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A stupid interview question to ask a woman

In the September 9, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker wonders why male interviewers ask about her spouse:

I am looking for a job that is a greater challenge and I’ve been making the rounds with the recruiters in my industry. So far, of three male recruiters and three male interviewers I have spoken with, each has asked me what my husband does for a living. Why does this matter? If only one guy asked me that, I would shrug it off but every one of these guys asked the same question.

For what it’s worth, my husband is a software developer and I have answered the question every time. If I am asked the question again, what’s the best way to avoid it without sounding defensive?

Nick’s Reply

sexist_questionsSome might say I’m over-reacting, but when six interviewers (including the recruiters) ask about your husband, something’s up.

Try this: “My husband wouldn’t be interested in this position, but thanks for asking. What does your wife do?”

In general, I think “turnabout is fair play” is a good rule when you need to judge the legitimacy of an interview question. That is, an interviewer shouldn’t ask any questions he’s not willing to answer himself. (Of course, this would apply to women interviewers, too.)

If the retort I’ve suggested seems extreme, it’s based on the same logic I apply to the salary question. (See Should I disclose my salary history?) If an employer has a right to information about your salary history, then you have a right to salary history relating to the position at hand. That is, what does the company pay others who do that job, and what has it paid over the past few years? Likewise, if Mr. Interviewer wants to know what your husband does, he won’t mind telling you what his wife does for a living.

My rule is, always look at the business angle first. So before we get into sexist interviewers and discrimination, let’s look at another aspect of this: What does your answer gain the interviewer?

Two things. First, it tells him how much of a financial cushion you have, because that could influence the level of salary a recruiter will try to get you, and the kind of offer a manager might make.

Second, it helps him assess whether you’re likely to quit if your spouse gets a new job. (In other words, whose career comes first?) By itself, there’s nothing onerous about this; it’s just an aggressive negotiating tactic. It doesn’t mean the interviewer is discriminating. He could be a fine, upstanding fellow who is so focused on “the deal” that he misses the sexist connotation of his question.

And that’s why the retort I suggested is such a good one. A guy who meant nothing improper by it will blush beet red and retreat with an apology. He might still be a jerk, but he’s probably benign. He won’t be offended by your spiked response.

On the other hand, if the interviewer reacts with a nasty glare, you’ve just saved yourself from a complete waste of time. Guys who don’t know how to talk to women should interview inflatable dolls instead. You don’t need to know how to answer them. You need only recognize them so you can cross the street to avoid them. There’s no quarter in continuing an interview with a jerk. Your choice is to complain or sue for discrimination, or to walk away.

The retort we discussed is a good though admittedly aggressive test. If it leaves the interviewer embarrassed, this gives you an edge so you can find out what he’s really like. At this point, I suggest asking and answering what I think is the best interview question ever. If he gets offended, then he’s not worth talking to.

If we expect the people we work with to have high standards, we often have to insist on it. You’re not being defensive when the interviewer is being offensive; you’re going on offense yourself. If these questions were asked innocently and in passing, I don’t think your antennae would be picking up signals that concern you. I see no legitimate reason for asking the question, unless the interviewer explicitly prefaces the question with the reason. Use your judgment, but stick to your guns.

(To learn more about situations where you might have to assert yourself, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.)

What’s the most personal or inappropriate interview question you’ve been asked? How did you respond?

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98 Comments
  1. When I was in a position to interview for hires in a former job (higher education staff), our HR department noted there were several lines of questioning that were off limits – unless initiated by the applicant – otherwise we could open ourselves up to discrimination liability under the EOE. Among them were gender preference, marital status, family status (whether they had children), age, and religion.

    Do recruiters need to heed these same limits, or since they act as an agent on behalf of an applicant are they just trying to get a fuller picture of their client? Does knowing that type of information give a recruiter an advantage when trying to place a candidate? I could be wrong, but it seems to me they can’t really offer up any of that information even if they had it, it would instead be the applicant’s decision to disclose (or not) during their interview discussion.

  2. Brilliant.

    I’ve been asked,”Do you need health insurance?” which, I also believe, was a way to get at my marital status and husband’s job. I should have answered, “Of course! I have the following 16 disabilities and now that you know about them, and don’t hire me, I’ll sue because clearly you are discriminating against me because of my disabilities!”

    Alas, I was young and naive, so I honestly answered the question. “Yes, but I’m getting married in 3 months and then I can be on my husband’s insurance!” I didn’t get the job by the way.

    Probably for the best!

  3. Yeah, an interviewer asking that would completely be opening themselves up to a potential discrimination lawsuit.

    The good recruiters I’ve worked with before wouldn’t ever have asked anything regarding EOE related topics: they work for the employer, not the applicant, and as their agent are all caught up in those regulations.

    Not just stupid but inappropriate, unprofessional, and illegal as well. Do you really want to work for or with anyone who is so ignorant of the law, bereft of common sense and has no respect for the private lives of applicants?

  4. As a woman who’s been through many, many job interviews in my career, I have been asked every illegal question there is. It doesn’t matter who or what the company is. If they can’t find it out one way, they do it another. The question above is definitely to peg you for a lower salary. I don’t believe in that “altruistic” notion that they are trying to get a “fuller picture.” Only a guy would try to pass that off as being a legitimate concern. Do you really believe that they are asking men the same question? To get a fuller picture? Not likely. Also, what if the husband is a wife? Another way to determine eligibility, I say.

    If I sound cynical, it’s definitely from being through so many of these interviews and getting jobs that were so much less than what they were supposed to be (sometimes after sacrificing my esteem to get them.) One time, a woman HR person was negotiating my salary with me during the job offer. When I deferred because it came in so much lower than what should have been offered, she asked me, “Is salary really THAT important to you?” I was stupified by the question and especially by the fact that is was asked of me by a woman. But I told her yes, and I got the salary I wanted.

    At this point in my career, nothing surprises me.

    I do like Nick’s response though, and have filed that in the old memory bank to use if it comes up. “Oh are we sliding into the personal side of this interview? You married, got any kids? What’s your wife do? Where does she work? They have any openings there I’d be up for?” Kind of like the Seinfeld “telemarketer” episode.

    Really, from having any plans on getting pregnant to what’s the husband situation, those are things in LIFE and employers that are good to work for/with are the ones who do not need to know in advance if LIFE happens, it does, and they go with the flow. If an employee is that good, you’ll do everything to keep them, whether LIFE is happening or not. Nick has always gotten this concept and this is why I think he’s the greatest!

  5. @Nick you said it all right here in my opinion, “If we expect the people we work with to have high standards, we often have to insist on it. ”

    There is no need to rip this apart. The answer is right there. If your standards aren’t met or the people you see fall short? I say just walk out.

  6. I have been asked if I own or rent. I’ve been asked if I plan to have children. I’ve been asked what year I graduated from college. Sadly, I didn’t have the moxie to reply appropriately — nor the financial means to just walk away — so I just gave them the answer.

    I’m smarter now.

  7. My first question is why he knows she HAS a husband. And if he doesn’t this sounds like a question to determine her marital status. The other way of gauging this that really gets my goat is the “emergency contact” question on applications. I mean, do they really expect the applicant to have a heart attack or stroke during the interview? This is an attempt to determine marital status. You put your son’s or daughter’s name there – guess what, you’re single.

  8. @Sharon How does he know that information? That is a very good point.

    Also, I agree regarding an emergency contact. I would just put a telephone number and no name.

  9. In the emergency contact, you might want to talk to some IT people. This came up a year ago in a job search group I moderated under similar circumstances. We were all shocked when multiple IT managers said they get all this info for the HRIS System design and they decide what to put in. One flat out said that he had done many of these things to make it easier for his team with no thought to they might be asking illegal questions. The others were very similar in their responses…….

  10. This opens another thought to me how many situations today (including many so-called IT positions) are labelled one thing yet are nothing more than glorified data entry jobs.

  11. The first thought that I had while reading this article was: how did the interviewer know that the person was married?
    Let me skip, for a moment, to some of the most inappropriate comment(s) that have come up during an interview.

    This happened during a selection process after I had just joined the Air Force. I was under consideration for a top secret position and unfortunately, (the way I see it) the individual who was conducting the interview made the choice to take this line of questioning with me.

    [I had to provide a disclosure questionnaire before the interview.] He started by asking if I had excessive debt or long periods of unemployment. [I was only 24.] He said, ‘Usually what happens to you girls is that financial hardship leads into illegal activities, like drugs or prostitution.’ I answered that none of those were problems that had occurred in my life.

    Then he wanted to know if I thought the position sounded glamorous because it would actually involve long hours and hard work. I told that I was up to any job-related challenges that came with the position.

    His last (voiced) concern was about the fact that I had attended university in Canada. He said, ‘You know that they are Socialists up there: it is the same as Communism. You mentioned that your best friend lives up there … Did you ever discuss her political views?’ I told him that we hadn’t discussed politics in any detail. ‘Do you think that she might be a Communist? What about her family?’ Questions on this topic went on for close to 7 minutes …

    His final question was, “So, are you still interested in this position?” I said very clearly, “Yes, I am interested.” He picked up one of the two stamps on the table and pressed it on an ink pad and then stamped the envelope. The word “DECLINED” showed up on the interview packet. He said, “Thank you for coming in.” I left the room. Glean what you will from the experience: this led me “to choose” networking and computers as my field which required the second highest scores, instead of the position ? Signal Intelligence that I was recommended by my aptitude scores yet was … unavailable, for me. It wasn’t the first time (or, the last) that others have presumed to know what might be the best work situation for me.

    This gives you some background and perspective for the way that I am going to respond here. In my opinion, the fact that the candidate is married is irrelevant. There are stages of interviewing and BEFORE the conversation gets to any personal considerations, the base offer should be on the table already.
    Unfortunately, we have fallen into “social recruiting” and networking that provides unintended disclosure to … anyone, yet recruiters in particular. I use LinkedIn and Twitter. In the old days, I had a Facebook account and recruiters would attempt to “friend” me. However, with one exception Nick Corcodilos, I declined them all. (Actually, I reached out to Nick on Facebook because, in my opinion, he has defined and operates in a niche specialty at the top of the recruiting industry).

