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Last Sunday, the New York Times featured an interview with Richard Anderson, the CEO of Delta Air Lines. One of the questions they asked him was what sort of questions he likes to ask candidates who are interviewing for jobs with him. Here’s what he said:
You want to know about their family. Where they grew up. What their parents did. Where they went to high school. What their avocations were. How many kids they had in their family. You know, what their whole background and history is.
There’s more, but I don’t want the New York Times to come after me for copying the whole thing, so please go there and read it for yourself. It’s an eye-opener. You’ll love the part where he wants to know what your kids are like too.
I cannot imagine what planet this guy lives on. What if your mom was a single parent who had a bunch of jobs, and your dad split when you were a toddler? Oh, wait, I know that guy…he’s the President of the United States now. What if your kid got pregnant in high school—you can be the governor of Alaska, but you can’t work for Delta (or you can, maybe, if you’re willing to spill your guts about it)? What if you have some other family situation that you might want to keep private, and don’t feel like you need to be sharing this stuff with this guy in order to find employment? What if you’re actually great at what you do, regardless of what your dad did for a living? How does the number of kids in your family determine whether you can successfully do the work?
Anderson goes on to say that cultural fit is important. Believe me, I get that. But going into someone’s very personal family background doesn’t really have anything to do with cultural fit…unless that’s code for “people who came from backgrounds just like the people who already work here.” That excludes a whole lot of people.
This sort of interviewing is really a cop out. It’s a crutch to help the interviewer put you into categories based on stereotypes, so he doesn’t have to really figure out whether you’ll be a good fit for the job. It’s a shortcut, and it’s not even an effective shortcut.
If I were interviewing with someone who wasn’t too interested in my resume but wanted to know about my parents, I’d be sorely tempted to end the meeting right there. I’m not interested in working for anyone with such a narrow view of what determines “fit” and fitness for the job.