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  • Emerging Ally

Using Privilege

We were in their office chatting. Nothing specific work, kids, the normal chat. I knew they had a recent opening and I was mentoring someone who I thought would be a good fit. I asked how the hiring process was going. They said decently, some good candidates. I asked what they were looking for in the role and they rattled off the job description.

“Why do you ask?”

“I know someone that might be a fit”

“Really!? Who?”

I said the name. They got thoughtful.

“Don’t know much about them.”

“Really sharp”. And then I launched into some highlights. I tied them to the job description. I also pulled in some other areas: team player, lots of initiative.

“Interesting. How do you know them?”

“I’ve been kind of mentoring them for a bit. Informally. Really good person. High character. I know they might not be a perfect fit but I think you’d benefit from talking to them.” Then I hit the catch phrase…

“I recommend them highly.”

“hmmm… Have them apply.”

“I think they have but I will reach out and make sure.”

That is how the conversation normally goes. That’s how I will use my privilege to help a diverse candidate. But there is more to it. A lot more.

See that’s the surface. The duck paddling smoothly across the pond. What you don’t see in that conversation above is the paddling frantically that went on before that…

First, I usually know about the role already. I learn it the way everyone learns about the role. Through the grapevine. Sometimes from the hiring manager themselves over coffee or lunch as we connect. Occasionally from the person I am mentoring. But as I am white and male my network is probably different and odds are a little broader… especially since I am older and have been in management roles. Hence I probably learn about things a mentee might not.

Also I try and learn about the role and the things that are not in the job description. The culture of the department: Are they deadline focused or more freeform? Client focused or internal? Open to diverse candidates? For example a more research analytics oriented area but with customer focus and most of the people have a military background.

That doesn’t take that long to do really but it’s important. I want to make sure the mentee is walking into a situation where they are set up for success.

Or more importantly not walking into a bad situation. Like the all male sales team with the old school manager who refers to the “girls”…. Maybe not the best for a female mentee.

Then I really think about whether this is a fit for the person I am mentoring. If I do I reach out.

Note I have not yet told ANYONE to this point that I think they would be a good fit. I have not yet reached out to the hiring manager. I am merely gathering information. I have made that mistake in the past and it can put people in awkward positions. So I really keep things close to the vest as I am doing this. Really out of respect for the individuals involved.

When I reach out to the mentee, I try to do this in person in some form: over coffee, phone, zoom…. It’s just me but I think this is a really personal thing and I want to hear/see how they react. It’s a bit of a relationship test in some ways I think. I am making a recommendation to someone about their career based n conversations we have had. There is a bit of a trust test and I hope I have not misread anything.

When we chat I talk about the position. The good and the bad. This is NOT a pitch. I am not trying to sell it. I am trying to give someone the best information possible to help make a decision. I do indicate why I think they would be a fit and why it would be good for their career, but I also realistically point out obstacles and where things might be a stretch. Sometimes I know enough about the person that I can talk about other things with the role: this will take a lot of overtime every spring for financial reporting and I know you are planning a wedding.

I also tell them how I can help. That I would recommend them. I also ensure them that I am not going away and will continue to be a resource for them if they want.

Sometimes though they are unsure. I explore that a little. Often times in my experience diverse candidates undercut themselves: “I don’t have the experience”; “I could never do that”. Not quite impostor syndrome but similar. So sometimes I need to work with them on confidence. Make them realize the white guys will apply even though they don’t check every box.

But let me be clear, I don’t want to force someone into a situation with which they are not comfortable. So sometimes the opportunity is not right from a timing perspective. They can do it in my opinion but if they are not comfortable it is not the right time. So we let this slide and we keep talking.

However some rare times they say a flat no. Usually this is followed by an awkward silence. I ask why and there are generally one of two reasons. First, they have some personal reasons for not wanting to pursue it. But there is sometimes another reason. Sometimes they know more about the group or manager than I do. And that’s when I have to really listen. Not try and defend someone. Just listen to another perspective… Learn something about the organization I might not have known before. I have had my eyes opened in those times.

So assuming they say yes they want to pursue it. I take the next step … which is to chat with them about a plan of attack. Do you want to apply first or have me recommend you first? Here is the list of people I would mention this to, is that OK?

I also then work thru the talk track I will use to make sure I have facts right. I may not use them but I want to make sure I have the right background. I use this to also use this to give them a little insight into the participants and what they are looking for in an interview. Sometimes give them some side tips for relating to the interview team: They are a big baseball fan and I know you played in college, they are looking for leadership in the role that aligns with your ERG vice chair role, etc.

Then and only then….after all this… have that conversation with the hiring manager.

It’s just to open the door. The mentee walks through it and earns the role.

It’s this way I can use my privilege to help.

As always I hope this helps. I look forward to continuing the conversation. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

All the best,

Dave Terné

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