Banjo PR Disaster: The well-meaning but incompetent interviewer

Two weeks
ago, Sydney advertising agency, Banjo  , found itself in the middle of a
social media storm when one of its hiring managers, at the end of an interview,
said to the candidate (of Sri Lankan origin): the client might be
alarmed by having three brown skin people attend a meeting.”

 

SmartCompany reported as follows:

 

Banjo chief executive Andrew Varasdi declined to comment when contacted
by SmartCompany.
However, the company said in a statement the situation was an “unfortunate
understanding”, and the interviewer, “who is of similar ethnicity to
the candidate”, made a “casual remark at the end of the
interview”, which was intended to make the applicant feel “at
ease” … There has been a lot of media attention on the issue of equality
– including race, gender and sexual orientation, and age – in recent times and
we acknowledge that emotions can run high.”

 

As always seems to be the case when these
sort of issues blow up in public, the offending company labelled the matter an
“unfortunate understanding” ie it wasn’t what we said that was bad,
it was the fault of the hurt party for “taking it the wrong way.”

 

I thought ad agencies prided themselves on,
and were engaged by clients for their skill of being able to communicate a
clear message?

 

At least Varasdi acted promptly in
contacting the candidate to arrange a meeting:

 

“When I learned of
the situation I immediately contacted both the candidate and our staff member
to offer my empathy and support. I have arranged to meet with the candidate
first thing in the morning (Friday 5 August) to reassure her of our policies on
recruitment.”

 

Varasdi’s statement went on:

 

In Banjo’s seven-year history,
the agency’s recruitment policy has always encompassed not only hiring the best
possible talent, but also ensuring that the staff spans all ages, genders and
ethnicities.

 

Varasdi said: “We
couldn’t possibly deliver on our promise that our clients come first, if our
own staff did not reflect the Australian community. We are always prepared to
offer our clients the best advice to connect with their customers.”

 

Banjo’s current staff
includes 50% women in senior management and 50% women overall, and half of the
staff are from ethnic backgrounds including India, Asia, UK and South America.

 

“We are extremely
proud of the make up of our talented staff, which is reflective of the
diversity of Australia. We hope that we will be judged on our record, and that
all candidates who consider joining us at Banjo will do so too,” Varasdi
said.

 

That’s all well and good;
I am sure Varasdi was truthful about Banjo’s recruitment policy and the
diversity of his company’s staff.

 

But in my
view there was something significant missing.

 

Where was
the statement about reviewing their interview training? One of his hiring
managers had just demonstrated herself to be incompetent   at conducting
an interview; well-meaning but incompetent.

 

Varasdi may
think the problem was an “unfortunate misunderstanding” but I call BS
on that one. It’s a skill   error. No trained and skilled interviewer
should ever make such a howler. Making a ‘casual remark’ such as the one Banjo
find themselves apologising for is as ignorant and stupid as making jokes about
“a bomb in my bag” to airport security staff.

 

What
interview training has been undertaken by the hiring managers at Banjo? If
training has been undertaken, how recent was this training? What follow up has
occurred? What auditing of recent interviews has taken place to ensure that the
training is being consistently followed?

 

I suspect
that, like most companies, no formal interview training has taken place. If
such training has taken place, then I would almost guarantee that no meaningful
follow up has occurred.

 

How many
companies of Banjo’s size would allow an untrained person to run their IT
system or be responsible for the Banjo finances? Would Banjo seek legal advice
from a self-taught lawyer? Of course they wouldn’t.

 

Yet how many
companies allow almost any employee to conduct an interview regardless of their
skill or training? I would bet my house that a vast majority of companies make
few or no enquiries as to the skill and training of their hiring managers before
those same hiring managers make decisions worth tens (or hundreds) of thousands
of dollars as they interview potential employees and make hiring decisions.

 

Memo Andrew
Varasdi: Your recent PR disaster was caused by an employee’s skill  
error. Unless you recognise this and take the appropriate action to rectify
this skill error across your company   then you are not fixing the real
cause of the problem that your well-meaning but incompetent hiring manager
highlighted.

 

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What a Nobel
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