“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Part Two—Interviews in Room 813 and Aisle 3


Let’s find a quiet corner to talk—but not room 813

TAG Managing Director John Lamar shares a hilarious story about running into an unexpected problem with an interview venue:

I was conducting a Chief Marketing Officer search in New York and staying at the Omni Hotel on Park Avenue. As is our custom, I agreed to meet with a candidate one evening in the lobby of the hotel. Little did I know, a large Rotary Convention was taking place in the hotel, and participants and attendees had filled the lobby. Meanwhile, a heavy rain was pouring outside, driving even more people indoors.

When I finally found the candidate among the throng, it was like we were standing in the crowded pit of a concert. There was no room to take a seat, let alone stand. I did the only thing I could do—I invited him up to Room 813 for our interview. He took a seat at the desk and I sat down on the foot of my bed—which, luckily, housekeeping had made that morning. The room was so small that we both had to take extra care not to rub knees during the interview! Thankfully, he did not ask to use the restroom, or else he would have had to excuse my toiletries splayed about the counter.

Nothing quite builds trust and confidence in a candidate like inviting them up to see your hotel room. Looking on the bright side, at the end of the interview, I didn’t have to escort him outside and make small talk while he waited for his cab—we said our goodbyes as he left my hotel room. I’m not sure who felt more uncomfortable—him or me. 

John Mann, Managing Director of our sister firm Alex and Red, has also met a candidate in an unexpected spot:

I scheduled an interview with a candidate over coffee. After looking up Starbucks locations on the Starbucks website, I chose one that was close to my candidate’s office for convenience. But when my GPS system announced that I had arrived, I was in front of a grocery store. I realized, five minutes before our interview began, that the Starbucks was inside the grocery store. Luckily, the store had a few tables and chairs where we could sit after we grabbed our coffees. The candidate and I had a good laugh about our interview at a grocery store, a first for both of us. I suppose the location was convenient after all, as I needed to pick up a few items while I was there.

Traveling Challenges

Associate Director Sarah Mitchell hasn’t conducted interviews in hotel rooms or with an audience of mannequins, but she has certainly gone to extreme lengths to meet candidates face-to-face. For one CIO search, she left from San Francisco at 4 a.m. one morning and after two changes of planes, arrived in Green Bay Wisconsin.   She interviewed the candidate and flew back that afternoon arriving at midnight. “I spent enough time on a plane that day to have traveled to Asia,” she said.

Occasionally, the challenge lies in returning home after an interview, as my colleague Bill Lepiesza discovered when he found himself in Rock Springs, Wyoming(link 2) in the dead of winter, desperately trying to flee town before a blizzard arrived. 

After wrapping up a full day of interviews, Bill learned that a blizzard was headed to Wyoming and had already shut down Denver’s airport, where he had a layover on his way back to San Diego.  Scheduled to depart San Diego in 48 hours on a flight back East for the holidays, he could not afford to wait out the storm, as “previous experience told me if I missed THAT flight, I'd be on standby till New Year's.”

My assistant, Victoria, valiantly tried train, bus - and I'm sure horse and sled - options, but, unbelievably, the best and most realistic solution to get out in the next four days was to drive the rental car 390 miles north to the airport at Billings, Montana. Rather than attempt the drive overnight, through the vagaries of the Wyoming-Montana badlands, I elected to crash at the hotel for one more night, wake at dawn, and make a break for it.

As I frantically chipped away at the windshield with the - gratuitous but shoddy - ice scraper the hotel provided, two enormous moose wandered by on the other side of the dirt parking lot. The essential human question: "what am I doing and how did I get here?" occurred to me.

As I transversed into and out of cell phone coverage areas, my colleagues called to break the monotony, asking how I was holding up, how far I had gotten - I think they had a map in one of the conference rooms tracking my progress. I like to think that they were being supportive, but the laughter coming through on the end of the speaker phone as they hung up each call made me wonder….

Luckily, after 24 hours and five airports, Bill eventually made it home in time to catch his flight east for the holidays.

Occasionally, it’s not about where you go, but why you go. After September 11, 2001, everyone at the firm was numb, grief-stricken, scared, and sad. Jane Howze relates the story of a former colleague’s perseverance in the wake of 9/11:

Despite the shutdown of airlines, we still had searches to complete and we as a firm thought it was important to carry on.  One of our consultants drove to Chicago to conduct interviews.  She displayed an American flag on her car in memory of those who died and drove and drove.  At the firm we kept a map of her whereabouts. She called with reports of people who honked in support of our country and its indomitable spirit. As she arrived back in Houston, she slowly drove around the circle in front of our building and found all of her colleagues holding signs and cheering her—cheering our country. It was an emotional and touching moment.

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