    All that said, I disagree respectfully with giving any energy to ‘what this recruiter might have been thinking’ because his comment, for whatever reason, was unprofessional. I prefer the direct approach: ask the real question. ‘Tell me how my husband’s profession relates to your consideration of me as a candidate for this job.’ There are many ways that the spouse’s profession might have an impact, beyond compensation (high travel, international travel, conflicts of interest, etc.). As a job candidate, (qualities to look for in recruiters) I would want to work with someone who gave me the overview of the position and compensation and shared with me openly that ‘the client or our company is making a considerable investment. Therefore, if you do not object, could you tell us if you could, as an employee, offer reasonable stability and longevity along with your expertise? Are you affiliated with an individual(s) or group(s) that potentially would adversely influence/impact your work or this company (or, prevent quality in your performance, in some way)? I’d leave it at that or even ask the spouse of a potential candidate to a brief meeting or dinner, before the hire.

    Conversation is the key to resolving these awkward recruiting situations. In my view, appropriate conversation is the sole measure of leadership capability as not talking about things that are awkward fails to resolve the underlying concerns that cause the awkwardness.

  12. @Victoria What do you mean by a “disclosure questionnaire?” also, you stated, “He started by asking if I had excessive debt or long periods of unemployment. [I was only 24.] He said, ‘Usually what happens to you girls is that financial hardship leads into illegal activities, like drugs or prostitution.'”

    If there was a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) then I honestly do not know where this stands.

    However, regardless of what it was at that line of questioning especially for a young woman it is that point I would have personally left.

  13. As a recruiter we would ask this question if Relocation were involved whether male or female. It is important to understand if a potential candidate WILL relocate and what influence the family or spouse (regardless of gender) has on the decision. Many times male/female candidates believe they are the decision maker only to find out after a fly-in interview and lots of time invested in the process that the spouse or children do not want to relocate. Better to identify this upfront and not waste the candidates time and emotional capital as well as the recruiter and clients.

  14. @Nick

    The “disclosure questionnaire” was a comprehensive survey that was used to discover any questionable behaviours or criminal history that might reflect on ability to be issued “Top Secret” clearance … I didn’t mention it above, but that conversation with him prevented me from getting my Secret clearance for 6 months.

  15. Along the lines of what Lauren said above, most of the illegal and inappropriate questions I’ve been asked usually revolved around age, marital status, and family situation. To the age question, when was young, I usually responded that I was old enough to legally sign a contract. Once I’m old enough for employers to think I’m “too old,” I’ll probably use the same response. I’ve had both oblique and overt questions about my religion, whether or not I like to wear dresses, and if I’d ever filed any sexual harassment claims. When I was young, I redirected them or became selectively deaf, but now that I’m less likely to be intimidated, I think I’ll try the more aggressive/turn-the-tables approach.

  16. @Nic, followup

    Being able to stay seated and take the jabs has been the connerstone of my career. People think that if they are intrusive, ridiculous or try t offend me that I will run away in horror.

    I’ve made it this far … and I plan to keep going.

  17. @Victoria I see, thank you for clarifying.

    Did you not see what was coming when you were presented with this questionnaire?

  18. How did the interviewer KNOW this woman was married? That’s not a standard question on an application, nor is it anything that the candidate has a legal obligation to disclose. It was partially HER fault for letting them know she was married.

  19. @Nick

    When presented with a disclosure request, of course, I expected to be asked if I used drugs or had mafia ties …

    Suggested that my Canadian friend might be a Communist, no … I didn’t see that one coming.

    I had just finished college and work for 3 years at two of the most prestigious law firms in Washington, D.C. … So, no I didn’t expect that I would be suspected of illegal activities. There had been a blood test already (I don’t even smoke nicotine or drink coffee).

  20. This reminds me of when I was up for an award and was being interviewed and asked what my parents did for a living. My response was I thought this was an award for me; what does my parents have to do with this? Needless to say, I did not get that award and was advised by a committee person that he was told I was not allowed any awards. So even in high school 35 years ago I learned about power plays. It is in all walks of life.

  21. Isn’t it odd … women tend to offer what we think of as ‘too much information’ in professional settings, yet when men say nothing of their families we question their commitment.

  22. In addition to being asked if I had or planned on having children, where my husband worked, I was asked about my financial investments. I was asked to disclose if I had more than $10,000 in any one company. Seeing as how I was interviewing at a bank that offer investment services, I could see the justification, however I was not an executive, but part of the IT department. After my disclosure was reviewed by HR, I was informed that they had never had to have an investment disclosure by anyone in my position before. My reply was “Why not? Don’t you hire people who understand money?” Needless to say, I was not in the best standing from the start. I left after a year and didn’t look behind.

  23. @Jan

    Yes, questins about investments are intrusive, in my opinion … again there are some possible, acceptable reasons later in the hiring process.

    I would also think about the industry prospective employer: public or private, defense-intelligence, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals where corporate espionage is high risk, etc.

  24. Nope. Bad response. It’s based on a false assumption, which is that the behavior of the recruiters and HR screeners has any predictive power regarding what the job will be like.

    If the hiring manager asks the question, Nick’s response is appropriate. Otherwise it might be satisfying, but it doesn’t get an applicant where she wants to go (which is to the interview that matters … the one with the hiring manager).

    Opinion: Every interview before the one with the hiring manager is a screening interview – it’s looking for a reason to eliminate candidates from contention. The job here is to pass the screening. Period.

    That being the case, I’d think a puzzled expression, followed by “He’s a software developer, but all in all I’d rather talk about what I can do for this company,” might do a better job of it.

  25. Of course, the other part of all of this is that we place ourselves into a dependent situation by not striking out on our own, perhaps “seeking employment” surrenders some degree of privacy.
    The best way to ‘be the change that you want to see’ (Ghandi) is to have your own company or livelihood and set your own standards.

  26. @BobLewis

    Yes, agree on your point, however, I thnk that Nick ususally recommends networking toward the hiring manager to minimize involvement of the “Middle Six” (as I call them … HR and today’s ‘gatekeepers’)

  27. I learned a long time ago to never discuss personal topics, politics, religion, medical, or other info of such a nature in the predominantly men’s worlds that I’ve worked. I found it also helped when I worked around other women as it didn’t serve to foster gossip.

    One thing that’s definitely a take-away from this blog is that it is important to vet these companies enough beforehand so that you don’t get caught in the situation. If you can’t, and you’re in an interview going south, the best thing is to politely end the conversation and move on.

    The last typing test I took was in 1989. I couldn’t believe that I needed to take a typing test to qualify for a stockbroker position, but I found out quickly that women stockbrokers were called “trading assistants” and would be expected to be typing up all those letters.

    Male domination in the workplace hasn’t ended, it’s only gone underground.

    However, no one should be treated like a 2nd class citizen just because they’re applying for a job – and women have bore the brunt of that for a long time.

    These are musings of an oder, more mature, more confident woman, who doesn’t take any crap from anyone anymore. And if they ask me if I wear dresses, I’d tell them that only if they matched my tassels.

  28. @Lauren

    That’s the problem with “corporate America” (I tend to be metaphysical) is that we haven’t achieved balance, in gender or spirit. It is the excess of male energy (yang) that causes lack of direction, poor planning, ‘buzz’-crazy technology rather than true roadmaps … dysfunction, really. The brut force competition (focus on the numbers, how high, how big, how many) rather than elegant design and sustanability.

  29. I have seen many interview treatises that actually RECOMMEND asking an “illegal” question, just for the exact purpose of gauging the reaction. For instance, in the “what does your husband do/earn” example, the candidate that bursts out with a “That’s an illegal question! You can’t ask me that!!” as opposed to the calm “Why would you possibly want to know that? Does it impact the job duties? / My husband is not applying for this job (smile)” If the position were in customer relations the latter response shows more poise under stress and a possibly more favorable candidate as opposed to the former.

    Although against the EEOC statutes, such a single question would be unlikely to even be investigated, much less sanctioned, as I would wager all the written applications are letter perfect in compliance.

    I am not advocating such tactics, but to deny that they exist would be naive.

    As far as a recruiter is concerned, I would personally tell them bluntly that I will not be answering inappropriate questions. If they persist, wish them good day and hang up.

  30. I just cannot resist, because everyone seems to misunderstand this (including some commenters above): It is not illegal to ask about marital status, gender, sexual preferences, race, creed, religion, etc in a job interview. The only one that is typically actually illegal to ask about is disability.

    http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=aec05983-ccdb-46d3-90cb-de52d01441d7

    But obvs it is stupid to ask, and it’s remarkable that 1) there are professional recruiters who ask, and 2) companies with actual HR departments still have managers who ask these questions. You had ONE job, HR!

    Breet Winholtz, I’m a bit surprised that you ask this, as a recruiter. If you want to know about relocation issues, ask about relocation issues. Trying to sneakily figure stuff out by asking about people’s spouses is a crappy way to get the info you want. Especially since it sounds like you’re using it in a specifically discriminatory way: “Well, you SAY there won’t be relocation issues, but you have a husband with a good career and two kids, so you’re probably wrong and your family will make you stay, which is true because my experience with other women in similar situations says it is.”

    I hope that’s not the case, but your wording strongly suggests that you specifically don’t believe what people TELL you, and that you make those judgments for yourself based on their marital/child status, which is precisely the kind of explicit discrimination that actually is illegal.

