She walked into my office with a bounce in her step and a twinkle in her eyes. She was smartly dressed and her attitude seemed to transmit the following: I'm ready and I'm up for it. What have you got for me?
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There were a lot of days when I loved my job as a senior HR executive in a tech company. Places to go, people to see, mountains to move - these were my daily routine.
It was sometimes my privilege to be able to offer a position to someone for whom that chance meant everything. I was often humbled by the responsibility of impacting a complete stranger's life in such a deeply personal way.
There were other times, however, when interviewing candidates was simply a chore. It had to be done.
It was on one such day that I first met W. She interviewed professionally and her preparation showed in the careful but confident answers she gave to the standardized questions.
Thus W. and I hummed along through a smooth interview experience and as we neared the end of it, I realized that I was about to do something I had done only a handful of times in over twenty years: offer someone a job on-the-spot, before completing the background checks, prior job references, and mandatory drug test.
It was legally risky, professionally ill-advised. W. (an experienced interviewee) recognized all the signs and gently said to me, "May I tell you something personal, before we go any further with our conversation?"
This was highly unusual. Personal is exactly what you must try to avoid in a job interview. It is about skills, knowledge and abilities. Personal is hazardous to your job chances.
"Certainly, you may" I said, "But please keep in mind that I will have to take into consideration anything you choose to tell me."
W. said she understood this and then added, "I feel it is only right to let you know that I have recently had cancer. I am just finishing my final course of chemotherapy. I am in remission and I can do the job. I am confident of that. But I did not feel it would be fair to not let you know of this issue."
I was stunned. There she sat, calmly putting it all on the line despite the fact that she clearly wanted the job, very much.
After taking a deep breath to recover, I basically told her, "W. , if you have the courage to show up for work, I have the faith to hire you."
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We worked well together for several years. She did not report directly to me, but her manager did. Still, I made it a point to sometimes sit in on one of her training sessions. I monitored the employee feedback on her. It was all good.
Last year she called me to discuss her retirement plans. I have been retired for a few years and she thought she was about two years away from that momentous life change. She wanted to talk about negotiating the challenges - and she laughed about the travel plans she shared with her husband. It was a lovely conversation. We hung up with plans to meet for lunch "one day soon."
Last week I received the news that W. died peacefully at home, having just finished yet another round of treatment for her recurring cancer. She did not get the retirement she hoped for. Her travel itinerary changed completely in a moment.
But this one thing I believe; W. is now enjoying the reward she so richly deserved. And I, and all those with whom she served, are richer for having been witness to her courage and her character.
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Until next time, Marshal my hopes on the line in order to maintain my integrity? How about you?