Are you sure you need the answer to that interview question?

If you are in a position of interviewing a job applicant, you are by virtue of that role inferring that you believe you are justified in knowing the answer to any questions you decide to ask, relevant or not.

Recently during a twitter chat related to hiring practices I responded to another participant because I felt an interview question s/he admitted to asking applicants was irrelevant.

In the process of defending the interview question and rationale for asking it, that person proceeded to reinforce an arrogant/entitled/presumptuous attitude that I originally pointed out as being problematic with that inquiry. In this case, the question was: “when did you graduate?” In the same tweet that question was framed as “I want to know how far you’ve come.”

At that point in the twitter chat, there was an age-related connotation within the subject matter being debated. Therefore, my reaction to this was to tell the other poster that (IMO) the question was “kinda rude” and “irrelevant.”

The next tweet from that person included “if you are 50 and still entry level and been doing it 30 years that’s an issue.” I responded with “sounds judgmental; maybe that’s the work they enjoy; not everyone aspires up the ladder; there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Another reply from me “think age is irrelevant in that context and presumptuous basis to judge career progression.” The other person tweeted “I don’t judge them on their age; it’s just for me, in certain careers to learn more about their progression”

That was later followed by “it creates a dialog and avenue to ask other questions” And, “it creates a timeline so I have ability to ask more probing questions.”

My observation about that person’s attempt to justify the original question was aimed at pointing out a huge opportunity to leave out that ever so subtle factor of CONTEXT!  While I was merely commenting on posted tweets, in between and following the above exchange, the other person claimed that “I wasn’t listening” or “I was making incorrect assumptions.” I guess, I was supposed to just get on board with the brilliance of asking that as an initial interview question?

Apparently, that person is not familiar with the concept that online chats tend to prompt debate, discussion and even disagreement. That’s what’s sometimes referred to as thought diversity. It doesn’t mean there needs to be a right or wrong point of view. Most certainly, there is no need to react negatively when someone expresses a difference of opinion or challenges ideas being shared.

I found it especially ironic to be accused of making incorrect assumptions by a person that admittedly takes it upon her/himself to assess others based on when they graduated. Then from that starting point, they proceed to quantify how far applicants have come in their careers...?

Again, thinking of diversity, I happen to know plenty of people that have been highly successful professionally without graduating from anything. Likewise, at every company I’ve worked, I noticed many people that remained in mutually satisfactory employment relationships with or without obvious linear career progression. Of course, I couldn’t help wondering what other unrelated and superficial criteria a person like that would include while evaluating applicants.

Overall, I found it amusing (actually disturbing) that someone would take the stand that such a framework was an appropriate conversation starter to generate a timeline or means to probe further into an applicant’s career progression. Really? Nothing less intrusive comes to mind to accomplish the same thing?

Now, I’m not trying to imply there is never any legitimate reason to understand more about an applicant’s education and experience history. I’m just not convinced that questioning when someone graduated pertains to conducting an exploratory conversation in relation to an available opening.

It seems to me that a skilled interviewer should be capable of eliciting accurate data without resorting to questionable questions. 

Views: 766

Comment by Will Thomson on October 15, 2013 at 12:35pm

Again, good post Kelly!  I agree with your point of view.  " I’m just not convinced that questioning when someone graduated pertains to conducting an exploratory conversation in relation to an available opening." Agreed.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 15, 2013 at 8:10pm

Thanks, Kelly. I think we should give credit to the person for asking an age-discriminatory question in a  roundabout way. At least they knew THAT much....



Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on October 15, 2013 at 9:22pm

Thanks, Will & Keith. Appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. 

Comment by Amber on October 16, 2013 at 11:16am

I wasn't there for the entire Twitter discussion that day, but what struck me more then what the person even asks candidates, was the way they jumped right into defensive attack mode. Personally, I know I ask this question quite often. And feel I have reasons to. And know I am not doing it for the purpose of "discrimination". 