  31. A stupid question? Maybe. But answer it if you want the job.
    Political correctness has gone amuck. The headhunter is interested in earning a commission. That commission is contingent on him finding you a job you want at a compensation package you will accept. He knows what standards and problems he faces in placing you. He asks questions to better enable him to serve both you and himself. Ta a woman that could include asking what your spouse/husband does. Not so much if you are a man. That is the process.
    The law already prohibits him from asking questions about your health. Questions that are certainly relevant to an employer, but deemed an invasion of privacy. Should he voluntarily ignore all other relevant questions that are legal if somewhat intrusive?
    You can respond insultingly by asking what his wife does. Be branded as a belligerent person with a chip on her shoulder. And lose all or most opportunities to be hired. Or you can recognize that your best interests lie in answering truthfully all questions put to you. Without making any smart ass responses.
    Were I an employer seeking a new hire, that single smart ass answer would make my mind up as to the kind of person I was dealing with.
    At the most I would accept an answer like: May I ask why you are asking?
    For the record, I have been successfully running businesses for 60 years
    Ron

  32. @Suzanne Lucas

    I don’t think of HR as “evil” if they support their management by encuraging and leading toward inclusive, 21st century work environments.

    HR, if professional, knowledgeable and prepared is invaluable, especially for veterans. I remember receiving my first employment package as a civilian and I have to say: I was overwhelmed. HR helped me, walked me through all the “stuff” and gave me good direction. In fact, I had forgotten some of the ‘good choices’ that were suggested and had $25000 saved up in an IRA by the time that I left the company from a matching program. Good HR people are a credit to any organization.

  33. With everyone wondering just how he knew she was married, all the married women I know wear wedding rings. It’s not hard to figure out.

    As for relocation, the correct question is, “Are you interested in relocating?” and “What concerns do you have about relocating?” Not, “What does your husband do?”

  34. @Ron Bibace I agree with you entirely especially concerning this PC lunacy.

    Frankly, to cut to the chase, I think one will answer what one is comfortable answering and respond accordingly depending on their personal nature, confidence and intelligence.

    I would rather be straightforward ask and either I will answer or not. Yet, I for one will not want to be associated with a firm attempting to play simpleminded games and/or feebly attempting to gleam information via side alleyways many of them described above. For those who participate in social media (I am not one) such invasive questions largely do not appear necessary from what I have seen for such people their lives are a puzzle laid out online one I find very easily pieced together.

  35. @Victoria …

    American business suffers from an excess of male energy? Not sure what possible value comes from attaching a gender to such things. All men aren’t aggressive, all women aren’t nurturing, and all generalizations like this are worse than worthless – they turn a rational conversation into idiotic arguments about how exactly to construct each stereotype.

    As someone once said, we know men aren’t from Mars because if they were, the Curiosity rover would have found a bunch of empty beer cans there.

  36. @Kimberlee
    Great point, yet misleading … we’re flexing between “illegal” and “unethical” as well as avoiding the desire to avoid placing the company in an “actionable” situation where discrimination might be perceived.

    It depends on the playbook, private companies can usually do whatever they want. Some public companies and the government hold themselves (or, say that they do) to a higher standard and require not asking as a show of EEO support.

  37. @Bob Lewis Thank you, you read my mind.

  38. @Ron

    Yes, if you want to support the climate of bullying and thuggery (or, have no choice) be intimidated and submit to the intrusions … most of us have to do this, at work. There is a serius underground growing in the world and in this country and sme of it isn’t good for any of us.

  39. I just have to say this. So many asked how HR would even know if someone is married. Seriously??? Do you facebook? Is your name anywhere on facebook about anything on any other page? Do you have liked in? do you have a blog or ever have a blog b/c it is still there. Come on. One of the first thing HR does or anyone that is going to interview you is look on FB and linked in. It does not take long of FB, three degrees of separation, maybe only to find you even if you do not have your own page. There are endless links to other links all over the net. Ad any investigator can find out everything in a second. In fact our firm has a west next account (legal research) and we can find out property info, utilities, divorces, relatives, all addresses ever lived at, any court case ever just be running a name. That info leads to more info. Did you ever post a picture on the web? You are there forever. And with regards to the interview questions, they can ask about a protected class but you do not need to answer by law. And once again good luck trying to prove discrimination from a job interview. You have to prove they did not hire you for ANY other reason other the sex, age etc. And you have to show they have a pattern of doing that. Discrimination cases are very difficult o win and cost a fortune.
    Catherine

  40. @Ron Bibace @Nic

    In my opinion, it’s clear that you’ve never suffered the slings & arrows of the types of interviews that some of the women respondents here have. It has nothing to do with being PC. It has everything to do with respect and dignity.

    Unfortunately, over the years, I swallowed my pride, I played the corp game and answered all the questions, no matter how intrusive or insulting they were. There was always an assumption made that I was not the final decision-maker, that I would have to get someone else’s approval to do anything. At times it was humiliating, being told I was going to need to wear a uniform or get a better wardrobe, and being given a place to shop, but being offered peasant wages.

    So I guess, if I’m branded a smart-ass today, that’s what I am. Do I want to work for/with anyone who perceives me as chattel? Never. So brand away, and believe it or not, the opportunities out there are unlimited, really.

    So I will be a smart ass if someone is so ignorant as to “test” me with an illegal, immoral, unethical question. If they don’t like it, too bad, the world is full of nice people to work for, not everyone is a jerk. And life’s too short to spend it working for jerks.

  41. @BobLewis

    When I mentioned, “metaphysical” I was hinting that energy Yin/Yang is in everyone: not just men. Buddhists, Taoists, native cultures, and many, many others (even in America) use gender associations to speak of inanimate objects or ideas … ships, cars … “she’s a beauty”

  42. Great discussion, and some issues I’d never considered. But then again, that’s why we have these discussions. Thanks to all for your comments. A few I want to call out for being so pithy:

    Lauren: “Is salary really THAT important to you?” [Sheesh!]

    Martin: “We were all shocked when multiple IT managers said they get all this info for the HRIS System design and they decide what to put in. One flat out said that he had done many of these things to make it easier for his team with no thought to they might be asking illegal questions.” [Martin, thanks for leaking that! I think many boards of directors would be shocked to know that their HR execs have no idea what’s being asked, or why. I think a good chunk of the perceived “talent shortage” stems from reactions of job applicants to b.s. questions on forms. They just walk away.]

    Victoria: “There are stages of interviewing and BEFORE the conversation gets to any personal considerations, the base offer should be on the table already.” [Most employers just don’t get this. The choice to share certain information should come after the employer makes a firm commitment. There’s so much technology in employers’ interviewing methods, and so little finesse!]

    Carol: “oblique and overt questions about my religion, whether or not I like to wear dresses…” [Whether you like to wear dresses??!! This is right up there with Victoria’s story about being told her friend in Canada was a commie!]

    Lauren: “One thing that’s definitely a take-away from this blog is that it is important to vet these companies enough beforehand so that you don’t get caught in the situation.” [So many problems in interviews can be avoided by keeping this one thing in mind. Thanks for emphasizing it, Lauren. CHOOSE your companies, and you’ll encounter less b.s. in interviews.]

  43. The salient point, from my perspective, is the imbalance: the need for moderation in hiring practices, such as interviewing questions and sharing information.

    That’s all that I wanted to mention; this has been a positive discussion. Thank you all for participating.

  44. A thought occurs to me: What happens to this conversation if we assume positive intent?

    HR theory notwithstanding, rapport matters. Especially among interviewers who haven’t been properly educated, questions about home life, hobbies, how you were raised and so on might seem entirely innocuous – nothing more than getting to know the person you’re talking to.

    Is this appropriate and fair? No, especially as it’s so much easier to build rapport with someone who’s like you. Is it easy to understand without it being nefarious?

    I’d say yes. I’d advise starting out by applying Napoleon’s dictum (Never ascribe to malice what you can explain with incompetence).

    Most likely, you’re talking with someone who just doesn’t know any better. And if that’s the case a sharp response is less appropriate than diplomatically steering the interview into productive channels.

    Because while you’re talking with someone who just doesn’t know any better, you do.

  45. How about answering “He’s a door-to-door merkin salesman.” It “fills the square” without providing any information. The interviewer’s response to this will indicate why he asked; if you decide that the question has legitimate bearing, you can grin wryly and say “I’m sorry, sometimes my sense of humor gets the best of me; he’s really a software developer; he also moonlights as a freelance proctologist.”

  46. @Lance My personal opinion is your response is both undignified and entirely inappropriate, here and elsewhere.

  47. @Bob Lewis: “Never ascribe to malice what you can explain with incompetence”

    I find that a surprising dictum to apply in this case. Employers assess job candidates for their competence, and use any information they can gather to do so.

    So if an applicant sees incompetent behavior from an employer, the applicant should just try to “understand?”

    Sorry, but I just don’t see it. I think the single biggest problem job seekers face today is not rejection; it’s hooking up with the wrong employer and having to go job hunting again.

    There’s an attitude prevalent in management and HR circles; among career “experts”; and even (most sadly) among job seekers: The applicant is a supplicant.

    It’s just not true, and it’s dangerous for job seekers to adopt such a posture. There’s a line between being brazen or rude, and being assertive. Job seekers should never be rude. But nor should employers. I think job seekers need to start expecting higher standards of behavior from employers — or walk away.

    If you need to put food on the table, by all means take any job you can, and beg if you have to. But otherwise, don’t stand for a double standard. I think the rationalizing has to stop. If the interviewer is incompetent, that’s a signal that the company is poorly managed. Just as an incompetent job applicant signals he or she is not worth hiring.

    Use your judgment in conversation. (Thanks to Victoria for reminding us that interviews are conversations, not interrogations.) If you believe an interviewer has erred and you can deftly steer the interviewer back on track, by all means do it. But let’s end the double-standard rationalizations. Employers are being judged by everything they say and do in job interviews. Or they should be.

    “Interviewers who haven’t been properly educated” don’t belong on the front line, and employers who are guilty of putting them there raise a bright red flag.

  48. I can’t recall the original source of this response, but I read of someone answering with a snarky smile: “My wife? Oh thanks for asking, she’s an attorney specializing in workplace discrimination [slight pause] No, not really, but why do you ask?” I think it’s all in the tone of the response, kind of like Lauren’s great “tassels” rejoinder above. If it’s immediately followed up with an attitude of “c’mon, let’s get to the important stuff you and the hiring manager/boss/CEO really want to know,” then it can be both a powerful and subtle way of helping focus the meeting on what matters most (assuming the scope of the “interview” wasn’t clarified in advance.) If it’s truly a “check the boxes” interview, instead of an opportunity for both parties to meaningfully discuss a possible business relationship, then I think the response still works; the interviewer would likely feel disinclined to pursue the question further, and still not know how the family’s financial/geographic decisions would be resolved following a firm offer.

