element of this. The candidate has to see everything and meet everyone, right? Well…does she?
A subtle but important part of this is to think through the itinerary ahead of time, seeking opportunities to add value to the itinerary. Think about travel time between appointments, bathroom breaks, and a moment to glance at the campus…things that will make the candidate comfortable. None of this is new, but my lesson was to do the work on the plan ahead of time and then stick to the plan. This keeps my obsessive nature in check and makes my decision-making during the day easier.
Lesson Three: The Judicious Use of “More”
I learned another lesson when a pediatric urology candidate brought her 3-year-old son on a site visit. They went out on the community tour on a searing day in August. I think you can see where this is headed. By the end of the first hour, the young boy was fit to be tied. The candidate graciously bowed out of the last scheduled half-hour and left for the hotel. In a call to the concierge at the hotel, I casually mentioned that the guest and her child had a rough day. When they arrived back at the hotel, in their room were freshly baked cookies and milk for the child and strawberries, cheese and crackers, and Perrier for mom. To this day, the doctor, who went on to sign with us, mentioned this as the highlight of all of her interview trips.
This is the judicious use of “more.” A gesture thinking first of the candidate and her comfort…a gesture that wouldn’t take away from the itinerary…a gesture illustrating that if properly executed, “more” in fact, can be “more” and not less.
My concierge mentality precedes the site visit when I ask myself, “Is this a visit I would enjoy? What is missing? Does it flow? It is reasonable? Does the visit represent me, my team and my institution accurately?” Although I meant well, the “haircut gesture” failed at all three lessons. I am glad for the lessons and even glad for the mistakes. This, too, is what a concierge mentality means to me, the value of lessons learned, getting better with each visit. Because I am thinking of the candidate first, I am now more comfortable selectively asking an interviewer to meet me at Starbucks so the candidate doesn’t tire. The key is telling the interviewer the truth; most understand. I have learned a lot in my five years at Duke. I am glad to be able to do what I do. And yes, I am more selective today in my use of more or less of everything.