As someone who has become incredibly aware of cultural conditioning and writes about it all the time, I am always fascinated at how implicit assumptions and biases seep out even when someone is trying to contain them.  That is what inspired the article on Forbes.com titled “The Inevitable Interview Non-Question.”

I was being interviewed for a leadership position by someone who leads a major business for a massive, global insurance company that is headquartered in the US.  This person is in charge of billions of dollars for the company and has lived and worked all over the world.  They were seeking to make a strategic shift in their business and were looking for someone who was “different” to help them.  My resume fell on the HR person’s desk and that’s why I was being interviewed.

Non-Questions in Interviews

The person began very sheepishly with thinly-veiled questions about my personal life as he was trying to figure out my marital and parental status.  After rolling my eyes at first (because this isn’t the first time I’ve been asked those kinds of questions in an interview), I began to see the humor in how hard he was trying to disguise his real questions by dancing around them with other mildly-related questions that seemed social in nature.  I danced with him through the interview and then said thank you and left.

And I realized the catch-22 of the situation.  If I didn’t answer the questions about my personal life, I would be deemed “not a good cultural fit” for the role.  And if I did answer them, it would make me complicit in a company culture that uses implicit assumptions and biases in hiring (and presumably other) HR decisions.  Neither of those seemed like very good options so although I was disappointed that I wasn’t offered the job (mostly because that meant I couldn’t turn them down), I knew that clearly that was not the right company culture for me.

It’s frustrating when you know that you could do a really great job for somebody and they don’t want you because your personal life doesn’t fit their image of what the person in the job is supposed to look like.  That part stings and “it’s their loss” seems superficial so I had to reframe it to think about which kinds of companies with which kinds of cultures do I want to use my time, talent, and resources to make awesome.  And I decided that it’s certainly not the kind who will judge my professional capabilities based on my choices about how to live my personal life.