Hire Like A Pro (Or At Least Like A Quaker)

Illustration by Ryan Snook.

This past year, I was asked to serve on a hiring committee for a new Quaker superintendent. Quakers don’t have bishops or cardinals. We have superintendents, who, in addition to being underpaid, lack the power to effect the growth and change we expect of them. Still, it was my task, along with seven other hopeful souls, to find the one person suited for the job. For people who value simplicity, Quakers can complicate things. We had to coordinate with three separate committees, report regularly on our progress, rob Peter to pay Paul, all while making employment among Quakers seem like a delightful way to spend one’s life. We did all of that without lying, at least outright.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve hired someone. In fact, hardly a week passes that I don’t employ someone to do something for me, whether it’s repairing my car, painting my house, fixing a leak, inspecting my colon, or some other task I lack the expertise or physical dexterity to do myself. Except for a few memorable incidents, those experiences have been largely positive and the relationships long-standing. Larry repairs my cars, John and Logan paint my house, Bill fixes my leaks, and Dr. Savabi inspects my colon. All were carefully chosen after being recommended by people whose judgment I trust. I won’t let just anyone inspect my colon, after all, and the skills aren’t interchangeable. Bill is great with leaks, but only some leaks, none of them pertaining to the colon.

With all this experience, I thought I might offer you some useful counsel regarding hiring. One of the first things I learned was to never give someone working for you your credit card. I learned this the hard way several years ago when a man knocked on my door, offering to pave my driveway. Looking back, I should have been suspicious since our driveway is concrete, but I’ve always preferred the clean, tidy look of asphalt, so when he asked for my credit card to buy the tar at the store, I gave it to him. After a few weeks, when he hadn’t returned, I realized I had been duped. That was an expensive lesson, but one I’ve never repeated. Now when people come to my door wanting to replace my roof, pave my driveway, or sell me magazines, I keep my card in my wallet. Instead, I write down my credit card information, including the three-digit secret code on the back, and hand it to them on a slip of paper. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Now, let’s talk about figuring out the age of the people you hire, since it’s against the law to come right out and ask someone how old they are. This means you have to be sneaky, like asking them the name of the first president they voted for or their favorite television show growing up. This works great with everyone but the Amish, who don’t vote or have TVs. Fortunately, the Amish are great workers, no matter their age, and I try to hire them as much as possible, except for colonoscopies, because of their unusually fat fingers.

I’m a big believer in references, so it’s worth it to do the extra homework of talking with folks who know the person you’re interested in hiring. It’s especially helpful if the references are related to your potential employee because who knows someone better than their own family?

And don’t overlook Facebook as a good place to get a handle on prospective employees. The average Facebook page speaks volumes about people—whether they like kittens, whether they’ve lost weight or gained it, where they went on vacation, and most importantly, what they ate for supper and where. I once hired a vegetarian, knowing full well from his Facebook pictures he didn’t eat meat, and it turned out to be a disaster. All he did was complain the whole time about helping me castrate bulls. I’ll never make that mistake again.

Long before Google and Facebook came along, we learned about people by gossiping about them. Unfortunately, gossip has gotten a bad reputation, thanks to certain pastors who need to mind their own business. I enjoy nothing more than speculating aloud about others and their dark secrets. Of course, there are those who say gossip can’t be relied upon, but that’s not true in my experience. When I was a kid, a man moved to our town. There was something off about him, something we couldn’t quite identify that gave us pause. Then the mailman noticed he wasn’t pulling his mail from his mailbox, so he phoned our town’s policeman, who found the man dead in his house. Of course, the policeman had to look around the house to see what had killed the man. Way back in a desk drawer, he found a piece of paper indicating the man was a Unitarian—in Danville, in 1972. That confirmed our suspicions that something wasn’t quite right.

The person who has worked the longest for me is Stacey, who schedules my speaking events. When I hired Stacey, she was polite and deferential, but now feels free to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do. She started out working for me, then after a few years, she said she worked with me, and now I pretty much work for her. We’ve long since passed the time when I told her what to do, and now I phone her every day so she can tell me what to do. Interestingly, Stacey claims to be a lifelong Quaker, but I’m beginning to think she might be a Unitarian.

OK, let’s cover what we’ve learned so far. You have far too much work to do yourself and have decided to hire someone. You’ve made it known that you have an opening, and several promising candidates have applied for the job. You’ve checked their references, Googled them, studied their Facebook page, listened carefully to the gossip about them, and are pleased with what you’ve discovered. You have narrowed the field to one especially talented applicant. Now you offer them a non-paying internship by convincing them it will look good on their resumes. Of course, they might have to work a second job to make ends meet, but so long as they do that in the nighttime, that’s all right. Be sure you tell them that if their night job negatively affects their daytime performance, you’ll have to let them go. And remember, unpaid internships aren’t just for college kids anymore. Older workers who’ve been laid off can also work for you for free. Just don’t ask them their age, since that would be illegal, not to mention just plain wrong.

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor, author, and humorist. Back Home Again chronicles his views on life in Indiana.