my manager won’t hire people with messy cars — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

Am I crazy or is this a red flag?

I’m working a temp to perm job, and was just let in on a departmental secret. Apparently, when our supervisor is deciding who to keep on permanently, she will figure out which car is yours and walk out to it on a break to inspect the inside. If it’s messy, she doesn’t hire you on full-time.

This is insane, right? I feel a little bit like my privacy is being violated, honestly. I know people can see into my car, of course. But I don’t expect anyone to be actively snooping.

Is this a sign I don’t want to work here? I like all my colleagues and the work I’m doing. This is the first red flag I’ve seen, and I want to make sure I’m not blowing things out of proportion.

As a hiring test, this is insane.

Plenty of people have messy cars for reasons that have nothing to do with how they’ll perform on the job. Maybe they had a hectic weekend and their car ended up messy and they haven’t had a chance to clean it. Maybe they’re neat in every other area of their life and their car is the one spot they don’t care much about. Maybe they share the car with a slob. Maybe they’re a generally messy person but they’re still awesome at their job. It means nothing.

It’s particularly silly as a hiring test for people she already works with. It’s one thing to look for proxies when you don’t have much other data to go on — but when she works with people every day, she has loads of direct information about their work and how they operate. She doesn’t need to go looking for hidden meaning in their cars.

All that said … is it a sign you don’t want to work there? Eh.

It would be easy to say “anyone with ridiculous tests like this is a bad manager who you don’t want to work for.” But I’ve worked with people who have silly pet hiring theories, and they were perfectly fine to work for.

For example, I used to work with a woman who was absolutely lovely — a good manager and a good person. And she believed that she could tell things about candidates by how they handled the offer of a beverage. I asked her about it for this very old post and she said, “It’s a measure of politeness extended, politeness rejected or accepted, and how it’s done. I don’t care if they accept the drink or not, but I do pay attention to how they respond to the offer. Also, I pay attention to whether they dispose of the cup themselves (these were paper cups that would tossed in the trash) or leave it for me to do myself. Tells me so much about what kind of person they are.”

I think that’s reading way too much into it (especially in an interview situation where people are nervous and may simply forget to throw away their trash), but my point is: she had a silly test that she had convinced herself she could learn from, and she was still a fine person to work for.

Would she be better at hiring if she got rid of that test? Yes. Should interviewers move to more evidence-based forms of hiring that more objectively assess the must-have characteristics and skills for the role? Yes. Was her test an indicator of what she was like to work for? No.

Just as your manager should be focusing on the more substantive things she sees from you every day, the same goes for you: Pay attention to the substantive things you see about her. Does she set clear and realistic expectations, give useful feedback, resolve roadblocks, and ensure you have the space and tools you need to do good work? Is she fair, transparent, and even-keeled? Do other people seem generally happy working with her? If all those things are good, her car test may be a fluke. On the other hand, if some of those things are bad, the silly car test doesn’t really matter; she’ll be a problem to work for regardless.

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