The perfect pen

The specialness of being un-special: a reflection on hiring
July 12, 2019
Work Anniversary
August 10, 2019
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I was in my office about to start a job interview with a young math teacher. I could see the teacher across the hall, waiting in our main office. He was wearing a jacket and tie, and sweating profusely, as he had just come in from 96-degree weather.  Points for the jacket on a hot day, I thought.

I did a double-check of my office to make sure we were prepared to start the interview.  I had laid out three copies of our hiring questions and the teacher’s resume, one set for myself and one set for each assistant principal who would be interviewing with me.  The air conditioner was blasting, the office was clean and presentable.  My assistant principals were about to come in, and we were ready to start the interview.

And, I realized I didn’t like my pen. 

Silly, I thought.  It was just a clear, plastic Bic pen, blue ink, the kind that we buy in boxes of 12.  I always have a lot of these pens around for people who come in and out of my office.

But I don’t love writing with the Bic pens.  I have a preferred pen, a blue Papermate Profile.  The pen has a piece of rubber where I grasp it, making it comfortable to write with.  The ball point rolls smoothly, and the ink is a consistent line, the perfect thickness.  It’s not fancy, but it’s an upgrade. 

Again, I thought, silly to think about pens at this moment, when I’m about to do an interview.  But I really didn’t like my Bic pen.  And who took my nice pen? 

I knew I had an extra favorite pen in my handbag.  I rushed to my desk, opened my bag, and found the favorite pen.  The candidate entered my office, shook my hand, and was visibly relieved by the cold air conditioner.   We started the interview, and I enjoyed taking notes with my smooth, perfect pen. 

It usually takes less than 30 seconds to handle things like a finding a favorite pen.  I sometimes tell myself to move on to something “more important,” and sometimes I realistically don’t have time to attend to certain details if something or someone else is more pressing.  But when I do have a moment, attending to tiny details like my pen, or stacking a pile of papers neatly, or clearing my desk, or wiping the coffee maker, feels like a small luxury.   It’s like I’m saying my environment matters, so I matter.   

Would my pen have impacted my decision about the candidate?  Absolutely not.   He did well and we decided to have him return to do a demonstration lesson with students, but that was because of him, not the pen.  When I’m interviewing, I’m interviewing– I would have gotten fully engaged with the candidate, listening, and I would have forgotten about the pen.

Still, attending to these little details makes a difference.  Getting the nice pen altered my day in the tiniest way, in that I was honoring myself and the small quirks of my preferences.

Photo credit: Steven Taylor, Creative Commons License

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