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You Really Can't Judge a Book by its Cover

March 28, 2013
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I crossed the Arthur Ravenel Bridge last week on my way to Mt Pleasant to meet a friend for lunch. As I approached the red-light at Houston Northcutt I spotted Hassie Holmes – the newspaper guy. At first glance you might be a little intimidated in buying a newspaper from Hassie. He sends a vibe that he’s on his last nickel and even makes you wonder if he’s homeless. He is always moving around on the same corner of a busy intersection at U.S. Highway 17 and Houston Northcutt Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. He does not change spots. Always works in the exact same spot – 7 days a week. He’s been a fixture there for 20 years selling newspapers. In an article the local newspaper did on Hassie he explained to the reporter, "You can’t judge the book by its cover". "The strangest thing is misreading somebody. If you just misread this cat, who else have you misread?" He traverses the same busy stretch of highway on a 3-wheeler bicycle to and from his home in nearby Greenhill, and most locals know that Hassie arrives in the morning and works well into the late afternoon – always. He has a basket on his bike but also pulls a small wagon to carry his large inventory of newspapers and magazines. 

Holmes grew up in Charleston, but left the area in 1969 and moved to Connecticut, and remained there for nearly 25 years. Hassie earned an associate degree in electronic engineering technology at the University of Hartford’s Ward College of Technology, and later taught physics at public and private schools in Connecticut. He returned to Charleston in 1993, where he spent one semester as an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston and another semester at Trident Technical College, also as an adjunct professor. This story about the same guy in dreadlocks who resembles an old Bob Marley throwback look - just having fun selling newspapers on the side of the road. I guess it’s true that everybody has a story.

I enjoyed my lunch and started back towards the bridge waving at Hassie and thinking how many people pass by who would never dream of buying a newspaper from him, let-alone talk to him. The sad part of the story is that they’ve made up their mind about him and stereo-typed Hassie into being someone he is NOT. It made me think about the old adage that people sometimes say when they are ready to meet a candidate, “I can sum someone up in less than a minute.” Really? Can you?

I’ll share one more story on this topic with you. Nearly three years ago, I ran an ad for a Director of Administration for our firm. I had several highly qualified candidates that applied. On the day of the face to face interviews most were decked out to the nines in an effort to impress me and land a new job. I interviewed them all and had one last candidate to meet. Then, without fanfare, Elise walked in. She was not dressed to the nines but instead dressed comfortably in nice casual clothes. I noticed immediately that she sat on the edge of the chair as if she would be leaving soon and wanted to get a head start out the door.

I wrapped up the initial interviews and asked two candidates to return for a final interview. Elise was on the short list. Again, one candidate was decked out in a dress, high heels shoes  and complete with fresh makeup. Elise, on the other hand, came back to the second interview once again dressed casually wearing flat comfortable Birkenstock style shoes. Like before, she sat on the edge of the chair ready to bolt out the door as soon as she heard the anticipated bad news. To add fuel to the fire she made eye contact with me as we were wrapping up the interview and said “It’s been nice meeting you and while I probably won’t get the job – I want to thank you for your time”.

I simply said “When can you start?” She has been the best administrative person I have ever hired in 30+ years in business. Bar none. It really goes to say that all of us should look a bit closer before we pass judgment when sizing up a candidate. You really can’t judge a book by its cover. You just can’t.