The Moral of the Story

15 JULY 2013 | @ahsan_s | General | General | 1100 | 949 | 5

It was my first day after I returned from a vacation. There was a resumé on my desk, with a yellow post-it note attached to it. It was from my boss (let’s just call her Jennifer). It read: "Ahsan, the resumé looks good to me. If you agree, please consider interviewing the candidate". It was a time when the economy was booming. It seemed like we were perpetually in a hiring mode. My then boss, Jennifer, was polite, respectful, full of empathy, and an all around pleasant personality whose presence would brighten anyone's day. The memory of those days still warm my heart.

The candidate was from out of state. Normally for out of state candidates we used to do a phone interview first. If the candidate passed muster, we'd bring him/her in for an in-person interview. This particular candidate applied for an entry-level position that required good C++ skills among other things. Because C++ was hot in those days, most candidates used to claim to be experts on the language, even those who lacked basic understating of some of the language’s fundamental concepts and quirks. So I had a prepared set of technical interview questions designed to probe the candidate’s understanding of not just the basics, but also the subtleties of the language (C++, as powerful as it is, was notoriously famous for having more than its fair share of gotchas, so much so that in its heyday an author wrote there were only nine people in the world who knew the language from wall to wall!). For entry-level candidates, I expected them to satisfactorily answer most of the basic questions, and at least be able to follow the logic when I discussed the answers to the more advanced ones.

The more upstream a problem is solved, the better.

So, anyway, I set up a suitable day and time to phone interview this candidate. We started on time. I asked her some general questions to make her feel comfortable. When she appeared to be at ease, I slowly started asking some technical questions. The interview was going well, I thought. She answered most, if not all, of the questions satisfactorily. About half an hour in to the interview, she suddenly told me something that not only shocked me, but also embarrassed me!

She claimed I already interviewed her a couple of months ago! She also distinctly remembered the questions I'd asked, she added.

Obviously she did not remember that she had been interviewed by our company recently when she accepted this interview, which is understandable. But at least I should have had some record of having interviewed this candidate. It turns out that I did. Then how did this happen? Well, obviously, before deciding to interview a candidate I don’t go through my stack of resumés to see if the candidate had been interviewed recently. We did not have an automated system to keep track of information like this either. Could it be that she applied twice to our company within a short period of time? Even that checked out negative --- she did not. Also, when I interview someone, I take notes on the resumé. This one was squeaky clean!

Okay, here’s my theory on exactly what happened.

The note on that yellow post-it from my boss suggesting that I interview the candidate, had indeed been written a couple of months ago. But there was no date on the note. During my vacation, a visitor from an out of town branch was allowed to use my office. Now the following is admittedly a bit of speculation, but I am reasonably convinced that it is true. The visitor, to make some room on my somewhat cluttered desk, moved some stuff around. But before leaving, as any good person would do, he put my stuff back to where they were, in the process accidentally exposing this particular resumé with my boss' note on it, that was hiding somewhere in those stacks of documents. At some point afterwards, the department secretary entered my office to deliver mail or other documents, and noticed this resumé with my boss' note, and like a good secretary, put it at a place where I would notice it as soon as I returned from my vacation. The fact that there were no notes on the resumé is because I had used a second copy.

But this could have been avoided if after the candidate was interviewed the first time I'd removed my boss’ note and marked on the resumé that the candidate had been interviewed (and hadn't used a second copy too!). I fully admit my fault in this case. But I also couldn't help but think that if my boss had put a date on her note, that would also have saved the day for me! I would immediately notice that it was an old request and that I didn't need to take any action.

I firmly believe that the more upstream (or the closer to the source) a problem is solved, the better. So, to me the moral of the story is that it is important to write the date on any document or note we create. Since this incident, any document or note I ever write or type, I put the date on it. I am totally hysterical about it. Even if I have to write a phone number on a paper napkin, I’ll probably write the date on it too!

An author should leave it up to the reader to decide whether reading his or her article would be considered worthwhile by the reader at a future date.

Speaking of date, it frustrates me to see some blogs or online articles without any indication of when they were written. Some show month and date, but no year (not even in the url)! Amazing how some people live so much in the moment! I mostly read technical articles, and it makes a huge difference on how long ago it was written. Granted, not all technical articles will lose value in a few years. But many, if not most, will. The author should leave it up to the reader to decide whether reading his or her article would be considered worthwhile by the reader at a future date.

I have a lot of respect for Jennifer, my former boss, for many reasons. Unbeknownst to her, she also instilled a good habit in me.

Thank you, Jennifer!