Why Would You Say That In An Interview....or Anywhere?
This story is being told first hand by the man who experienced it. Anonymity of all parties is maintained.
It was early in my career, and I had found a job opening that I was really excited to pursue. I had gone through a phone interview and an in-person interview. Now, I was walking into a final interview one-on-one with President/CEO. It started off with your typical “tell me about yourself” questions, but quickly took an unexpected turn that I was not prepared for. Below are the “highlights”. My internal thoughts are italicized in brackets with some light-hearted humor. For context, I am black and he is white.
President: Where are you from? Me: Indianapolis President: What side of town? Me: [Hmmm, that’s a very specific question.] I grew up on the eastside, but now I live on the north side. President: Where did you attend grade school? Me: [Why in the world does he care where I went to grade school? I have a freaking college degree and a few years of work experience.] I went to X school. President: My son attends Y school, and he played X school in sports recently. When I saw all of those minorities on the X school team, I thought there was no way we could beat them, but we actually won. Me: [Uhhh, what the hell am I supposed to say to that!?] Oh. Ok.
At this point, I had an idea of why he wanted to pin-point the precise GPS location of my upbringing. I’m a black guy who speaks relatively proper English (when I am supposed to). This would be the one millionth time someone (typically white, but not always) seemed surprised that I could articulate my thoughts well. I didn’t want to assume this during the interview, even after his previous comments. However…
President: You are very well-spoken. Me: [Damn, I hate when people say that. Really? It’s a final interview; what did you expect?] Thank you. President: Where did you go to high school? Me: [Crap! Here we go again. Maybe I should lie and say I went to school in the suburbs.] I went to x high school. President: Are there a lot of minorities there? Me: [You’ve gotta be freaking kidding me!] Actually, it was a very diverse school when I went there. President: My daughter was there for a sporting event and the police were pepper spraying some kids. Me: [WTF does that have to do with me]. Wow. That’s too bad. President: Yeah, I figured there must be a lot of minorities at the school. Me: [What! Why would you… how could… I mean… did he just say…] (I do not recall responding.)
We talked about my resume, goals, and the expectations of the position, and then we concluded the interview. A couple of days later, I got a call from the HR rep offering me the job. What did I do? It was my dream job at the time; of course I accepted. Just kidding. I respectfully declined the position; it just wasn’t worth it to me. I explained why I declined, and I told her about my interview. She was shocked and assured me that she had never seen him display any type of prejudice. However, she acknowledged that she understood how I felt. She apologized (genuinely) and wished me well.
The purpose of sharing this story is not to stir up any kind of unproductive, race-related arguments. Instead, I hope that people see this as just one, very small example of how underlying stereotypes or prejudices can manifest themselves. I actually don’t think the gentlemen intended to be malicious, but that does not excuse his actions. It also goes to show that even the people at the top of the organization may need some serious diversity and/or interview training.