Monday, October 14, 2013
I love to ask the question "do you have children?" in a job interview. What!? you think to yourself - didn't she go to training on what questions not to ask??? Well there's a method to my madness...
If you've been through interview training then you know there are a set of questions you are told not to ask like are you married? do you have children? are you thinking of having children? how old are you? etc.
You may have been told that it is illegal to ask these questions in a job interview because you might discriminate against a candidate as a result of their answer: their sexual preference, whether they have little kids, whether they might get pregnant, do they like American football etc.
But it's not true. Asking the question is not illegal. What is illegal is to discriminate based on the answer. A subtle but powerful difference. Your lawyers trained you to keep you and the company out of trouble, not to teach you how to recruit the best and brightest.
It's actually important to know some of the private life of your candidates because life interferes with people's ability to do their job in many more ways than you've been trained not to ask about, or the law protects, and how your company reacts when it does says a lot about whether the candidate should want to work with you or not.
When your parent gets cancer and slowly dies that presents a huge challenge to staying fully productive. When you have a bad accident and smash a bone into so many pieces that you have to work from home for months, that can certainly make it hard to focus. When you're trying to adopt a child from the foster care system and you need to spend days in court fighting for your (soon to be) child's rights, that means you're working odd hours and in odd places to stay on top of you job. All experiences we've shared at FirstRain, and we've got more!
When I meet a candidate I want to know if s/he has children, or has elderly parents, or has an intense hobby, because I want to tell him or her about our culture and how much we support and adapt around our people's needs as life happens to them.
Life just happens. Babies, sick parents, health issues. And the sign of a strong company culture is one that is adaptable and flexible to help the employee stay engaged and work through whatever challenge comes up, or take time off if that's what's needed. It's important to remember that you cannot make assumptions about how your employee is going to react to the challenge, or what course of action they are going to want to take, but instead to put a team-based system in place so everyone can do their best.
It is true that some older men do still discriminate based on whether women in the workforce have young children, or are likely to have young children, so the lawyers are not all wrong. I recently sat in a discussion (not in FirstRain!) where a pregnant, very senior employee's likelihood to come back to work after her pregnancy was questioned. But those older generation views are dying out as the old guard retires or their daughters successfully work and raise children at the same time.
We're not naive at FirstRain. Being flexible as life challenges our people doesn't mean an employee can be distracted from their job indefinitely (we are a for-profit, growing company after all and we probably work harder than most because of high growth rate) but it does mean, from time to time, we have to cover for each other.
So back to interviewing. I want to know if candidates are married, or have little kids, or are thinking of getting pregnant, or adopting. I want to know if they have dogs, or horses, or like to travel. I want to know because we are in a competitive hiring environment, and I want the best people in my company possible. So I want an opportunity to tell them about our culture, and what a great place FirstRain is to work when you have major events in your life, and how supportive we are of raising a family here, and that these are reasons to be a part of your decision to chose FirstRain over any other job you may have today or be considering.