Want to Work at Delta Air Lines? You’ll Need a Note From Your Mom.

Want to Work at Delta Air Lines? You’ll Need a Note From Your Mom.

by Kerry Scott on 29 April 2009

498980676_407d313350Photo by foundphotoslj

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.

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Jason J Denis April 29, 2009 at 10:15 am

Yikes. Was he talking about an interview or a first date?? What about the hard-hitting, equally relevant questions such as “What’s your favorite color?” and “What kind of music do you listen to?”

I’m fairly sure I would run out of that interview screaming…

PF April 29, 2009 at 10:25 am

This Delta guy is like the author of the book from one of the HR book clubs in our area who said in her “advice” that if you wish to keep your job in this recession, amongst other tactics, you take up smoking if your supervisor or manager smokes so you can share smoke time, have yet one more thing in common, and be more like your manager!

And yes, this was a book published in 2008 for the first time. My response: “hunh??” (well that’s my response that I can post on a public blog anyway).

HRPufnstuf April 29, 2009 at 10:25 am

You nailed it when you said he was looking for “people who came from backgrounds just like the people who already work here.” I don’t know if it’s hubris or ignorance, but so many people feel “I’m successful, therefore if you want to be successful you must be just like me.” It is certainly one of the eternal struggles to overcome in our roles.

Rachel - I Hate HR April 29, 2009 at 5:40 pm

This is just asking for a discrimination lawsuit.

Rachel – I Hate HR’s last blog post..Standing on the Fence

Ask a Manager April 29, 2009 at 7:10 pm

I suspect there are a lot of people with no idea how to hire and no motivation to learn, but what’s especially interesting about this guy is that he has no shame about it! He’s almost bragging about his terrible interviewing style.

Ask a Manager’s last blog post..too young/immature for a promotion?

Amy April 29, 2009 at 9:07 pm

I read the Delta interview, too, and one thing that struck me was how utterly uninteresting the article made the guy sound. The gramatically identical one-idea sentences were a numbing cadence. Imagine being trapped in a boring conversation about your dad or your kids with this guy! (Hey, wait, isn’t the interview about me? My dad/kids didn’t apply. I did.)

On an job interview, I want to see what makes management’s eyes sparkle. What gets them sitting on the edge of their seat and talking with their hands? Is it the same stuff that makes ME want to work in this industry? What are we going to do all day for the next three to five years if I get the job? Are we both excited and engaged about that?

I do not see how that includes talk about my family. Isn’t it illegal to ask me?

Kerry Sandberg Scott April 30, 2009 at 7:11 am

Technically, it is not illegal to ask personal questions. It can be illegal to apply the results though.

For example, here in Wisconsin, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. If his questions led to the revelation that his candidate was gay, he could not discriminate on that basis if he were in Wisconsin (the other states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia). This is NOT illegal in Georgia though (no surprise there).

Marital status is also a protected class in some states (although again, not Georgia). Religion, national origin, etc. are protected everywhere, so if your answers revealed that information, it could be a problem.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying Richard Anderson or anyone else at Delta would discriminate against anyone. I have absolutely no reason to believe that (and in fact, on the first point in particular, larger airlines tend to be pretty gay-friendly). But when you ask questions like this, it leads candidates, especially unsuccessful candidates, to wonder if revealing one of these things is the reason. Often they’re wrong, but companies spend a lot of time and money defending that stuff. That’s why it’s best to never ask questions like this (aside from what I believe to be the even better reason: they don’t tell you whether the person will be successful in the job).

I bet the HR people and the lawyers at Delta are not too thrilled with Anderson right now.

Robert LaGow April 30, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Well, let’s be honest, how many interviews do you think he really sits in on these days, what with being busy CEOing and all.

Guys like him are job security for HR professionals.

P.S. — Hey there Kerry, long time no see.

Robert LaGow’s last blog post..George Clooney cast in HR role

Charles May 1, 2009 at 9:51 am

“cultural fit ” – I’m sorry; But I do NOT get that and never have.

I have always viewed it the way you are viewing this guy as some one who wants to hire “people who came from backgrounds just like the people who already work here.”

If your organization has a professional environment and the job candidate has the necessary skills/experience and comes across in the interview as professional then how can they not be a “cultural fit”? What other culture are hiring managers refering to?

Kerry Sandberg Scott May 1, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Charles–actually, that’s a great blog post topic. Watch for it…soon (not sure how soon because my kid has just come down with the flu, which this particular week is turning out to be kind of a big deal).

Charles May 1, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I’m looking forward to that post.

I hope your kid has just a mild case of the flu. A really great food to help is chicken soup with lemon juice added.

Carla May 3, 2009 at 2:48 am

Wow, just wow. As much as I would need a job, I think that would be the first interview I’d walk out of if I’m asked very personal, inappropriate (and uncomfortable) questions like that.

Carla’s last blog post..Organic Baby & Toddler Clothes – My Little Snuggle Bug

HR Minion May 3, 2009 at 2:49 pm

This is really getting very close to some dangerous question areas. All it takes is a lawsuit and a clever lawyer…

HR Minion’s last blog post..I’m Certified , Baby!

Apolinaras "Apollo" Sinkevicius | LeanStartups.com May 12, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Corporate culture determines what kind of service customers will receive. Therefore it is no surprise to me now that Delta is doing so poorly. I stopped flying with them 10 years ago.
When it comes to hiring, the most moronic thing you can do is hire same type of people. There is a reason why diverse companies do better (at least in my experience).
I can’t believe NYT wasted their time on someone that moronic.

Apolinaras “Apollo” Sinkevicius | LeanStartups.com’s last blog post..Want to be great CEO? Get your nose in it!

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