The Candidate Who Almost Got Me Fired!

photo: courtesy of

photo: courtesy of

From time to time, I get asked hypothetical questions by friends on HR issues. In this instance, it was on corruption/unethical practices and the HR function.

I was painted the worst possible scenario, and each time I tried wriggling myself out of it (in an attempt to keep my reputation intact) was when the situation was made even more implicating.

The scenario? I was asked how I’d handle a situation if my boss were to ask me to alter scores of an aptitude test.

The candidate in this case was the President’s nephew. My boss, the Head of HR, wasn’t willing to send me an explicit go-ahead email, neither was he ready to break the news to the President nor risk losing his good graces with him or his own bosses. Clearly, the future of my career hung on a thread. It practically depended on how I chose to deal with the request.

At this point I could choose the ‘easy’ but highly unethical way out and simply do as I was told, after-all he is my boss. However, if anything went wrong down the line it would be my head alone on the stake.

On the other hand, I could decide to be high and mighty, wearing the armour of the ‘White Knight’, defending HR ethics and honour. This would probably mean the end of my fledgling career, terrible appraisals and eventually, the loss of the job I loved.

Nevertheless, there is a third option. This option seeks to provide a solution for my boss -which is all he really wants.

Accordingly, I decided I wouldn’t get my hands soiled by doing anything unethical. Considering the likes of HR audit and relevant corporate governance polices, I wasn’t ready to risk losing both my reputation and my job at one stroke. I made frantic effort (as you would have imagined) at explaining how easily I could be let-off should a word of it ever get out. I emphasized how quickly I would be left high and dry by those who had cheered me on -but all to no avail.

I decided not to resort to resigning, as that would get me labelled ‘unrealistic’. So I gave this response instead:

“The desired outcome is for the candidate to be employed right? Great! There are several routes through which a candidate may gain entry into an organization. Falsifying scores isn’t one of such options. If he doesn’t make the specified cut-off marks, other options should be considered such as the internship route or the fixed-term contract route. If it becomes necessary, the direct route may still be pursued as long as relevant approval/documentation is available to support the decision as a strategic move to drive the business’ long-term objective and to foster a harmonious relationship with its key business partners etc…”

The ‘solution’ is to provide my boss with an argument that he can push, one that would justify going out of the normal recruitment process. It would be a solution that achieved the desired outcome, without cutting corners and without being seen an unduly sanctimonious.

The room quieted down after my response (whew!).

This scenario, while being HR based, can apply to any job or function within the organization. It is one that highlights how employees can manage sticky situations, difficult bosses and unrealistic expectations. More importantly, it articulates how one can negotiate the sometimes tricky road of ethical behaviour.

Curious… What would you have done differently?

Vote of Thanks:

This post was made possible by friends who constantly seek ‘the third option’, who relentlessly question the credibility of HR professionals and make it their duty to involve me in such debates. Taiwo, Kehinde, Segun and Demola….  Thank you!