bettinger.jpgIn my more than 20 years writing about careers I have heard some pretty outlandish interview stories, everything from being asked why a manhole cover is round to having to provide a handwriting sample.

But today I heard about one from a major company that makes me feel uncomfortable and had me wondering if it crosses an ethical line.

Turns out, the CEO of Charles Schwab, Walt Bettinger, sometimes takes job applications to breakfast and on the sly asks the restaurant manager to mess up the person’s order to see how they respond.

It sounds like an episode of Candid Camera, but in the end you don’t end up looking stupid or savvy on TV. In this gotcha moment, you end up looking stupid or savvy to a CEO; at least what the big boss deems your response to be.

Why is Bettinger using this ploy?

This from recent New York Times article:

“I do that because I want to see how the person responds. That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset, are they frustrated, or are they understanding? Life is like that, and business is like that. It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.”

While Bettinger is trying to get a window into the applicant’s heart, I wonder what this tactic says about Bettinger’s heart and integrity.

I understand that interviewing applicants is hard and can sometimes fail to produce the insights hiring managers are desperate for. But setting someone up and enlisting the help of others in the deception doesn’t seem like a great or honest option.

We often hear about the endless lies applicants tell. But does honestly count for anything in the hiring process?

Is this how Bettinger runs his business?

Charles Schwab hasn’t been without its problems with fraud in the past, and I’m not sure about the message this is sending to customers or prospective job seekers.

And what about the results he gets from his approach to hiring? What is the right response to a messed up order, and does this CEO take into account cultural differences around food? Bettinger grew up in Ohio.

Here’s what he said about his upbringing to the New York Times: “I had the quintessential Midwest upbringing. Youngest of four kids, grew up in a small farming community in northwest Ohio. My dad was a chemistry professor. Mom was a stay-at-home mom who was involved in volunteering at a lot of things around town.”

If Bettinger took my father — who was an intelligent, fiery and passionate Greek from Istanbul who had restaurant management experience — to breakfast and messed up my dad’s order it probably wouldn’t have been pretty. My sisters and I used to want to hide under the table when someone didn’t live up to my dad’s expectations when it came to his food. A meal was indeed the spice of life to my late father.

Come to think of it, this aspect of my upbringing may be why I reacted so strongly to Bettinger’s hiring tactic tied to what I was raised to think of as a sacred ritual — breaking bread with friends and family.

Indeed, we are all products of how we were raised, and that’s a good thing.

I guess Ohioans think otherwise. ;-)

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