Joanna is content with her job as an executive recruiter. She feels the pay is proportional to the job’s level of aggravation, she likes her affable and laid-back boss, and her clients are for the most part reasonable. There is just one sticking point, and that’s a co-worker named John. She hates him, and he hates her. Sometimes the hate lies dormant, like a hibernating bear. Sometimes it’s roused, and roars with the full-throated screams of a provoked lion.
At least that’s how Joanna described it once to Matt, who said, “I get it. You hate each other. Enough with the animal analogies.”
Today, the Monday after Thanksgiving, is about as brutal as it gets.
It starts out innocuously. Joanna and John are in a meeting together, called by their boss Marisa. She had received emails from three different clients complaining about the number and quality of candidates they had been seeing, and wants to discuss.
Two other recruiters are also in the meeting—an earnest young man named James, and a kiss-up named Lindy.
The four of them are chatting in an aimless sort of way about their long Thanksgiving weekend as they wait for Marisa; they all agree they ate too much, and Joanna and John have a fleeting moment of bonding about their excessive alcohol consumption.
Marisa arrives and kicks off the meeting, quickly outlining the complaints she has received. She says she has heard from three clients, but does not say who they are. She says this is intentional; that it will allow the group to think about the problem more objectively. She ends with “So, what ideas do you have?”
John says, “So those three clients want more, and better, candidates.”
“Yes,” Marisa says.
“You know that’s counter-intuitive, right?” John says.
Marisa sighs. “I know it’s a challenge, especially with the salaries we’re dealing with. Clients’ budgets are tighter than I’ve ever seen.”
James nods earnestly. Lindy says “Yes indeed,” because agreeing with the boss is what she does.
Joanna’s gaze is on John. She senses he’s about to launch an idea.
“There’s only one answer,” he says.
Marisa says, “Shoot.”
“We recruit better and more candidates by inflating the expected salary.” John leaves it there; he seldom uses excess words.
“John. John,” Joanna says, an image of JFK Jr as a tot flashing through her mind. “That’s ……” She struggles to find the right word and settles on “….ridiculous.” A second later she thinks Damn, I should have said unsustainable.
“How?” John said. “It solves the problem. Will give them more and better candidates.”
“And when they fall in love with the candidate, ask us to make an offer and the candidate turns it down?”
John shrugs. “The acceptance rate is not something these clients are complaining about.”
“It will be!” Joanna knows she sounds strident. She’d prefer to sound cool and collected, but she does not have a poker voice.
“We’ll deal with it then,” John says.
“John. That’s just kicking a problem down the road. Plus it’s unethical.”
“Oh, this from the queen of spin.”
Marisa sits silently; depending on how you look at it, it’s either a great strength or a great weakness that she lets her staff slug it out when they are so inclined.
Joanna says, “Oh come on, John. We all spin. This is lying, to the clients and to the candidates. And wasting a shitload of everyone’s time.”
“I don’t see it that way. I see it as a strategic move. You don’t have strategic bone in your body. You never look more than one step ahead.”
Joanna, who knows this is a weakness, bristles. “I don’t need to look more than one step ahead when the next step is so fucking wrong,” she says.
“You, know what, Joanne?” John says. He calls her Joanne when he wants her to know she’s so inconsequential that he can’t bother to get her name right. “It’s really up to Marisa, isn’t it?”
Four pairs of eyes turn to Marisa. “It’s not perfect, but it may buy us some time,” she says. “And maybe in the meantime their budgets will loosen up.”
James says nothing. He still looks earnest, but has managed to mix in a bit of skepticism. Lindy says, “Makes sense.” John smiles smugly.
Joanna says, “Can you tell us now which clients complained?”
Marisa names three companies.
“Ah shit,” Joanna says. “You know they’re all mine, right?”
“Yes,” Marisa says.
“And you knew it too, right?” Joanna says to John. “Before this meeting?”
“Yeah, Marisa mentioned it, so?”
“So, you suggest a terrible idea, knowing if Marisa accepts it, none of your clients will be affected.”
”I don’t think it’s a terrible idea. And clearly Marisa doesn’t either. And, furthermore, if you had done a better job, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Joanna thinks Who says furthermore anymore? What century is this? She then says, “You have no idea what you’re talking about. And furthermore, go fuck yourself.”
With that, she leaves the meeting, grabs her coat and briefcase from her office, and heads towards home. On the way, she calls Matt.
“I just had a huge blow-up with John,” she says. “I need a drink. How about if we meet at Stenny’s?”
“Ok,” Matt says. “I’ll see you there.”
She arrives twenty minutes later, and is very happy to see Matt at the bar. She pecks his cheek and says, “So glad you’re not an asshole.”
“Why, that’s lovely, Jo. Very flattering.”
She settles into the bar stool and tells him what happened, exaggerating by her usual degree.
“Wow, even if that’s only 80% true, that’s rough,” Matt says. “You’re going to have a lot to deal with. Try to relax a little tonight. Get some polenta sticks. They always make you happy.”
“I will,” Joanna says, and one second later hears and sees Big Mouth Ralph approach.
“Joanna! I have news about my daughters and grandkids! You were so interested last time I was here, so I can’t wait to tell you what’s going on. Let me get my drink first, this will take a while.”
As you may recall, the reason Joanna previously professed interest in Ralph’s family was to get Ralph and Matt to stop talking about politics. But she’s stuck, and gives Matt a wry little smile, while thinking No good deed goes unpunished and saying, “That sounds great, Ralph.”