Throughout the part-time employment years of my adolescence I will admit to occasionally killing off, wounding and/or infecting a loved one with a serious illness in order to score a day off.

Not literally, of course, just figuratively and only….in my mind….for the duration of time required to make the phone call necessary to report my absence.

In what I consider to be fairly typical teenage behavior, I could be selfish, self-centered and inconsiderate.  I didn’t necessarily intend to be, but I didn’t yet have the life experiences necessary to fully understand that a last minute call-out meant a co-worker or supervisor would be required to pick up my slack, or that the business might suffer from my absence.

Furthermore, it never occurred to me to consider the potential Karmic consequences of fictitiously reporting that a grandparent had broken a hip, or that a great-aunt had passed away, or that a close family friend had been injured in an automobile accident.  I never stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, the universe would pay me back some day.

As an adult, it’s something I would never do.  Not just because of my professional obligations, but because although I am not a particularly spiritual person, I do believe we tend to reap what we sow….and it therefore seems a foolish risk to take.

All of this came to mind earlier this week, when an employee came to me with a vacation problem.  When our conversation was over and I watched him go….I silently wished him a half-hearted good-luck as he headed out to face the universe….Here’s why:

Employee:  I have a problem.

Me:  Come on in, let’s talk about it.

Employee:  I need some time off.  All I’m asking for is some unpaid time off and my supervisor won’t approve it because no one is available to cover my shifts.

Me:  Ok, can you share some additional information with me about your situation so we can consider your options?

Employee:  My wife is sick.  Very sick and I need to be with my family.

Me:  I’m sorry to hear that.  Is she in the hospital or requiring care at home?  If that’s the case, you may be eligible to take some FMLA time to care for her.

Employee:  She’s not in the hospital, but she’s been bad the last few weeks.  It’s, like, cancer.  I really need to be with her….this could be it.

Me:  I’m so sorry to hear that!  Is your supervisor aware of all this?  You are eligible for FMLA given the circumstances and I have to say I’m surprised your supervisor didn’t discuss this with you.  It seems largely out of character.  Here, let me provide you with the instructions for getting the process started.

Me to myself:  I’m going to smack his supervisor….verbally…in an HR friendly way….

Employee:  Well, my wife hasn’t had the tests yet.

Me:  I think maybe I’m misunderstanding you….didn’t you say your wife has cancer and is essentially dying?

Employee:  Well, her doctor hasn’t confirmed it.

Me:  Um….hasn’t confirmed that she has cancer or that she’s dying?  Is your wife ill and requiring care?

Employee:  Yeah, she’s sick, but we don’t really know what’s going on.  It might be cancer….but see, we have this trip planned for next week.  It’s already been paid for and because we’ve been going through a really rough time….with her being sick and all….I need to be able to go.

Me to myself:  WTF….

Me:  I see….so, the time off you’re requesting is for a pre-planned vacation?

Employee:  Kind of, but also because my wife is sick….

Me:  Let me make sure I’m clear here… want time off for a pre-planned vacation, the timing of which has unfortunately coincided with an illness your wife is battling….one you fear she won’t recover from in the next week….but a medical professional hasn’t confirmed any of this?  How do you know it’s safe for her to travel?

Employee:  Well, we’re waiting on information….and also my neighbor died.

Me:  Huh?

Employee:  I was the one who found him.  I’ve been really messed up over it for weeks.

Me:  Wow, sounds like you’ve had a lot going on….

Employee:  Yeah, so I really need some time off.  I’ve been seeing a therapist about my neighbor.  His death was really unexpected and I feel like I’ve been in shock ever since.  I did everything for him.  It was just such a shock that he died and I’ve been having a hard time sleeping and eating…. my therapist thinks I need some time away.

Me:  Oh, was your neighbor disabled or something?

Employee:  No, he was in his late eighties.  I took care of his lawn and did his shopping….he had a home health aide…but my wife cooked most of his meals and took him to a lot of his appointments.

Me to Myself:  Oh yes, it’s incredibly shocking when an eighty-something-year-old with limited mobility passes away.

Me:  Ok….so are you also telling me you have a health care provider who has indicated you should not be working at this time?  If that’s the case, you could be eligible to utilize your short term disability.  I can provide you with the instructions for pursuing that option.  It would of course require something from your therapist or a physician indicating you are unable to work at this time.

Employee:  Well, he really just thinks this vacation would be good for me….I won’t need more time than that….so I would rather not have to deal with the stress of filing all that paperwork….on top of everything else….ya know?

Me to Myself:  Your mental health care provider thinks a weeks vacation….during which you’ve predicted your spouse may succumb to a mystery illness….is all you need to bounce back?

Me:  There are certain benefits you are entitled to when you need them, but we have to go about the process the right way….Just curious, how long ago did you plan this vacation?

