A big client is pressuring me to hire his son, a recent graduate, as a “favor.” But it feels like a demand. The son made a poor impression and isn’t a fit for my business. How do I handle it?
Let’s be generous and assume this client wants his son to succeed -- and not, say, just have an easy path in life. And yet, the worried dad has pushed his reasoning and ethics aside. (Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, it’s a one-time thing). Hiring a bad fit as a “favor” -- or really, hiring at all as a favor -- inevitably ends badly. What will you do when employees become frustrated that the son can’t do the work, and the golden child complains to his dad that he’s being treated badly? Or when the client asks about a promotion for his boy, and dangles additional business to seal the deal? Soon you’ll be wondering how much you’re willing to sacrifice for this client. And this is why many businesses have anti-nepotism hiring policies -- something you might consider going forward.
When the outcomes of an ethical dilemma all seem to lean undesirable, it’s time to get creative. Decide what you’re willing to invest, both in time and networking, to support the client’s goal.
Some ideas: Instead of handing the son a job he isn’t ready for, consider offering some coaching to help him go for one that’s a better fit. If you didn’t formally put the son through your interview process, perhaps doing so would help him understand and practice preparation for other interviews. Can you learn enough about him to see strengths and interests, and then suggest potential fits in fields where you (or someone in your network) might make some introductions for him? Are there members of your team who’ve been out of college less than five years, who can chat with him about what they’ve learned about honing the impression they make? Can someone near his age take him under his or her wing? Is there a short-term project you’d be able to offer him (unrelated to his father’s account) that would give him some relevant experience for his résumé? And can you keep him on your radar, checking in periodically and sharing ideas, contacts and useful reading materials?
When you decide what you are able to do for his son, it is time to talk to your client. Let him know why “fit” is so important in your company, the care you take with it and how he and other clients benefit. Carefully indicate why you aren’t able to hire his son. Share the strengths you saw in him and what you learned that gave you an idea how you might be helpful to his job hunt. Be sympathetic: Say that you understand how important it is that his son have a good launch to his career, and that you’d want that for your child as well. Then spell out what you are able to do to help his son succeed.
There’s no guarantee the client will accept your alternative -- or, frankly, keep his business with you. But you’ll have made the right decision for everyone involved. And by responding with boundaries, compassion, generosity and professionalism, you’ll be sending the right message to the people that matter most: your team, made up of people who truly are a good fit.