  49. @Nic: It is certainly undignified; is that such a bad thing? Having a Family Circle(tm) cartoon on the office wall is undignified.

    As to inappropriate, I’ll have to ponder that. If I offended you (or anyone else) I appologize for my coarseness and your delicacy.

  50. The best response I’ve heard to those awkward questions:

    “Oh, I really wouldn’t want to put you in an awkward position, since as you are aware a question regarding marital status could leave you open to EEOC questions later. Did you have some concern about my ability to fulfill the job requirements?”

    I would personally prefer this to Nick’s answer because I don’t feel like whether or not I have a husband is something they should be making hiring decisions on. I can’t say “my husband wouldn’t be interested” without acknowledging that I have one. Or alternatively, “what husband?” which acknowledges that I don’t.

  51. @Kat (and some others who made the same point): You’re right. It may be best to answer in a way that does not disclose anything about marital status.

    Some have suggested that male interviewers are sometimes just errant or unskilled or don’t intend to offend or take advantage. Again, the woman in the situation must use her good judgement. But to all this I say bunk. If guys don’t know better, their employers should not put them on the front line interviewing job applicants.

    For an extreme case (not specifically related to gender issues) of how a company can totally destroy its reputation via “interviewers” who need to be locked away, see this oldie but goodie, “Death By Lethal Reputation): http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/halethalrep.htm

    (Caution: It’s long!)

  52. @Kat …

    Rather than “what husband?” ask “which husband?”

    That ought to change the subject quickly.

  53. I agree with the posters who remark that there are a lot of companies that complain about a lack of good candidates, when they’re so often the ones who are bad at finding and hiring good people. It’s their responsibility to do this, and if they do it badly, they’re making it crystal-clear that they don’t respect their employees and are probably bad to work for in other ways as well. I especially agree with Nick that a company that puts somebody who doesn’t know how to conduct an interview out on the front lines is raising a huge red flag, letting candidates know in no uncertain terms that this is a company that doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing.

    Throughout my career, as I’ve seen this situation worsen ‘way beyond what seemed possible, I’ve decided that the best way to handle situations like this is to not only refuse to work for companies like this, but to let people above the bad interviewer know about the bad behavior, on the off chance that they actually care that candidates are being exposed to bad, and sometimes illegal, interviewing techniques.

    Decades ago, I interviewed with a company and talked to a hiring manager. Days later, the manager contacted me and said that he wanted to talk further with me. He was mysterious about why he needed more face time with me, and why he wanted to conduct the interview at a restaurant near his office, and not in his office. I was desperate for work (this happened during a big recession), so I showed up despite lots of reservations. This manager tried to get me to sign onto a well-known pyramid scheme! I told him off loudly enough that other restaurant patrons were in no doubt what he had done, walked out and I called the president of the company (it was a small company, so it was relatively easy to reach him). I told the president exactly what this employee had done. Several weeks later, I anonymously called the company and asked to speak with this manager. I was told he no longer worked there. The satisfaction I felt made the whole experience worth it!

  54. Excellent column! I have been asked this inappropriate question by several male interviewers and bosses too– nearly all of them ask it. And no, they wouldn’t ask a male. My 1st employer out of college asked it and he was so thinly transparent, trying to figure out how much of a raise he needed to give me so that I would stay. Was I desperate? I quit shortly thereafter. Men, STOP asking women this offensive question and capping your offers based on the response. Evaluate women on the value of what they seek to do for your company. In other words, treat women with respect and evaluate them like men.

  55. I have a question. For the people who have made it through an unscrupulous hiring maze of loaded questions, was it worth it? Did you get the job?
    As for me, I’ve have a # of stock questions ready to fire back i.e. Are asking me because of relocation issues? Do you need to know such detailed information at this stage in the interviewing process and if so tell me about yourself — your best 10 minute elevator speech?” etc.etc.etc. however, it’s tiring and belittling to spend so much of the interview deflecting questions rather than talk about what I think the company wants, what I can do, what I know about the company and where the industry is from my research and talking to current/former employees and where the company is and what I would contribute to the bottom line .

  56. Wow, go away/go to work for a few hours, and look at all of the responses!!!

    Re the question how did the interviewers and recruiters know she is married, it might be very obvious if she wears her engagement ring and wedding band. She would not have to say a single word, and those two pieces of jewelry convey her marital status.

    If she brought up her husband, or used the word “we” (indicating coupledom), then that is another matter. I couldn’t tell from her letter whether she mentioned it or not. I’m going to assume that she didn’t, but that like most married women, she wears rings to communicate her status to the world.

  57. @marybeth

    Just to clarify, many non-American married women either don’t wear rings, or may wear a ring on the right hand. So, an engagement ring and a band pretty much nails it for an American woman being married, but their absence does not denote their being single.

  58. @Hank: I posted my response assuming that the woman in this week’s q & a is American. I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of her not being American.

    @Lauren and @Victoria et al.: you are not alone and I think many women have faced these kinds of questions and other questions that are even more offensive and intrusive on job interviews. I have as well, and I agree with you both: no interviewer would ever in a million years ask a male candidate the same questions. I’ve also been asked whether I rent or own, if I own my own car (when the job did not entail travel), why I don’t grow out my hair (I have short hair, and wear it in a style similar to how actress Carey Lowell wore hers for her Law & Order role–you can google her to get an idea), whether I was married/engaged to be married/dating/living with someone, how soon I planned to have kids, etc.

    If the interviewer was concerned that I’d wouldn’t be able to handle the pace/workload, etc., then the way to approach it would have been to say “people who work in the same position that you’re interviewing for normally log about 90 hours per week, plus there’s at least 2 weeks of out of state travel per month. Can you make the kind of commitment that the job requires?” That would have put the onus on me (I get to assess whether I want that kind of pace and no life outside of work or not) and it would have more honest of the employer to disclose this information up front.

    I’m in a LI group composed entirely of alumnae from one of my alma maters. We got into this topic not long ago sideways–the discussion began with “Lean In” and what we thought about it. Every older alumna who commented wrote that she has been leaning in for years, and leaning in so far that she has fallen over, to no avail. The culture and structure is still very male, and that’s why many women give up, do something else, work part time, change jobs and careers, etc. The reason male candidates don’t get asked these questions is that the culture (workplace as well as our overall, general culture) assumes that it is irrelevant if a man is married or single, has children or not. The assumption is that he will commit 1000% to the company and the job regardless of his relationship status, of whether he has dependents or not (I was even told by one employer who later hired a male who I trained that they paid him more than me because he was married and had a family, while I was single and just working for “pin money” until I could get married. I started looking for another job immediately and left 6 months later.). Many employers (this is true in the public sector as well, so it isn’t just the big bad corporations) assume that this is not the case with female candidates. They assume that a male candidate, if he’s married, has a wife at home to clean the house, run the errands, raise and care for his children, cook the meals, do the laundry, and take care of his personal needs (make doctors’ appointments for him, pick up his dry cleaning, schedule appointments for car maintenance, etc.). All he has to do is work. They assume that a female candidate will have to work PLUS do all of the cooking, cleaning, raising the children, grocery shopping, running errands, etc., and when the kids are sick or on school vacations, she won’t want to come in because she’ll either want to be home or because she can’t get a sitter/get the kids into after school programs. They assume that all family emergencies will fall on her, and thus she won’t be as a devoted an employee as a male. I had one employer tell me that he never hired females for certain jobs because they had leave the office at a certain time in order to make sure that they had dinner on the table by the time their husbands got home. I’m not that old, so I’m not talking about the Mad Men era, but much more recently.

    @Nick: I like your answer, because it is a nice way of turning the question back to the what should be the subject at hand: her qualifications, experience, and what she brings to the company/how she can do the job. I have mixed feelings about the level of snarkiness–when you don’t know someone very well, snarkiness can backfire on you. If she is having face to face interviews, then I think as long as she keeps her tone light “Oh, are we moving into hobbies and personal interests now? I still have more to tell you about how I’m going to do the job profitably for you!” rather than sarcastic. If she decides that this is just too much and doesn’t care, then a snarky answer is fine. Maybe it will sink in that these questions aren’t relevant to how she can do the job. She could say “My husband is a kept man; he stays home and I’m the breadwinner” or “He’s a kindergarten teacher and I’m the engineer” or whatever. I like Lauren’s response re the dress and tassles!!!! Too funny, but it does get the point across.

  59. @Victoria: your description of what happened to you in the AF reminded me of the two instances in which I was interviewed by federal investigators for two students who were in the process of getting Top Secret security clearance for new jobs/postings. One was (and is) a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service; the other was AD Army. The first investigator was late by more than 90 minutes and only asked me a few questions (the USPHS officer still got his clearance, and now he’s an Admiral in the USPHS, working at headquarters in Maryland). The second investigator didn’t get lost (the first one got lost in my building, which is infamous for being a labyrinth–I told him what it was like, that he’d never find my office, and told him to give me a call when he arrived on campus, and that I’d come to get him; he ignored my plea), and I remember now being surprised by just how detailed, how picky, and how intrusive many of the questions he asked me about my former student were. The investigator was quite good; after I verified his credentials and the paperwork, he explained the process. I worked for attorneys years ago, and the process reminded me of depositions (with the pointed questions and how to answer them–yes, no, no basis for knowledge). The interview went smoothly, and the alumnus got his Top Secret security clearance as well (he’s now with the VA in a high level position). I’d met the candidate while he was working as a recruiter for the Army; he was doing recruiting in Northern CT and in MA and decided to stop in for a visit, and we communicated by phone and email, so while I didn’t know him super well, I knew him better than some of my other students. All the same, some of the questions I got from the investigator, such as was he married, did he travel abroad during his time off, did he have debt, did he own his own home and how much was his mortgage, was he divorced, did he have children, did he have debt besides a mortgage, has he ever been in trouble with the law, has he ever been in trouble at school, has he cheated, does he have affairs, does his family owe money to anyone, have any of his girlfriends or wives been foreign nationals and if yes from what countries, etc. Obviously, I could only answer the questions I knew the answers to, and for many of them, I had no basis for knowledge. I knew that he’d bought a home, but had no idea what his mortgage was. I knew he wasn’t married but didn’t know who he dated, much less whether they were foreign nationals. I didn’t know if he had a lot of debt, or if his family had a lot of debt. Foreign travel–I didn’t think so, didn’t remember him ever mentioning it to me, but that didn’t mean anything (he could have and simply not said anything).

