One Sunny Morning
The car wasn’t mine. I had borrowed it from my stepfather to drive from my temporary home in Northern California to what was (in my mind) the perfect job opportunity.
The drive time should have been no more than thirty-five minutes. I was dressed in the best suit I could afford, white shirt neatly pressed, shoes shined, resume printed in triplicate. It was a typical sunny morning once the fog burned off, and the drive was uneventful.
Then it wasn’t.
The sedan directly in front of me on the highway suddenly and unexpectedly lost control. Careening at 65 miles per hour in ever-widening overcorrections of the wheel, the driver eventually rammed headfirst into the median. Glass exploded, his car accordioned, other drivers slammed their brakes, and then eerie silence filled the void.
Quickly pulling over near the wreckage, I managed to click on my hazard lights before running toward the now smoking vehicle. Seeing the unconscious driver bleeding profusely from the neck, I put all of my weight onto the pressure of the wound. Thankfully, I could feel every heartbeat. He never woke. Sirens suddenly blared and I was relieved by the Highway Patrol and EMTs.
I walked back to my stepfather’s car, buckled my seatbelt, turned off the hazard lights and drove on to my interview.
Arriving approximately ten minutes late, I checked in with reception and took a seat in the lobby. Without offering an explanation, I apologized for my tardiness and hoped that they would still be willing to see me.
Reception made a phone call, and a man emerged from a door to the right of the front desk. He stopped, looked at me, looked at reception, and then looked at me again. Ceasing his approach, he immediately reentered the door from whence he came, and my wait continued.
A few minutes thereafter, a young woman — let’s call her Barbara — came out to see me. She explained that she was the recruiter for the position and that regrettably the hiring manager was no longer seeking candidates. I expressed my disappointment and shook her hand in thanks. That was the moment that I saw the blood caked on my hand.
I was covered in blood. Shocked from the trauma, I had never stopped to look in a mirror, to assess my appearance, or to truly process what had occurred. Barbara didn’t flinch — she simply wished me well and helped me toward the door.
Ironically, my interview was with a prominent health care provider.
I shared this very story a few months ago with a group of talent acquisition leaders. It was in the context of a discussion on the critical nature of the candidate experience in a very competitive labor market. After my presentation, a woman approached me and asked if I had a moment to chat. She extended her hand to introduce herself.
Let’s call her Barbara.
Barbara told me that she never forgot that day and vividly recounted details I had forgotten. Beyond my horrific appearance, she shared that she was very upset by her organization’s response to the interview. She had found it unconscionable that a health care provider that espouses very specific values could turn away a human clearly in need of support and assistance. She smiled at the irony of us meeting now, in this context, so many years later.
Immediately after the fateful interview that never was, she expressed her feelings to the hiring manager and her direct superior. Neither cared at the time. So she voted with her feet, quit her job, and never looked back. To this day, she credits that moment for setting in motion a series of moves that led to a position where she can ensure candidates never suffer the same fate.
There was passion in her voice and palpable power in her story. I was awed by the moment. She reminded me that every experience matters. Whether as candidates, employees, contractors, retirees, partners, or customers, basic dignity and care are core human tenets.
When we make decisions as leaders, we often look for guidance in the latest research report or the hot industry buzzword. But what if we took a different approach? What if we started every experience focused on developing basic human decency? What if we thought about the little, personal, unforgettable moments, instead of the big picture?
I think it’s worth a try.
With over 25 years of experience, Mark Stelzner has worked for organizations of every size and vertical. He has spent his career fostering relationships through attention to detail, natural curiosity, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.