Employee:  Oh, months ago, like, in the fall.

Me:  Then why didn’t you make the vacation request during the vacation selection process just a few weeks ago?

Employee:  (crickets)

Me:  I’m just trying to understand why you wouldn’t have elected this particular vacation week when you had the option….it would have saved an awful lot of trouble and….(under my breath)….creative juices….

Employee:  (crickets)

Me:  So…..

Employee:  I’ll be honest with you…

Me:  That would be nice…

Employee:  I was planning to quit.  I didn’t like my job assignment so I decided to look for something else.  When we planned the vacation, I didn’t think I’d still be here by the time it came around.

Me:  What’s changed?

Employee:  I got a new job assignment so I’m happier now and I want to stay…..But, all that other stuff…it’s true too.

Me:  I’m sure it is Pinocchio….

I’m Just Here For The Swag…..

Job fairs….sigh….

It has been my experience, that job fairs are not exactly vast, well stocked pools from which to fish for potential new associates. I’m sure there are many HR professionals out there who will disagree with me, who enjoy attending these events and consider them a viable resource for recruiting qualified candidates, but I don’t know any of those folks.

I suspect they are among the lucky elite who are not limited to attending only those events that do not require an entry fee to participate. Their gatherings are probably also called “conferences” or “career networking events” and not “fairs…” Trust me, it’s an important distinction.

These conferences are typically sponsored by a group affiliated with a specific industry or college and held in the grand ballroom of a convention center….where I imagine there are ample electrical outlets, restrooms and ice cold drinking water for all in attendance.

So that employers get the most recruiting bang for their buck, conference hosts have often promoted the event to a targeted group of job seekers with the desirable qualifications, skills and motivation to fit the needs of the attending hiring managers…..AND they’ve done a lot of the preliminary work to prepare candidates to meet with prospective employers; reviewing resumes, conducting mock interviews….suggesting that flip-flops are not an appropriate shoe choice….

But in my case, due to certain requirements mandated by certain governing bodies in exchange for having certain privileges, (all on the up and up, even though it probably doesn’t sound like it), I must attend a “reasonable” number of job/career fairs sponsored by unemployment and related non-profit agencies….typically held in the meeting space of an Elk’s lodge or the basement of a public library….

In all my years as an HR professional, I’ve never hired anyone I met at any of these events.

I don’t blame the hosts though.  I have never met a career coach from any of the non-profit groups whose events I’ve attended who wasn’t well meaning, compassionate and committed to their cause.  Not easy to do with minimal resources, a shoe-string budget and an enormous caseload of job seekers with varying degrees of motivation.  I always just assume they sent all the really good hires to the classier event across town….that’s what I would do….

What’s left then, are all those “job seekers” who seem to have come primarily to collect as many trinkets and random knickknacks from recruiting tables as can be crammed into the complimentary, reusable shopping bags picked up on their way through the door.

It’s like the swag bags at the Oscars….if the Oscars had all the glitz and glamour of a yard sale….where everything is free….pens that double as a stylus or pointer….bouncy balls that light up in a rainbow of colors when they hit the floor….shoe horns, drink cozies, magnets, bumper stickers, highlighters, tiny notepads and much, much more are all up for grabs.

Occasionally, an employer tries to buck the system and show’s up with nothing but a table cloth and a few printed job descriptions and it’s as if they are recruiting Ebola victims….eventually, people will stop by to feign interest, but their darting glances about the room and their body language…poised to bolt at the first sign the recruiter across the room might run out of stress balls in the shape of a tiny car…. are the signs they have stopped only because they are hoping the recruiter is simply hiding the treasure….and if it’s hidden…oh, what must it be….

At some events, job fair coordinators reward job seekers for visiting a set number of tables by giving them a raffle ticket to a main prize, like a Blue-Ray player or a flat screen TV.  I always think a gift card for a business casual interview outfit or transportation fare for a day of interviewing would be a better choice given the overall theme of the day….but it was likely the possibility of scoring a fifty-dollar Blue Ray player that lured the majority in to begin with.

I assume these tactics are the event coordinators way of forcing people to utilize the job fair for it’s intended purpose.  The  employer’s role in the scheme is to add a stamp to a job seekers “passport card” or provide them with a signed piece of colored paper with our company logo in exchange for a raffle ticket toward the end of the day.

Employers are always asked not to just stamp away as people file through, but to “encourage those who approach to spend time discussing opportunities and the interested persons skills and qualifications”….and in the beginning, I played along.

If someone came to my table and said, “Can I get a stamp?

I would say, “Sure, after we’ve spoken about the career opportunities available to you at my company.”

Overtime though, I grew weary of the charade….I mean, let’s face it, I wasn’t about to legitimately offer career opportunities to someone who approached my table with a cigarette tucked behind one ear and wearing a grayish, white tank top anyway….and so now, I reluctantly sigh, offer my best, disapproving stare, stamp and go back to surveying the crowd for hopeful potentials….