    The investigator also explained why he was asking some of these questions. The Army had to make sure that when they grant that kind of security clearance to someone, that he’s not likely to be able to be bribed (a possibility if he has big debts or if his family owes a lot of money), that he doesn’t have torn loyalties (might have if his wife and her family are foreign nationals), and want someone who is stable (not looking for those with lots of drama in their personal lives). The investigator did ask about his politics (I could infer, couldn’t say for certain, so my answer had to be “no basis for knowledge”), personality, my assessment of his intelligence, work ethic, sense of teamwork, and more. Some of those were easier. I asked the investigator why I was asked about mortgages, property ownership, politics, marital status, kids, family, girlfriends, foreign travel; I represented one part of the academic side, and the program is online, so I didn’t meet most of the students. He had already submitted every transcript. The investigator said that with Top Secret security clearance, there were investigators talking to his banks, to his credit unions, to his former K-12 school teachers, to his current and former neighbors, to exes (if any), to everyone who knows him and who interacts with him, whether on a personal or professional basis. The overlapping questions help by providing consistencies or inconsistencies in answers–if I say he owns his townhouse outright and a former neighbor says he owes $500,000 on it, then they dig deeper.

    I had another former student (this one is still AD AF) email me to ask me if I would be willing to be interviewed by an investigator as part of his renewal of his clearance in anticipation of his change of duty (and in coming back from Afghanistan). I told him yes, and told him to let the investigators know that I’m no longer with my old job, but that they can come to my new place of employment so we can talk (and arranged it with my new employer). It was much the same–and my former student said he retained his clearance, so all was good. Intrusive, yes. But part of the game for them if they want to move up and necessary for their new jobs/posts/commands.

    All the same, I’m appalled that your interviewer didn’t know that Canada is not a socialist nor a communist country (they elect their PM democratically in open elections, just like we elect our officials). I wonder how he would have reacted had you spent a junior year abroad in the Soviet Union or Russia (depending on how old you are) because you wanted to improve your Russian language skills (what better way to do that except by being an exchange student there for a year).

  60. Couple of points

    A clearance interview (or interview for a security cleared job) is a very different beast than a ‘standard’ job interview – there is a wide latitude of testing and questions that can be asked in this venue.

    “what does your husband do” Really? In 2014?

    Remember there are no “illegal” questions, and you should never say “That is an illegal question”

    For this comment

    “Were I an employer seeking a new hire, that single smart ass answer would make my mind up as to the kind of person I was dealing with.
    At the most I would accept an answer like: May I ask why you are asking?”

    I make a really good living stripping away talent from people who think like this. The best employees won’t work for people like this very long.

  61. As Mary Beth noted…wow step away and what a response.
    1st as a manager for years in large corporations 10 years as a recruiter I don’t knowingly ask illegal questions…But legalities aside I don’t knowingly ask offensive questions either. But people are human and they offer information that would be questionable to ask, which you can ignore or heed.
    A good example is one that centered in the discussion, spouses, occupation.. With some exceptions I don’t ask..one being if a person told me their spouse/significant other is on the job market too..then I’ll ask. simply because I may be able to help..and if lucky, I may have an opportunity for a two-fer, finding 2 good people for the company instead of one..or if obviously conversational. it’s not unusual for someone to be looking for a job because their spouse got transferred, a new job & relocated…so I’ll ask conversationally..and again to be helpful. Been there, done that on relo’s and can be helpful,
    My optimum word is conversational. I don’t do Q&A “interviews” I want to talk with you. My standard opening is “try to relax..try not to think of this as an interview. we’re having a meeting as if you already worked here”. Easy to say I know. So I’ll tell them I have their resume, they don’t have mine (but they should have checked me out on LinkedIN) so I tell them about myself so they have some idea of who they are talking with. When I was an agency recruiter/headhunter I’d sent both clients and candidates a cc of my resume.
    I know I’m talking with YOU, and I’m not talking about hiring your spouse, significant other, but your network in my view is very important. So spouse information is useful information if you give it to me. Example: You’re a newly minted network engineer via a community college program, in an effort to change your career. Your spouse is a network engineer with 10 years experience. So not only will you have company resources, you have your own Subject Matter expert on hand.
    Relocations: Relocation is a great example of a good rule of thumb for hiring managers and recruiters…”never assume”. You may think it insulting to be asked directly or indirectly if your spouse is OK with relocating…you’re an adult right? or if a woman you’re inferring I have to have my husband’s permission? It’s not a gender thing..Anyone who’s recruited or hired people where relocation for any time has at least one story, where the deal fell apart because when faced with reality their was no support on the home front for actually pulling up roots and doing it. Or in one case where I found one guy went through the whole process without even discussing the interview and relo implications at all with his wife. Surprise!! we’re moving. How do you think that went down.

    Got to run!

  62. Security clearance questions can be interesting. I’ve overheard a few of these in coffee shops in the DC area.

    “So, do you know any foreign people? ”

    “Could you list all of their names for me now?”

  63. I have fielded the following interview questions from men at some point in my career:

    “Why aren’t you married?”

    “What kind of name is Amoia?”

    “We’re not looking to go in that direction.” (When he learned about my ancestry.)

    “You don’t look American.”

    “Are you Catholic? Would you have a problem working with homosexuals?”

    “How old are you?”

    “Do you rent or own?”

    “I don’t believe that an American can speak Spanish well enough to talk with our South American clients.” (When I offered to do it right there, he looked surprised and confused. ‘I still don’t believe it is possible.’)

    “Aren’t Italian and Spanish the same?” (From a CEO).

    “Have you ever been ‘in trouble’? You know, with the law?”

    And the best ever:

    “How do you feel about working for an a**hole like me?” (He had asked me several inappropriate questions and I finally lost patience.)

    Some notables from women:

    “Why did you take yourself out of the workforce to finish a college degree and would you do it again?” (She made no mention of the fact that I graduated summa cum laude or paid for it all myself.)

    “I have a big problem that you live in DC and want to work with us here in Baltimore.” (One hour away…)

    “I must have your salary history. I can’t proceed.”

    “Oh, don’t mind him, he is anal (retentive).” (About her boss who just interviewed me.)

    “Can you work for a female boss?” (After seeing that I had already for nine years in two different situations.)

    None of these queries came during a security clearance type of interview.

    Please don’t assume that men are the only culprits in this discourse of insensitive and ignorant interviewers. To quote Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” :)

  64. @Steve Amoia I hear you.

    I’ve even had most of those questions asked to me by women over ‘coffee dates’.

  65. @SteveAmoia

    Yes, I agree … the title have been, “Stupid interview questions …” yet the whole parenting issue around having children mostly goes to women.

    Recruiters have had name issues with me, too.

    ‘We thought you were foreign …’
    ‘You’re a complete surprise’ (they interviewed me on the phone, I didn’t sound like what they found out that I am, from their perspective.

    It is ridiculous; more incompetent than malicious (I want to believe), yet as a candidate and would-be employee, you can only hope for intelligence, kindness, competence in HR and hiring managers. Imust add, this has NOTHING to do with education public/private schooling or degrees. I’m hearing the same stuff from high schl grads as from Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

  66. @SteveAmoia

    Yes, I agree … the title have been, “Stupid interview questions …” yet the whole parenting issue around having children mostly goes to women.

    Recruiters have had name issues with me, too.

    ‘We thought you were foreign …’
    ‘You’re a complete surprise’ (they interviewed me on the phone, I didn’t sound like what they found out that I am, from their perspective.

    It is ridiculous; more incompetent than malicious (I want to believe), yet as a candidate and would-be employee, you can only hope for intelligence, kindness, competence in HR and hiring managers. I must add, this has NOTHING to do with education public/private schooling or degrees. I’m hearing the same stuff from high school grads as from Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

  67. @Victoria

    You are correct intelligence, kindness and competence are what count and have nothing to do with anything but family values and upbringing.

    As for the rest, in my view most private schools today are a solid and complete joke. My father used to tell me in the 1980s his view of the Ivy League, “it is not what it used to be, and neither are the admitted students. I do not mean that as a compliment either.”

  68. @Nic
    I started calling in “brand name education” about 10 years ago. I had a coversation with an Ivy grad (who would legitimize his every thought with the fact that he had attneded the school that I will not name). I said one day when we were talking about budgeting for a project, my school said that 1+1 = 2; what happened at yours?”

    (What does it say for our future about the leadership for our country and businesses?)

  69. @Victoria This is priceless, ” my school said that 1+1 = 2; what happened at yours?””

    That is precisely the correct answer.

    It reminds me also of multiple MA holders or the PhD who has to attach those letters to their name in all writing, and conversation.

  70. @Victoria

    I should have included, “…and question!”

  71. @Victoria

    I used to think it was a “DC phenomenon.” Then I learned about the interviewing experiences from others around the country and world. Sometimes, genuine curiosity produces these types of inappropriate questions. I also believe that few of us interview others well unless we do it every single day.

    When I worked in corporate America (I’m a freelancer now), I used to write up a report after each interview. I would analyze my own performance, along with the interviewer, and use both analyses as learning tools. These experiences would help me years later in soccer journalism to ask better questions and make the interviewee the protagonist of the discussion.

