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Only the VP’s friends get the good jobs. What do I do?

The Question

I have been at my current automotive parts industry job for two years. Recently a job posting went up for a "stamping production scheduler." I have 12 years experience in this area. Myself and eight others applied for the position. I was told by others that one particular person would get the job and it was decided before the posting went up. I spoke with that person and he laughingly admitted he had no experience in scheduling. I finished second behind this person.

I'm told the only way to get a better job in the plant is to be friends with the vice-president of production. How do you fight this type of discrimination? I sent a letter to the vice-president of administration but I am expecting him to hold the party line. I'm 56 years old, have a bad back and hips and need a job off the production line to keep working until retirement. I have no family and live alone. It's too hard to start over now. What do I do?

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The First Answer

Bill Howatt

Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

Based on my experience, senior managers are often keenly aware of the importance of having a defined, fair policy that spells out how hiring decisions are made. Every day, employment lawyers get calls from folks like you asking if what has happened to them is fair.

One common communication gap that often exists is how selection decisions are made. Most front line employees are not aware whether an organization uses a structured interview process for scoring and ranking interviews and how these rankings drive hiring decisions. In the absence of facts, rumours are created, which may or may not be true.

It appears that there was a defined job description that set the criteria for the selection process (such as years of experience) and that management was accountable to use that to hire the most qualified candidate.

You have a few options. You have already asked your VP of administration to review your case. I would not assume he will hold the party line. A smart VP would ask the simple question: "Can we defend our hiring decision if tested?" This VP likely understands that more employees are hiring lawyers or going to human rights commissions, so there is merit in resolving conflict.

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If the VP believes he or she has a defendable reason why you finished second, you have options: accept the decision and move on; get a second opinion – talk to your shop steward if you are in a union, or an employment lawyer; examine what other roles you can apply for; look elsewhere for other, better-fit employment (and since you live alone, why limit yourself to Ontario?).

At 56, I hope you choose not to put yourself in a position where you wish the next nine years of your life fly by because your are in pain. There are always alternatives., but you must believe there are and try to find them.

The Second Answer

Heather MacKenzie

The Integrity Group, Vancouver

This is frustrating and, sadly, not an uncommon predicament.

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I am assuming the letter to your VP of administration asks for clarification about the process and the hiring criteria, as well as the rationale for hiring the successful candidate over you. Without that critical feedback, candidates like you have to speculate about why you didn't get the job. Ironically, many employers don't give useful feedback since they fear accusations of discrimination or simple unfairness; sometimes they simply don't want to cause hurt feelings or low morale. I appreciate that you believe the fix was in and that some sort of "discrimination" may have been at play.

While that may be the case, a meeting with management to discuss your continued interest in the position and inquiring about other job opportunities could lead to better work. It is important to show your best side, and frame any conversations about the posting so as to avoid sounding accusatory – make them see that you want to understand how the organization makes these decisions to underscore your interest in and commitment to the company. Try talking to the VP of production directly – simply having a chat over coffee can build a better relationship.

You need to look for ways to stay with the company to retain job security. If you have problems with performing some tasks due to changes in your health, have these documented by your physician. You may have a medical limitation which requires your employer to accommodate you. (Your union might be of assistance.) This may lead to you working a different or modified job which could increase your working life and get you to retirement in one piece.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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Bill More

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