You know how bugged I get when employers go over the top and ask background questions that are no one’s business. Reader Steve Amoia sent me a gem from the International Herald Tribune, about President-elect Barack Obama’s candidate questionnaire…

And it set me to thinking. Why shouldn’t an employer ask all these questions? Just how good are my references (or yours, or anyone’s)? Why not just lay it all out?

You’ve gotta figure, well, everyone has some dirty laundry. If we all hang it out, then we’ll all get judged on a curve, or no one will be hire-able. Is that going too far?

Maybe not. Maybe this kind of standard — applied to everyone and in every case — would actually raise our standards and we’d all behave a bit better, make better choices, and consider the consequences of what we say and do (and who we hang out with).

Some say the Net is making everything transparent anyway. So why shouldn’t all employers just ask people to put it all on the record — right there on the job application, just like the next president does? Imagine if companies took the lead and raised the bar. (Think of the fun people you’d meet!)

  1. It’s unrealistic. None of us wants to be identified with the most embarrassing moments of our lives. So, few, if any, will honestly respond to such a questionnaire. And the honest ones will lose out.

  2. It crosses the line between your professional life and your personal life. They ARE different.

    It that same spirit I should want to know everything about my potential boss’s life from grade school on. He or she will have far more influence over my life then I over theirs.

  3. Well, too few would answer all questions in full honesty, and the more questions you ask, the trickier it is to catch liars (because if everyone lies/exaggerates, it would be to varying degrees and most would get away with it).

    The other problem is that you’d need the employment industry to go through all those forms and conduct verification, making this a very expensive hiring process.

    Say, didn’t you earlier mention that it’s a good idea to deny salary history information? Just seems ironic.

  4. Law applies here as anywhere: I can’t ask questions that aren’t related to the job. If I’m forming the most visible and powerful government in the world, then my questions pertaining to public perception of connections or wrongdoing are legitimate. If employed at a private company, the questions may be asked, but rejection based on answers should be more limited to actual liability. Still, you may still be judged on your associations and misdeed.

    I think my critique of the idea is deeper: If an employer cannot differentiate what matters from what does not, who wants to work there? That’s why I welcome everyone to ask, and I answer. Then again, I’m not running the free world.

  5. In the US, media and politicians (especially from the opposing party!) are obsessed with candidates sex life. No matter how skilled you are, if you aren’t fully heterosexually happily married to the spouse for eternity, you are judged as an immoral being. Out you go, never mind how skilled you are.

    Here in Norway the obsession is not with sex, but money and bureaucratic rules, no matter how small. If a politician happens to use the work credit card for private payments, forgets a tax payment, no matter how small, hell is loose. One recently had to resign because she had forgotten a few bureaucratic rules regarding a room she rented out.

    But, you can of course waste away millions of taxpayers money, that’s OK.

    The point is that for politicians, media are obsessed with issues that are really not relevant to wheteher a person can do a job or not. There is, of course, a difference between forgetting a small tax payment and deliberately hiding billions of dollars – character matters – but nobody is perfect, but candidates are supposed to be – and have to pretend.

    They shouldn’t have to, neither in politics or in business life. Concentrate on job relevant issues.

  6. Are you being sarcastic, Nick?

  7. Personal actions do impact public ones, contrary to all our pretending otherwise.

    I don’t think any survey will help though since we are not an honest people, in general, these days. Some people are much more easily searchable via Google and such. It will make for an interesting time.