Well, I think….there’s that lady over there with what appears to be a tattoo of the sign of Pisces on her neck….or it’s a foot, maybe….I don’t know, too far away to tell….I don’t really care either way, I don’t have an issue with tattoo’s, times have changed, but those snowflake fleece pajama pants are tough to get past….

Ok, wait a minute… that guy looks like a maybe from behind….nice hair cut, pressed “skinny” pants with a tucked in, (BONUS!), dress shirt AND a belt…now if I could just make eye contact….WHOA!  Never mind, that is way too much hardware on one face…is his forehead pierced?

Grey sweatsuit guy….maybe….with the right coaching about interview etiquette, there’s a chance I could turn him around….if he wasn’t wearing a weeks worth of meals on the front of the shirt and what could either be a skid mark or a chocolate stain on the back of his pants….either way, if he didn’t think it was worthwhile to at least show up in a clean sweatsuit, how much hope is there, really….

There’s the girl over there wearing leggings and a tiny shirt….since I’m not looking for someone to smuggle camel toe into the country today, I’ll pass….

Here we go!  I think as a woman approaches my booth…clean pants, collared shirt, brushed hair….a folder with what might be resumes tucked inside….

I offer her my most inviting smile and a warm “Hello!  How are you today!?”

“Can I get a stamp?”  She asks….”And one of those…”

Job fairs…sigh….

What You Want With My Man…..

Now that 2014 has come to a close, I thought I would share the five most memorable conversations I had with applicants throughout the year…all of whom, I hope I never have to speak to again….

#1 – Do they make a shampoo for that?

Applicant:  I got your offer letter and I have some questions about the drug screen.  What kind of test is it?

Me:  It’s a hair follicle test.

Applicant:  Oh, well, when do I have to go for the test?

Me:  I typically ask that you go within a week of receiving the offer letter if you plan to accept the position.

Applicant:  So, it wouldn’t be OK if I went, like, next month or something?

Me:  No, I don’t think that would work.

Applicant:  Why don’t you just do the pee test?

Me:  Because the hair follicle can detect certain illegal substances used over the course of several months.

Applicant:  What if I don’t have any hair on my head?

Me:  They’ll take body hair.

Applicant:  What if I don’t have any body hair?

Me:  Are you trying to tell me that you have no hair, or are you trying to tell me something else?

Applicant:  Ok, see, I don’t do drugs, but everyone in my family does.  My parents and all my siblings and I live at home so whatever they smoke, I’m sure it’s in my hair.

Me:  I don’t think it works that way. You have to be a user in order to test positive.

Applicant:  Well, maybe I just shouldn’t take the job.

Me:  Yeah, maybe not….

#2 – One for the X-Files….

Me:  Hello, Chris, I’m calling for your scheduled telephone interview.

Chris:  I thought this was happening on the 31st

Me:  Right.  Today is the 31st.

Chris:  Are you sure?

Me:  Yes, I’m fairly certain this is the 31st.

Chris:  I don’t think it is.  Isn’t it Wednesday?

Me:  Nope….it’s Thursday…all day even.

Chris:  Wow, how did I lose a whole day?

Me:  I can’t even begin to guess.

Chris:  Can we do this tomorrow since I thought tomorrow was Thursday?

Me:  No.

#3Must not have been clear in the company handbook….

Me:  “So, you were at the electronics store for six months?  Why so short a time?

Applicant:  Well, I got fired from that job. I got caught stealing money.

Me:  I see. Ok, so after that you became a collections rep, also for six months, why did you leave there?

Applicant: Well, I got fired from that job too. I didn’t steal anything though, it was only sexual harassment.

Me:  ONLY sexual harassment?

Applicant:  Yeah, I made a few comments to a girl at work I guess you’re not allowed to make at work.  

Me:  Alright. Um, then you were at the casino for 9 months? Why did you leave? 

Applicant:  I got fired again. I got caught having a friend fill in for me when I couldn’t work.

Me:  Like another employee?

Applicant:  No, he didn’t work there, but I was just doing janitor work and it’s a big place, I didn’t think anyone would notice. 

Me to Myself:  Huh….that’s kind of brilliant…I wonder if I could get away with that?

#4As Teresa Giudice would say, “He was away….”

Me:  There is an 11 year employment gap on your application, what have you been doing?

Applicant:  I was spending some time at a State Correctional Institution.

Me:  You were incarcerated?

Applicant:  That’s one way of saying it.

#5 – Apples to Oranges….

Job Fair Attendant Who Visited My Table:  “What if I got a record?”

Me:  “Depends on your record.”

Job Fair Attendant:  “Just a couple felonies, but I didn’t actually kill anyone.”


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