I have always wanted to run a marathon before I die. Sadly time has conspired against me and now the risk of doing both on the same day is too great to ignore. Even from a distance, however, it is hard to think that after all the blood, sweat, toil and tears that go into serious running, you would ever forget either your first marathon time or your best.
So what are we to think of US Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan? He told a radio show that his best marathon time was “Under 3, high 2’s. Two hours and fifty-something”, followed up with “I was fast when I was younger, yeah”. Subsequent research suggests in fact (and Ryan does not dispute) that he has never broken four hours.
If we assume that for a Veep candidate every media appearance is a form of job interview played out in public, should he now get the role? If that were a job applicant coming to you, would or could such a misrepresentation be relevant to your decision? After all, in all the guidance on recruitment we are told to make decisions based on relevant facts only. How quickly Ryan once ran the twenty-six miles and three hundred and eighty-five yards is surely totally irrelevant to his ability to act as Vice-President, so does it really matter?
We should probably consider the nature of the misrepresentation. As recruiter, would you believe it to be a deliberate attempt to deceive, or the product of a misunderstanding or simple forgetfulness? There was clearly no misunderstanding of the question – the radio host was not asking about anyone else’s personal best. If the mental and physical scars caused by repeated marathon running had genuinely faded to the point where Ryan had forgotten his time, would he not say so, rather than reach for a purely arbitrary (and incidentally very flattering) number, compounded by the “fast when younger” comment? Some commentators have suggested that Ryan’s exaggeration of his marathon achievement could not have been deliberate because he would know that what he said would be checked. But surely that would not persuade most recruiters – “Obviously I did not mean to overstate my previous salary because I knew it would be checked”. Really? All that means is that the candidate lacks the wit to lie about something that will be less easily rumbled. Not an attractive argument.
At its least damning, Ryan was guilty of a serious error of judgement. Call me old-fashioned if you will, but to my mind that is relevant to my willingness to employ someone. Politics may well be a slightly different game in that periodic incidents of economy with the truth seem not to do any lasting damage but it is hard to think there would be many other employers for which this would be the case. In the circumstances, such “mis-speaking” (a handy new phrase designed to cover things said by public figures which are either dishonest or incredibly stupid) should be ample grounds to refuse to hire the candidate in question.