Sunday, April 26, 2015
A proclamation of faith has no place in a job interview
The owner of a small financial advisory firm has taken an interest in a young man after receiving his resume. He's asked the candidate to come in to for an interview with him and several key members of the staff.
The young man prepares for the meeting by reading up on the company and its key staff. The process starts off well. The owner of the company speaks with the candidate first, making clear that the young man will be his last interview of the day, over lunch, once the candidate has spoken with other staffers.
In one discussion after another, the young man feels like he's engaging well with the employees interviewing him. He gets excited about the prospects of working at the firm with these people. They seem to take a keen interest in him and how he might be a fit for the type of work they do.
Just before lunch, the candidate is scheduled to meet with the firm's chief financial officer. After he enters the room and sits down, however, the conversation quickly turns to personal matters. The young man is a bit surprised, but figures the line of questioning is all part of getting to know him better.
Then the CFO starts talking about his faith and the particular house of worship he attends. He never asks the young man about his own faith (such a question would likely violate all sorts of legalities), but it's clear that the CFO wants to share specifics of his faith.
The discussion makes the young man uncomfortable. He finds it inappropriate, but is unsure how to respond. He doesn't want to insult the CFO by telling him he finds the talk of faith irrelevant.
The candidate says nothing to the CFO, but over lunch, when the firm's owner asks him how the morning interviews went, the young man focuses almost entirely on discussions with staff members other than the CFO. Since it's clear he's left out any mention of his session with the CFO, the owner asks him about it.
"In all honesty, the discussion made me a bit uncomfortable," the young man says, recounting how the discussion turned to the CFO's faith.
"I've talked to him about that before," the owner responds. "I'm sorry that happened."
The young man is torn about whether he did the right thing by telling the owner about his discussion with the CFO.
The job candidate did indeed do the right thing. In doing so, he accomplished two things. He answered the owner's question forthrightly. He also gave the owner a chance to address the issue with the CFO. In doing so, the owner could potentially avoid a nasty legal situation if the CFO crossed a line in the interview process, as well as curtail such episodes during future interviews.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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