Ask Helen

Dear Helen:
I have a position to fill that involves a mix of high-level quantitative and technical skill and also helping with office support. The high-end functions are specialized, but a smart person could learn them with a good trainer. The office skills are simplistic and tedious – answering phones and doing filing, which sounds simple, but it matters that all records are accessible to other staff. The real critical factor is a sense of teamwork, because it is a four-person office with an absentee male owner. The rest of us are women. We all answer the phone as needed (it happens in spurts) even though our jobs are also technical. We’ve never had a problem working around one another’s busy times. I have a male applicant who knows the quant work cold, but I’m worried the new guy might be a prima donna and think he’s too good for the office work. I don’t want to be biased, but I’m nervous about spending scarce resources on a bad hire. Am I: Biased?

Dear Biased:
Yes, you’re biased. Note that even 100 years ago it was revolutionary to have female clerks let alone supervisors. Watching “Mad Men” is hard: it feels uncomfortably reminiscent of my working youth. But times have changed. What many of us knew as the norm has changed by light-years. Grow up and get with the times. Women and men can, should and do share all sorts of office roles, even if the glass ceiling still exists at a corporate- board level.

That said, in case your instincts are right, having the owner deliver the phone, office and teamwork messages might add teeth to them. Even if that’s not possible, make it clear that everyone, with a capital “E,” answers phones and that keeping the job is dependent on helping, no matter how good his technical work would be. Set up a schedule of phone zones that’s explicit about who’s first up when. Everyone has boring non-technical work they can do during those times, like filing, email clean up and other non-quantitative tasks. Once you’re comfortable with him, you can get looser about scheduling. If this feels right to you, give him a shot. If not, run the ad again and see if you find someone you really jive with. Beyond your bias, in any very small office it’s especially important that people like one another and back each other up.

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