Friday, 21 October 2011

It's not what you know, or how well you do it, but who you know that counts in the Verde Valley, AZ

The other day my wife Susan and I asked a local plumber to come to our house and advise us concerning the maintenance of our water conditioner. His name is Charlie. Susan found his name and phone number in the Yellow Pages. She spoke with him by phone and he sounded friendly.

Charlie was very conscientious and sincere. He also knew what he was doing as a plumber. He called a couple of times before coming over, to let us know he was on his way. His price for the visit was quite reasonable. And he gave us excellent advice. 

We were left with the impression that we could do the job of cleaning the water conditioner unit ourselves at minimal cost. Charlie would be available by phone, at no charge, if we needed additional help with the procedure. He would come to our house to assist for a reasonable charge. He answered other questions we had of a plumbing nature. Overall we were very pleased with the service he provided.

When our business with Charlie was concluded, we spoke with him about our previous residency in Southern California. He was from Northern California. Then we spoke about how difficult it is to find work in Northern Arizona, which is where we live. He agreed and told us that it took twelve years for him to find local customers. Before that he was just a laborer working for someone else. I told Susan, “I guess that means we’ll only have to wait 8 ½ years before I get local accounting business”. We’ve been living in Rimrock for 3 ½ years. 

I told Charlie that trying to find work around here is like trying to find work in a desert. He replied that most people he’s known here hire people that they already know or trust. It’s taken twelve years for people in the area to get to know him and recommend him to others. He’s the same way, as it turns out. He said he’d only hire someone that he knows, and that we should leave it at that. 

Based on my own experience, I have to agree with Charlie about the tendency of area residents to hire or recommend professionals based on how well they know the professional. Whether someone trusts you or not has just about everything to do with them hiring you. It doesn’t matter to most people here how good I am at accounting. Many individuals and businesses won’t hire me because they don’t know me. They don’t like to hire strangers to do their accounting work. Being known, as opposed to not being known, can make the difference between being paid $75 per hour and being paid $12 per hour for doing the same work. 

It was pretty much that way even when I worked in more cosmopolitan environments like Long Island, New York City and Southern California. In those places, however, professionals were treated as being less expendable than in Northern Arizona. In New York City you could make a decent living as an accountant working for someone else. In Northern Arizona, you can’t.

I didn’t tell Charlie that the reason we hired him was that we found his listing in the Yellow Pages and liked how he sounded on the phone. We didn’t know him at all before we called him to come to our house. I didn’t think he was ready to hear that. 

The basic flaw in that way of thinking, i.e. only hiring someone you know, I decided, is that it limits your hiring options. You may refuse to hire, or overlook hiring, someone who’s very well qualified to do the work you need done, just because you don’t know them. With all the information that’s available about professionals and people seeking work, including on their website or résumé, it appears to be an act of negligence to leave any stone unturned if you want the best job done.

It’s sensible to hire someone you know or trust. However, the person you know or trust should be hired only after all eligible candidates for the job have been considered or interviewed. It seems to me that a candidate should be given the opportunity to earn your trust.

But then, perhaps people in Northern Arizona don’t care if the work that’s performed for them isn’t of the highest quality. They’re more concerned about knowing or trusting the person they hire. That may be one reason that the economy here is stagnant. Hiring people on a political basis, rather than on the basis of merit, can lead to a less productive workforce. Consequently, the value of professionals in the eyes of prospective clients and employers is diminished. When this is combined with the economic hardship faced by so many people, it becomes easier for those in a position to hire someone to justify paying them less. That leads to less money being recirculated in the local economy.

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