I’m just old enough (or young enough, depending on how you look at it) to remember the waning days of the sexist job interview. As a law student and lawyer, I remember reading the do’s and don’ts of what to ask or how to respond.
For female candidates, there were many no-nos: Never ask about marital status or if she had or planned to have kids, for example. The fact that these admonishments existed meant that the questions were still being asked, and asked a lot, by lawyers as recently as 20 years ago. Women had traditionally been viewed as walking babymakers, especially in white-collar professions, which often lose money on young employees during the first year or two they’re on the job. The last thing a cost-sensitive firm or company wanted was to hire a very bright babymaker, train her at great expense, and then wish her well as she became pregnant and decided to stay home or work elsewhere.
As an interviewee, I was vaguely aware of the dilemma faced by my female colleagues—they were presumed babymakers and they wanted to dispel any notion of this in the interview without explicitly raising the marriage and childbearing issues themselves. In hindsight, this was hopeless. It is a lot like trying to convince someone you’re not crazy by making vague allusions to your un-craziness—it doesn’t work any better than simply stating “I’m not crazy, you know.” As I said, I was aware of the dilemma, but did not dwell on it any more than another female job interview issue, such as what to wear: dress, skirt, or pantsuit? After I’d been hired and worked on the other side of the interview table, I was no more sensitive to these issues. In fact, I remember one especially well-qualified candidate getting rejected because one of our lawyers (a woman, no less) knew that she had a boyfriend in another state and was planning to join him there in a year or so.
I later left the law and stayed home to raise a family (three kids at the time) with my wife. About 10 years ago, well after we’d moved to another state for my wife’s job (she’s a lawyer), our youngest was out of diapers and I was, well, bored to some extent and ready to do some outside work again. I became aware through my wife that a good firm had a need for a part-time lawyer. Throwing caution to the wind, I scratched together a resume and sent it in. Two weeks later, I got a phone call and set up an interview, which was to last 30 minutes.
In hindsight, that was the high point of the process—it was all downhill from there. First, I actually found myself wondering what to wear. No, not skirt or pants, but how formal my business attire should be. Opting for the most conservative suit, I went to the offices. Just my luck, it was a casual Friday. And Susan*, who interviewed me and was roughly my age, was wearing khakis and a blue sleeveless shirt. I bet that 25 years ago, when we were peers, she was encased in a skirt suit with a loopy bow tie for her interviews. But not today. Then we began talking and I basically established that I was a walking babymaker three times over. We spent about five minutes discussing my legal qualifications and the job requirements and the next 45 minutes or so (yes, it ran way over) talking about anything but. Turns out that Susan knew my wife a little bit, so we talked for 10 minutes about that. Susan asked just about every verboten question in the book and a few more: “How do you expect to get this job done, given your responsibilities at home?” “Would you be committed to this job?” and the memorable, “How does it feel to be on the daddy track?” She also wasn’t shy about making comments, including “We need more men like you,” “A lot of guys married to your wife probably wouldn’t even want to go back to work,” and many more.
After about 15 minutes, I realized that I wasn’t getting the job and that the “interview” had transformed into a free-form discussion. Believe it or not, I felt relieved, and I realized that the job wasn’t anywhere near right for me anyway. So I gave up on such fictitious lines as “raising this family has made me incredibly organized, much more so than when I was practicing.” Fittingly, the interview concluded with another discussion of my wife’s prowess. As we parted, Susan actually said, “Best of luck. Say hello to your wife; she’s one lucky gal.” Yes, gal.
I forgot to say hello. And I kept looking for positions, but with decreasing enthusiasm and no success. A couple years later, my wife became pregnant with our fourth child, and that canceled out the whole deal anyway. So, Susan, I don’t know about the “lucky gal” part and you could have been a lot smoother, but I give you credit for ferreting out the walking babymaker and keeping him away from your offices! Besides, given my wife’s income, I don’t really feel the need to work anyway. I’m one lucky guy.
*Name has been changed
Photo credit Davo/Flickr
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