Keith - I have 2 clients that want to see job history going back to the time that a person graduated. They have varied reasons, some perhaps logical and some a little odd. But neither practices age bias, based on my observations and who they hired. 

"Now, I’m not trying to imply there is never any legitimate reason to understand more about an applicant’s education and experience history." - Absolutely, Kelly! That being agreed upon, and admitting that I often do delve into someone's career history back to the beginning, there are also TONS of irrelevant questions and hiring processes out there.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 16, 2013 at 5:35pm

@ Kelly: You're very welcome. We appreciate your blogging!

@ Amber: Perfectly fine and legitimate reasons for that. In my own case, I put the most recent 10 years, and offer a complete job history on request, if they want me to go back to the Bible Story times of my earlier career.



Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on October 16, 2013 at 5:46pm

Thanks for adding your comments, Amber. Not a fan of "defensive attack mode" at all. Luckily most people on most chats behave maturely and process opposing opinions logically before jumping to . The chat in this example happens to be advertised as a "debate" so that made what happened even more awkward. 

Just curious if those particular clients of yours that request that info only consider candidates that have graduated from somewhere/something or also people w/out a diploma/degree. 

How do you handle someone that graduated recently, but is beyond "typical" college years? Is that viewed favorably, unfavorably or makes no difference to your clients? 

I know many people that completed degrees after being in the workforce for a number of years. That's one of the reasons I think that type of question is not always an accurate gauge of career progression. I also know many people that majored in subjects that had nothing to do with their eventual career path. 

The main issue I find with this is: even if there is absolutely no intent to use the answer in a discriminatory manner, most people don't know that to be the case in advance.

There is a tremendous amount of media attention and public opinion that ageism and several other isms are behind a high percentage of candidate rejections, While that may only be true in a minority of cases, it doesn't bode well for a company to inject suspicion of that possibility. 

Comment by Amber on October 16, 2013 at 6:11pm

One client will generally only consider those with degree for majority of positions, and will sometimes consider those who might have had a bit untraditional road. Their main thing they're looking for in getting that "back to the beginning" history is 1. career progression - we are not recruiting for positions that typically are a good fit for people who aren't looking to move up. 2. client is still a private company so they like to see what types of companies the person has worked for and where they did well - or not. All that said, funnily enough I just saw your tweet re: Glassdoor - that client has VERY low rating there so that might say something about their processes,lol!

I have personally been in situations that most likely a few "isms" were in play, but my opinion is that no matter what companies do, don't do, etc. has much actual impact on the bottom line of their true practices and beliefs. They can avoid all the questions, etc. that appear (or are) inappropriate, but if they truly are set against hiring particular types ("seasoned", male/female, certain race) of people then that's what their decisions will be based on. I don't agree, approve, condone, or participate in it but it's not something that will ever be regulated away. And I'm actually glad for that in the sense that I think there is far more then enough already.

p.s. In the past few weeks I have made a specific effort to respond to 2 candidates (after they made public appeals for someone to help them) who thought they were "victims" of ageism. So far I haven't received the information I asked for from either one. They did send me their resumes, but I sent them each a request for some info over a week ago and still have no email or call back. 

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 17, 2013 at 3:05pm

@ Amber; You're right- we can't regulate away prejudice, but we can work to make it unacceptable and less open. I had a hiring manager who a few months ago said out in the open: "You gave me a resume of a guy in his 50s. We want people who are 25-35 for this role".




Comment by Amber on October 17, 2013 at 5:04pm

Very true, Keith! My usual response to that is "I gave you a resume of a person who'd be terrific for this position." And I continue to send them qualified people without respect to their age and think about whether I keep them as a client. I do have have one company that has 2 hiring managers I won't work on positions for. I let the CEO and HR Director think what they want, but they continue to have me work with other managers who don't have such asinine thoughts.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on October 17, 2013 at 6:05pm

Well-played, Amber.




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