The other day, in a team review of new hire candidates, I was stunned to hear someone say they’d never be able to work with “someone like that.” All three candidates were at the top of their classes. Each had interviewed superbly and came highly recommended. It turned out the remark wasn’t prompted by anything found in the resumes. A young member of our team had naturally “Googled” each candidate.
She found that one was the “dearest partner” of a gay man stricken with AIDS, and another was the winner of a Cancun wet T-shirt contest the year she graduated from college. I declared it was none of our #@%$ business!
The ensuing discussion rocketed across legal, moral, social and technological issues and opinions:
- Did the found information matter? Was it relevant to the job?
- Would clients actually care, if they ever learned about it?
- Was the behavior representative of poor judgment? Or was it just the posting of the information and photos that was reckless? And could we really hold them responsible since it was posted by someone other than themselves?
- Since there was now no way to “unknow” this information, would it result in a hostile work environment? Could we, indeed, work with “someone like that”?
- Were we being hypocritical? Did we really believe that no one already in the firm was currently living (and posting) similar experiences?
We all learned a lot that afternoon—about ourselves and each other. But two things really stand out:
First, maybe you should keep an eye on yourself. Google yourself routinely (or set up a couple of Google Alerts). Be thoughtful about what you or your friends and family put out there for the world to see. The day is gone when we could be one person at work and another at home. No more compartmentalizing. Everything is out in the open.
Second, everyone makes hiring decisions for their own reasons. Personally, I found the guy with no visible blemish on his record to be about as scintillating as cream cheese. What could he possibly bring to the table beyond conventional book learning and an overdeveloped sense of either propriety or subterfuge? I’ve spent most of my career among very competent and professional people who were pretty darn boring. And what I’ve come to believe is that the quirkier and more diverse their personal experiences are, the more people bring to the quality of our work.
Back when I was getting ready to graduate from college (the first time), my school assigned someone to help with my resume. The final document came with a photo of me at the top, and frankly that may have been the best part. Only later did I realize that, this being Oklahoma in the late 1960s, the photo was there so employers could see the color of my skin.
All kinds of cultural, political and legal changes have shifted the lay of the land since then. Today, we try to be much less sensitive to things like skin color (and maybe we even succeed sometimes), but many other sensitivities have surfaced. While I believe the resulting diversity has made for a much healthier and more productive workplace, sometimes I wonder if we’ve merely refined and multiplied the ways we have to discriminate against people.
May you each live interesting lives—and be careful where and what you advertise.
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLaw.