This was many years ago, when I was a recruiting manager for an MNC and was asked to headhunt a suitable person to fill a position based in Delhi. It was a difficult assignment and I was really at my wits’ end, for the skills were rare in those days. As if that was not enough, my boss said that he was looking for a strong-willed person, a “people person”, a technically strong professional with leadership qualities. Also, he wanted me to look for someone who was strong in marketing or at least had a strong understanding of the marketplace. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. I had a lot of technical resumés with me, and he wanted a well-rounded personality. Perhaps he was looking for someone who could take over from him at a later point in time.

At last, I managed to locate someone from Bangalore. He was an interesting person, warm and genuine, technically strong and with a good head on his shoulders. The rounds of interviews grew longer, and this was a good sign, as any recruiter would know. We all loved him. He seemed curious, spoke gently; he spoke to all of us with a lot of respect and his telephone calls were laced with grace. I was very happy for I had found the right person.

As a follow-up, an offer was made to him. A generous package was called out, and he knew it. In those days, in addition to a good base salary, if one added a car (it was one of the largish Contessas from the Hindustan Motors stable) and a house, it was a great deal. The house was in upmarket Greater Kailash, Delhi, and that was also a plus. We also offered to help him with the admissions to the school of his choice for his children.

I heaved a sigh of relief. He accepted and, given that he was not from the city, I was given the responsibility of giving him a grand tour. Not that I was great at this task, as I was not from Delhi, but I was keen to ensure we made his entry into Delhi comfortable. I received him and his family and took him to the best hotel in Delhi. I told him to rest a bit and that I would come by in the morning and take him, his wife and children for school hunting.

My boss, the CEO, was an influential man. He had spoken to a couple of people and the schools were lined up. The candidate was really pleased that there was so much care from the organisation. He also met up with a few other senior leaders and took a group photograph with them. Overall, it was a great experience for them. The family thanked us profusely and the prospect left for Bangalore. I called him up later in the evening to ensure all was well.

He was, as always, very graceful. Life was good. He had resigned from his company and I was “keeping him warm” – making sure that we did not lose him to any other organisation. I would make sure I sent him messages and spoke to him once a week. It was a two-month notice period, unusual in those days. One fine morning, my CEO called me to his room. He seemed upset. He asked me about the candidate and if all was well. I told him that all was well and was glowing about my “personal touch”. It is at this time that he stuck a letter into my hand. It was from the potential hire.

As I read the first paragraph, I knew that something was wrong. He started by thanking us profusely for our efforts and said that after much thought and careful consideration, he was regretful that he would not take up our offer. It was like a body blow for us and most disappointing for me.

He said that he had decided to rescind his acceptance for family reasons. His father had suddenly taken unwell and was perhaps on the last leg of his life. He could not take him to Delhi, given his frail health, and with all the family around in Bangalore, he was more tethered to Bangalore. With his father in such a condition, he could not make the move.

He was most apologetic and said he could never repay us for our efforts and for the enormous goodness that he experienced. He added that he was enclosing a cheque for Rs 30,000 to partly compensate for all our expenses incurred with his recruitment. He also added that it could in no way compensate for all the efforts that were taken to onboard him. It could be no restitution for all what we had done for him. Rs 30,000 was quite a lot of money in those days.

The letter ended on a graceful note, offering to meet us in Bangalore sometime in future and that he could fly to Delhi to meet us to explain his predicament.

My boss was really upset. Such a lot of time had been spent on the candidate. It was a waste of a good six months of search and waiting, and it would be embarrassing as he had also informed the Board about the person’s appointment. Despite the setback, my boss was a genuine and practical man. He smiled at me and said “stuff happens” and that I should start over. He neither shouted at me nor spoke ill of the candidate. He said that the gent was different. He pointed out what was different about the man.

My boss wrote back to him to say that while he was disappointed at the decline of the offer, he was most taken with his uprightness and integrity. He said that we would wait for another three months and keep the offer alive and hoped the situation at home improved and that his father would get better. My boss thanked him for the cheque and added that there was no way that he would encash that cheque; on the contrary, he was convinced that this man was the kind of person that the organisation needed.

In the end, I did expect the person to show up but he did not. But what showed up was his sense of fairness and character. I could never forget the man. He called me up one day to give us some leads on who could be a suitable candidate and a “better” person for the job. I thanked him again when we ultimately hired one of the leads provided by him.

My boss was pleased with the outcome and did call out the fact that he had “selected the best”. The candidate stayed in touch with me, and each time he would start the conversation with an apology about his not taking up the offer. A thorough gentleman, he taught me something – what it means to be fair to another. I learnt a lot from him, a candidate who, by his engagement in the process of hiring, left a deep impact on me. I wish I could be like him.

Excerpted with permission from The Heart of Work: How To Unlock Your True Potential Using the Power of Insight, SV Nathan, HarperCollins.