  72. @Steve Amoia:

    And here I thought “Why did you waste your time in the Marine Corps after high school instead of going to college?” by a young female HR-type was special.

    I’ve been “counseled” about how I needed “churching up” after a discussion of what I like to do on my off time.

    I understand there is at least one trucking company that requires an essay about your “Christian Witness” to get hired.

  73. @L.T.

    Thank you for your service to our country.

    I remembered that you discussed this topic here in the past about one of your interviews after the service.

  74. @Steve Amoia: The year was 1978. Sadly, I’m not sure that things have gotten considerably better for Vietnam era veterans in the years since. I know I still feel a little hatred from some interviewers due to being involved (if tangentially) with that unpopular war.

    And that “welcome Home!!” parade never quite materialized.

  75. @L.T. It took me a while to realize the quiet exclusionary nature of way too many God Squad/’SuperChristians’….

    I’ve never heard the term “churching up” before, but it gave me a good laugh.

    I’ve interviewed with Christian-influenced companies before, and you’d be amazed at how being baptized, raised, and confirmed Catholic seems to not only not qualify as Christian (it’s the same Christ we follow, I think….), I always get the ‘Oh, no he’s hell spawn” look and my candidacy ends abruptly/all comunication from that employer drops off when I say this.

    One question I’ve gotten is “Can you describe your relationship with Jesus Christ and provide a spiritual reference for your application?”

    My best response is something along the lines of “My relationship between me and God is personal.”

    Gosh, years ago, I asked my dad – who ran all of the church’s charities and joined nearly every ‘old guy’ social club in the area – why he was never a Freemason, and his head spins around at light speed saying, “Masons?!? They HATE Catholics!” hahahaha

  76. I had chosen to forget this one. My colleague reminded me. I was asked, by an old bugger, why I had spent the $$ on breast enlargement and if I thought it would make a difference working with men Wow…. I am laughing now but then, as a twenty-something, without plastic surgery, I stated,” if this is any of your business, which is is not, you will have to take this up with God who made me,”

  77. @SomeGuy

    Sure it is American education again. People think that Catholicism is a “denomination” Just click your heels together a say, “There’s no place like home …”

    On the Freemasons, there are volumes on your comment. I would refer you to LipTV’s Buzzsaw (on their website or YouTube) where Oliver Stone’s son Sean in sharing with the world what Freemasons and Illuminati are really about in the here and now: many of them are Catholic and meet at the Vatican. Beyond the 33rd degree, things change quite a bit. Sean has interviewed at least three Freemasons on the program (Sean is a Freemason himself). You’d find it very interesting … one of the interviews was with a 92nd degree …
    Actually, Buzzsaw is airs on Fridays, s a new one will be up after 8pm Eastern today

  78. @Victoria

    Naw, Catholics are a pagan Cult! haha Actually, that’s what the popes used to say about the Freemasons too! Seriously, though, I’ve been to the Freemason HQ in DC. It’s an interesting place.

    Honestly, I’ve given up on the church and am slowly becoming a (watered-down) Deist. I’d love to start a church based on the words of Marvin Gaye- “God is love, love your bruv”…

    Besides, there’s so much baggage associated with being Christian. People think you we all are toothless, uneducated, take the Bible literally, yell at “sinners” all day every day, and don’t believe in evolution. Anyone who understands the difference between physics and metaphysics could see that it’s entirely possible to separate the two. Heck, the guy who came up with the Big Bang Theory was a Belgian catholic priest (LeMaitre). Heck, he was working on the Hubble Constant two years before Hubble was!

    While I completely got used to some of the WASP girls from the nice suburbs not wanting to date Irish and Italian Catholic guys in the working class neighborhoods, it amazes me that the courts have allowed workplaces like World Vision to hire and fire based on faith (instead of just capability) and allow Hobby Lobby to have a say in other people’s health decisions.

    I wish that one could not only ban sexist questions, but all these ridiculous faith-based ones. What does that have to do with making profit and being a good employee?

  79. Frankly, as a regular reader I think some postings above have nothing to do with the original context and have gone way off topic.

    No matter now it is as offensive and in poor taste to me as the original subject matter, let alone unprofessional on this board.

    I feel such things are due a litmus test, if you would not delve into or bring into the the same type of so-called humor clips of conversation with either Muslims or Jews then do not do it to Catholics either. I simply do not see the humor in any of it on this site.

  80. @SomeGuy

    If you want to continue to drift away from the original topic (we knew that was coming, right), feel free to connect on Twitter planetnetwork or LinkedIn xavierfreyr@gmail.com

  81. @Nic Sorry for veering off topic. Did not mean to offend anyone. Was trying to be conversational. If I hurt anyone, I apologize.

    @Nick I think religion in the job interview is the ‘third rail’ – in real life and as a potential post here. Sorry for veering off.

  82. @L.T. Ah a Marine, you can’t be all bad. Civilians just don’t know that fact that Marines are clean in mind body and spirit. that HR lady’s question begged a question for an answer…Why did you waste your time in HR when you could have been a Marine…ah but you’re question tells me you couldn’t be a Marine, Unqualified” Sempper Fi vintage 1961-1965

    Things are different at least as to attitude. As the military downsizes, career military people are being shoved into the job market to an increasing degree. There are scores of non profits, volunteer groups, and sadly groups who just want to tap into the educational benefits…all vowing to help the veteran. With varying degrees of success.

    With military service on a percentage basis becoming rarer and rarer, dumb questions from people who can’t relate to military people will abound.

    There’s a language barrier, with the burden on the veteran to try and translate what they do to business terms. Which is hard to do for a grunt.

    I work for a company that’s veteran friend, partly because I’m veteran friendly, by finding and tapping into sources for veteran job hunters.

    If you want to thank someone for their service, help them land a job.

  83. What a great topic.

    After downsizing out of the Navy after the end of the Cold War, I worked in local shipyards while pursuing an associate’s degree in Environmental Protection.

    Armed with my shiny new degree, I interviewed at a local municipal waste utility, as a tipping floor manager. I would oversee a couple of heavy machine operators and a crew of trash sorters. I would also troubleshoot issues with the trash conveyor equipment. I was more than capable of doing all of the above. I came from a heavy industrial environment and was comfortable with it.

    The two interviewers were uniformed managers who were either at the same level as the position I was interviewing for, or just above. Both men. Good cop/bad cop schtick as mentioned above was used. A third man, older and suited, wandered in to ramble on about the position, then left, and I never saw him again.

    The interview began with a brief overview of what I would be doing, and that oh by the way, garbage is smelly! Did I know that? (I had worked on sewage systems before, I had news for them)

    And that the people I would be supervising are dummies who needed to be babysat…

    And that many of them would not want to work for me because I was a woman!

    So the doozer of a question was, “What would you do if a direct report refused to work for you because you are a woman?”

    I said, “Well, I would ask him to complete the task a second time but if he just refuses, I would start disciplinary procedures in accordance with your company policy.”

    Bad cop just rolled his eyes, and said, “Really? You just don’t do that, you have to be able to HANDLE these people. What the hell is wrong with you. Sheesh.” Well, I understood that this was not the military, but when you present to me the scenario of someone who flatly refuses an order from a woman, you have to step things up a notch. There is no room for begging and pleading. Did he expect me to say, “Oh, I’ll just run to the restroom and cry?”

    The rest of the questions were designed to make the job as unappealing as possible, and it was clear that the focus of the interview was to run me off. Bad Cop even mocked me in the elevator on the way back to the lobby, making comments about my answers and even my appearance (Suit with blouse and leather portfolio).

    And for Good Cop? He was silent, about 99 percent of the time.

    Today, I would walk right out of such an interview.

    Wish I did way back when!

    By the way, I bash the heck out of them on review sites. Karma is amazing.

  84. @Marilyn

    Somebody asked you why you spent money on breast enlargements? Regardless of whether you did or not, man o man…I think you win this one, hands down! Best question! What a “boob” that guy was.

  85. The topic of religion can become touchy, but I’ve seen it interfere with business, too. I once fired a client who told me the company would not hire a female executive for religious reasons, and that I should not submit female candidates, no matter how good they would be at the job. That was his problem, not mine. I was not going to explain to people I turned to for good candidate referrals that “women don’t count.” Life’s too short. Actually felt good to fire a client.

    I agree with Jackie: Marilyn’s story about the question regarding non-existent breast implants is the winner so far… It’s no surprise that the stupider (is that a word?) these examples are, the more they’re worth!

  86. @Marilyn: just when I think I seen/heard/read/witnessed every possible stupid question or comment, I’m wrong. Your tale about getting questioned about breast implants takes first place. I give him the same award that Jackie did (Jackie, you beat me to it!).

    Re the turn of the discussion to religion. Yes, it is a little off topic, but since there employers out there who base their opinions about women, women’s capabilities, women’s intelligence, etc. on religion, it isn’t so far off topic, and like gender, is often used to discriminate against others.

    @Nick: thanks for doing the right thing and firing the client who refused to consider a female candidate due to his religion. Your story reminded me of one of my own, based on my stint working for a management consulting firm years ago. We had a client who refused to meet with one of our consultants because she was female. First he refused to meet with another of our consultants, a male, because the client thought the consultant was a woman. The consultant’s name was Sidney, and according to the client, Sidney was a woman’s name. He refused to believe us when we told him that Sidney was a man, and only when he spoke directly to Sidney did he agree to meet him. Then Sidney had some kind of personal/family crisis (I forget what as it was 26 years ago) and had to cancel. The firm’s owner didn’t want to lose the client, so he told us to send the best consultant we had for the client’s business and geographic region, which was Lisa. The client pitched a fit, and refused, telling us in the office that women only existed for two reasons–sex and babies (and waiting on husbands and fathers and brothers and sons). He said that women had bodies and no brains, couldn’t think, couldn’t make decisions, etc. We explained about Sidney’s emergency and that the best consultant for his problem was Lisa. I was appalled, and being young, said so to my boss, and that the owner’s decision to pull Lisa and give it to a far less qualified consultant who was male was the wrong thing to do. I said that this wouldn’t have happened if the consultant was black. My boss just looked at me, said that this is what the owner wanted, and explained about the necessity of pleasing clients. At that time, I hadn’t met the owner, and when I did, I was even more surprised by his decision because he was black. I thought that he would have been more understanding of discrimination. He and I had a long chat about the nature of the management consulting business, and learned that he wasn’t at the stage where he could afford to lose a client. He told me that if the client had refused to meet with a consultant who was black, he would have sent a white consultant instead. But he also took some precautions, knowing that the male consultant sent in lieu of Lisa wasn’t anywhere as good or as qualified as she was. The owner had his lawyer draw up an agreement to be signed by the client that stated that he knew and understood that he was refusing to accept the best consultant because she was female, and that any advice given by the less qualified male consultant, should the client take it and not get the results he wanted, waived his right to sue us as well as any refund of his fees. He also made sure that the client knew and understood the risks he was taking by refusing to meet with Lisa.

    When I think back on it now, I wish that the owner had had the guts you did and fired the client. At the same time, I understood that he couldn’t afford to lose the client–those fees paid the consultant, those of us in the office, the salespeople, and the owner got his share too. They helped keep the company running. The client was an immigrant from a more traditional society/country, and even though he had been in the US for more than 20 years, he still held tightly to the mores and beliefs of his home country.

    I wasn’t in that job for very long, and less than 2 months after this incident I found a better job where that kind of behavior wasn’t tolerated (female employees outnumbered the male employees so we had numbers on our side in addition to a different environment). I’ve tried googling the management consulting firm, but gotten no hits. It is possible that the firm went under before the advent of the internet, so there’s no record of it. Or perhaps another consulting firm bought them out. It is outrageous to me that a client would refuse the consultant with the most experience in his line of work simply because she’s female. His knuckle-dragging mentality didn’t help my point of view of him, and I’ll always remember that incident because it taught me that it doesn’t matter how well qualified I could be for a job–I still might not get it because of someone else’s prejudices. It irritates me today because we haven’t come much further, if we’ve budged on this issue at all. Sometimes I think we’re going backwards. I would think that if you’re an employer, you would want the best employee for the job, the best consultant to help you, the best lawyer regardless of sex, color, ethnicity, religion, etc. I am wrong. Or rather, I am wrong about some employers. The challenge is finding the ones who don’t ask such stupid questions and who look at abilities and intelligence, not sex, as the most important criteria for the job.

    Re religion: I haven’t gotten questions about my religion during job interviews, but I did get into trouble with one of my bosses at my last job. I worked at a large state university (I worked for the government), and my then-boss tried to require employees to join her for Bible reading and Bible study during lunch, sent religious-themed emails to staff telling us how to pray and that we’ll overcome all challenges if we follow Jesus, and told me to send out religious-themed emails to students in my program (not all of them were Christian) and to faculty. She also tried to require staff to start the day with prayers–with her leading the prayers. She was from the deep South, and didn’t see anything wrong with her demands nor with her actions. Refusing her was insubordination, and compliance could also have gotten me equally fired. We weren’t a private college, but working for the state means that her decision to have me send out religiously themed emails means the state is favoring one religion over others (big violation of the 1st Amendment). All it would take is one complaint, and I’d be gone. She was smart enough not to put her demand to me in writing, and it was bad enough that I had to tolerate her religious emails telling me to pray and to follow Jesus and asking why I wasn’t at prayers or why I did’t want to help her form the Bible study. This woman has four degrees, so she’s not stupid. I finally told her no, documented it, and told her that if she persisted, I would go straight to the Provost (skipped the dean, who was her best friend). She persisted in sending me religiously themed emails for another few months, and I had to tell her again to knock it off. Several other staff were afraid, and did read them “in case she asked them about her messages”. I told her that here in Massachusetts, particularly when you work for the government, we take the whole idea of religious freedom seriously, and that her actions are viewed as a boss dictating how employees can worship and pray or not. The tenured faculty were safe and could tell her off without worrying about their job security. The non-tenure track faculty and the adjunct faculty were worried–would she continue to offer them courses to teach if they refused to heed her demands on coming to her Bible study and to pray her way? The union offered limited protections to faculty in those categories, and even less protection to staff. Staff are not (never) tenured, so if we refused, she could fire us for insubordination. I remember her telling me “I’ve never had this problem with staff or faculty in my other jobs”. Her other jobs had all been in the south. I asked her why she would think that praying at work and doing Bible study during lunch, plus getting the religious emails, is appropriate. Did she not think that not all of us were Christian (at least one of the faculty was Muslim, the majority were Jewish, and of those who were Christian, why assume that they were her brand of Christian). The same held true for the students–I had 8 students in the program named Mohammad, 4 of them living in the Middle East, others were Jewish. If you want to wish everyone well at the holidays, then you need to make sure the message goes out before Chanukah and any other major holiday so you are inclusive.

    I had a hard time believing that things were so different here, but apparently they were. Years later I was talking to one of my students, a Navy doctor who had been stationed all over the US as well as the Middle East and Japan, and he said that in the south, it was common for the commander to lead in prayers, for Bible study groups to be held, etc. He’s a native New Englander, and was glad to be posted to a base back home. Another one of my students, a transplant to Mississippi, said that when she first moved there, no one would have anything to do with her or with her boys until they knew exactly which church she had joined, as all social activities are through the churches. Kids who belong to one church aren’t friendly with kids who go to another church even if they all attend the same school. She said getting a job depended upon which church you joined, too, as all of your connections were through your church.

    It seems silly to me, but then again, I’m one of those heathen New Englanders! I’ve never lived in the south, so my experiences are based on the boss from the deep south (she was appalled that we didn’t take religion into consideration) and on what others have told me. That experience with the boss was bad enough, and I hope never to repeat it.

  87. @Don: thank you for your post. I thought back to some of the conversations I had with students in my previous job, as well as faculty. The students’ applications didn’t ask them to disclose their religion or marital status. Sometimes faculty included this information on their CVs, sometimes they didn’t. Since you can’t tell what someone is based on names. One of my favorite students in the program was Shannon, and it was a he-Shannon, not a she-Shannon. Another student told me, unprompted and unbidden by me, that he’s Catholic. To the latter, I remember being puzzled because we weren’t discussing religion or the holidays or anything remotely related to it. I must have sounded puzzled over the phone, because he elaborated “everyone thinks I’m Jewish because of my last name.” His last name is Stein. I hadn’t made any assumptions, and told him so, then told him that I’d gone to school with someone whose last name was Murphy and he was Jewish, and other whose last name was Goldberg, and he was Catholic, that a very good friend of mine has the WASP-iest sounding of names, and he’s Jewish, so I learned long ago that names are not an indication of religion, and that I hadn’t even thought about it with regards to him. I was running a public health program, not a divinity nor a rabbinical school. But now that I knew he was Catholic, I’d wish him a Merry Christmas!

    Several of the faculty told me their religion during the course of conversation, just as they told me they were married, how many kids they had, whether they were divorced, etc. One is married to college contemporary of mine, and we’ve remained in touch. The same was true for many of the students–I didn’t ask such questions, but if they volunteered the information, that was fine. And I never made assumptions, although the boss I mentioned in my previous post, even telling me that she could tell which ones were Jewish by their names. I just smiled and let it go without correcting her. I felt that she wouldn’t believe me, and maybe this was one of those times when she would learn best by learning from an erroneous assumption.

    The difference is that I wasn’t interviewing any of them for jobs, and with the faculty, most of them had already been hired, and for those who weren’t, well, I always steered the conversation back to their education, their skills, their experience. Sometimes it was helpful to know, as the time I got a complaint from a student about one of the faculty. The professor was an observant Jew, and had asked me what to do about assignments due during the high holidays. I told her that the university’s policy is to accommodate both students’ and faculty’s religious beliefs, so she should change the assignment deadlines so they didn’t conflict with Rosh Hoshanah and that if any student came to her with similar requests (the most came from the Muslim students during Ramadan), then she should accommodate them as well. I suggested that she give the students more time (set a later deadline) to eliminate possible complaints, which did the trick for all but one student, who thought that we were favoring Jewish holidays and Jewish people. She complained that she doesn’t get a break at Christmas or Easter. I reminded her that the semester always ends before Christmas, and that in fact the university wasn’t in session during Christmas. As for Easter, if she wants time to observe the holiday, then she needs to contact her professor and tell him/her about it, and ask for a different deadline so she can observe the holiday. I later asked her if she worked it out, and she grudgingly said “yes” (her professor had no problem accommodating her, which I knew but I suspected that she was looking for a fight and didn’t get one).

    Don, I think the difference between you and the poster in the original q & a for this week’s topic is that you gleaned the information based on easy conversation. You didn’t ask discriminatory, sexist questions. There’s a big difference between a candidate who volunteers this information and a candidate who is asked if she’s married, what her husband thinks, what her husband does for a living, rather than the focus being on her–on her skills, her abilities, her experience, etc. I wouldn’t take offense to you (based on what you posted), but if an interviewer or recruiter asked me what the poster was asked, I’d be trying to steer it back to me and wondering why he’s asking me these questions.

  88. @Marybeth
    The company I work for is a family owned company. And the family are heavy duty Christians. One of our VPs is an ordained minister who performed the marriage ceremony for the President & his wife. I give them a lot of credit…because you’d never know it. I’m in the Bible belt so it’s very common for an applicant to tell me that their church is an important part of their life. And I’m pretty sure it’s not due to some research on their part and a ploy to win some points.
    The company’s owners do an excellent job of putting a firewall between their personal beliefs and business. It never comes up. The only exception that makes me cringe a bit is when aforementioned minister/VP says a prayer at a company function.
    consequently we are the united nations demographically.
    Your coverage of names and religion guessing games brings to mind a friend (and in HR) with the surname of Diaz and who is Hispanic, who is Jewish. He has ample stories of people putting their foot in their mouths assuming he was Catholic.

  89. @Don

    Well, the “on-topic” comment from me is the issue that you are raising: it is the assumption … possibly “presumption” that a person’s heritage, including religion, etc. has any impact on their competence or eligibility as a job candidate. I tend to feel discomfort with the “social” aspect of job candidacy and work environments.
    As a owner or manager, I would want employees to … work. That’s it: I really think in my mind and heart that I don’t care if employees like each other (or, even if they like me). The agreement between employer and employee is that in return for requested work the employee receives monetary (and benefits, as applicable) compensation. I can do that; but the cliques and bullying and manipulation is really about something else.
    It is getting the employee to feel committed on an emotional level, beyond realistic expectations. It is also playing on feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem (from the employee or the employee) this quest for fitting in or having power over someone else, etc.
    In my opinion, these sentiments of “we’re family” in the workplace are vestiges of the factory legacy mentality which should be gone from the work environment of knowledge workers. The mind has to transform into maturity before any impact can be realized from advanced technologies.

  90. @Victoria I am with you on all counts above. What you said is very relevant in my opinion.

  91. Religion & Politics:

    I worked for a guy who could “always trust” anyone who went to Our Lady of Perpetual Motion (OLPM) parish. This included the guy who ran an illegal sports book out of the place, as well as the guy who was stealing & eBaying new hard drives from him. He could “pretty much trust” another Catholic who went to a different parish. I had to go, in part because I was a lapsed “heretic Lutheran”.

    Strange, his best sales guy was completely unchurched, but he trusted him enough. I guess there are hypocrites everywhere.

  92. Another thing I find very sickening, unprofessional and surely a lack of breeding when strangers address people by their first name upon initial contact or introduction. I was raised to use Mr and Mrs or Ms upon meeting someone never a first name…but I also rise at a table when a lady arrives and never walk a lady by the curb this I have done since childhood.

  93. @Victoria: Well put. While I respect people’s personal beliefs, the workplace is not where they should be paraded. I think it’s possible to appropriately demonstrate fundamental beliefs and values that arise from a religion, without making the religious end of it evident. When religion creates a club in the workplace, count me out.

    The “family” mentality is something else. When we’re talking literal family, I agree with you. When family means “team,” I think it can be a good thing. The best job I ever had was in a small, privately held company (not family owned) where the esprit de corps was incredible. We were a family of sorts.

  94. @Nick C.

    Yes, I agree with the positives on esprit de corps, they can be electrifying for any organization!

  95. @Don: I’m sure that applicants tell you about their religion/faith because it is important to them. And that’s fine. That is something I noticed with many of the students at my old job–it doesn’t mean that non-Southerners aren’t religious, just that, in my experience, they tend not to tell you and tend not to wear it on their sleeves or talk about it. I remember the problems now Sec’y of State John Kerry had in the South and Midwest during his 2004 presidential campaign because like many New Englanders, he didn’t talk about his religion and faith. Talking about would have made New Englanders suspicious and wondered why he felt the need to bring it up, while others felt he wasn’t genuine or sincere and that they couldn’t trust him if he didn’t talk about his religion. Here, for most of us, religion is your personal relationship with God and not a matter for public consumption nor of concern to an employer. Some remembered the huge fuss there was when Kennedy (JFK) was running for president, and people feared that he wouldn’t make any decisions without consulting with and getting the approval of the pope. Kennedy then stated that he’s Catholic, but his religion will have no bearing on his decisions and he won’t be consulting or asking permission from the pope. Watching those old newsclips makes the whole idea (what people worried about with Kennedy/having a Catholic president) seem silly, but it wasn’t silly then. I’d like to think that we’d choose the best person for the job, whichever job it is, be it town dog catcher or president of a company or of the us regardless of religion. But reading some of the comments here, and thinking about my relatively recent experience with my boss from the deep south at my previous job tells me that it is still an issue for some.

    Don, I’m really pleased to read that your employers have built a wall of separation so religion isn’t an issue at work. The wall of separation benefits them too, because it allows them to consider and hire the most qualified applicant for the job without taking the applicant’s religion into account. Not everyone is as successful, and others could learn from them. In my case, because I worked for the state, I thought it was worse because the government isn’t supposed to be taking sides, choosing prayers, forcing employees to worship or pray the way the boss wants. I’m sure that it was a big culture shock for my old boss, but all the same, I don’t understand why she (or any boss) would do this. Religion had nothing to do with the kind of work we did, so I never understood her pushiness on this issue. If faculty didn’t share her religion, it had no impact on how they did their jobs. Ditto for staff (though harder for us because we lacked the protection tenure provided to some faculty) and as for the students’ individual faith, it wasn’t relevant to the course of study, to how they were graded, etc. Every now and then someone (faculty or student) needed flexibility in order to observe a holiday, and there was never any problem–extensions, or getting the assignment early so it could be done early was given freely and without complaint or comment, much less retaliation. And sometimes there would be the odd person who seemed to be more focused on finding fault or creating a problem where none existed. The only time we refused to accommodate someone was when a prospective student demanded that the program sort out the students by sex (separate the males from the females so all of the men were in one class and all of the women in another class) and by religion (Jews separated from everyone else) and didn’t want to be taught by women of any religion or by Jewish men. He was a Muslim and accused me of discriminating against him if women of all faiths were allowed to take classes with men and he wanted nothing to do with Jewish men as fellow classmates and didn’t think Jewish faculty could teach him anything. He was in this country, doing his residency (scary! I hope it wasn’t in emergency medicine or as an ob-gyn), and wasn’t a citizen. He gave me such a hard time, with me refusing and arguing with him. He played the “I don’t understand” but he sure understood “discrimination”. I didn’t fall for it, and reminded him that in this country, everyone is equal (okay, that’s a lie, but I didn’t tell him that) and that if I had run separate sections just for Muslim and Christian men (no Jewish men, no women of any faith) vs everyone else, that would be discrimination. If he didn’t like how we all mixed, he should go back to Syria. He was furious, and finally demanded to speak to my boss (a woman), which made him angrier. For some reason, he skipped the next person in the chain of command (dept. chair, a male at the time), and went straight to the top (the dean). At the time, our interim dean was a Jewish woman! He was quiet for a moment, then he continued with his tirade about being forced to listen to Jews (meaning faculty, I assumed) and how demeaning it was to have to be classes with Jews and with women because we were so far below him, a Muslim male doctor, that it was intolerable. I finally told him that since this was such an important issue for him, he should most certainly NOT apply for admission to the program (and I didn’t tell him that I would remember him and wouldn’t recommend him for admission–anyone who is that much of a pain in the ass while still in the inquiry stage would only cause big headaches for the faculty and even bigger headaches for me). We didn’t publish the faculty’s religion, and the program wasn’t so big that we could afford to run one section just to accommodate a Muslim man who didn’t want to associate in any way with women of any faith or with Jewish men. Later, I was chatting with a colleague at the medical school in Worcester and mentioned him. She said that he had been very polite (I must have scared him) and didn’t give her any hassles, but that he ultimately didn’t attend their program because his wife (yikes–hates women, thinks they’re inferior and disgusting in every way, yet he was married) got a residency and they moved to…..the deep south! If he thought we discriminated because we wouldn’t sort out women and Jews for him here in New England, I wonder how he dealt with the evangelical Christians in the Bible belt.

    @Victoria: I agree with you. Unless you’re working for a religious organization doing religious work, a boss’ or co-workers’ religious beliefs have no place in the workplace and shouldn’t be paraded. As Nick noted, it is possible to live and behave in such a way that religious beliefs are honored and respected without making the religion evident while still being good for business or to help the government agency further its purpose. No one faith has a monopoly on it. I think Nick put it well–when religion creates a club that becomes us vs them in the workplace, I’m out. It isn’t appropriate, and creates divisions where there needs to be collaboration and team work. And that is what my old boss’ actions were doing at the very least, in addition to making me very uncomfortable.

    @Don: loved your story about employee named Diaz who was Jewish. That would have been a good one to tell my old boss. During a meeting she had proceeded to “educate” me about how to tell Jews from non-Jews by their last names and sometimes by their first names. I had been resisting, and she called me naive, then started the “education”. I was horrified, and then I had the hardest time trying NOT to laugh because she was dead serious. She wanted a list from me, and I was refusing, first making excuses (we don’t ask applicants’ religions on the application, and we don’t ask faculty or staff what faith they practice when they’re interviewed and hired), then trying not to explode at her while getting a lecture re how I can tell. Let her keep digging, and get burned by someone who doesn’t have to tolerate that kind of behavior because he is student (doesn’t work for her and doesn’t have to take her class) or because he is tenured faculty and doesn’t have to take her bs.

    @L.T.: this old boss was a hypocrite too–despite her big show of being religious (starting a lunch time Bible study for staff, requiring us to attend morning prayers led by her, sending us the religious emails, etc.) she was one of the most unethical people I’ve ever worked with, so her deep faith (she’d even tell us that she was better than we were because she was southern and southerners knew god best and were religious) was a mask. She wore her religion on her sleeve, couldn’t understand why staff wouldn’t pray as she did, etc., but she didn’t live her faith, at least not in the workplace. I’ll take the person who doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, who respects my right to worship (or not) as I see fit, and who doesn’t bring his religion into the workplace but who is religious all the same any day.

  96. Strangest interview question? You got it!
    I interviewed at the Libyan embassy in NY. I was asked, what is your religion. Knowing the interview was OVER, I answered, I’m Jewish.

  97. I don’t know what country you work in, but last time I checked, asking about marital status (or, indeed, anything not directly relevant to the person’s job qualifications) in an interview in the United States was illegal and grounds for a lawsuit. Unfortunately, I live in a country where it is not illegal. Let’s say there is a reason I am self-employed. I mean, if I were to apply for a job, I’d have to ask tons of values questions about the workplace. For starters, is the interviewer willing to have me record the interview? (I would agree to destroy it before leaving if I determined that they had not asked about anything illegal.) If they are not willing to take responsibility for their words, then I don’t want to work there.

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