Tag Archives: equal opportunity

A job thought experiment

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine you’ve been applying for a good job, and the hiring manager calls you in for the final interview. He tells you that there’s only one hurdle left: The interview process has narrowed the contestants down to just you and one other candidate. Your potential boss gives you some information about the other candidate – namely, that you and this mystery person have exactly the same level of qualification, and are willing to work for exactly the same wage; but this mystery candidate has more to lose than you if they don’t get the job (i.e. their bills are higher, or they have more mouths to feed, or they have some illness they need medicine for, whatever), and they’re willing to work without the two weeks’ vacation each year that you demanded.

Then, to make matters worse, your potential boss asks you your final interview question: “Tell me why I should give this job to you instead of the other candidate, given what you know about that person.”

Hard, isn’t it?

Well, let me give you a few potential answers, and you decide what you think about them.

  1. “You should give me the job because I’m male, and this other person is female.” Whoa, sounds pretty bad, huh? In fact, I think we still tar and feather people in our society for that sort of thing. Or at least we should.
  2. “You should give me the job because I’m related to you in some way, and the other person isn’t.” The word for that is nepotism, and it also tends to be frowned upon, in case you hadn’t heard.
  3. “You should give me the job because I’m white, and the other person is non-white.” Uh oh, we’re getting worse, aren’t we?
  4. “You should give me the job because I’m young, and the other person is old.” Ageism doesn’t get as much attention as sexism or racism, but it’s definitely out there and definitely sucks.
  5. “You should give me the job because I’m more attractive than the other person.” Well that one’s just a slap in the face, isn’t it?

Imagine how mad you’d be if you even overheard someone with the cojones to actually say this in an interview! Someone claiming that a mere accident of birth that they had no control over – and for that matter places them in a category of substantial relative privilege – should entitle them (and it’s entitlement they’re claiming, make no mistake) to a job over a person that doesn’t have these purely unintentional qualities, but is equally qualified, harder working, and in greater need of the job would rightly make your blood boil. And if you think that would make you mad, imagine how much angrier you’d be at an employer who actually accepted that rationale and gave the job to this horrible person!

Let’s add one more to the list, shall we?

6. “You should give me the job because I was born in this country, and the other person wasn’t.”

Wait. Wait a minute – that one didn’t raise the hackles on the back of your neck, did it? In fact, the part of you that adapts to your society as a whole found that to be downright reasonable-sounding, didn’t it? Something’s definitely wrong here. Some essential wiring has been installed incorrectly. Say any of the first five things on the list in a job interview and not only can I guarantee you that you won’t get the job, but you’re very likely to start a physical fight with someone that overhears you. But say the sixth thing, and not only does it sound perfectly rational, but you sound like a damned patriot. They elect to public office people who say things like that. Of course, being the rational person that you are, you came through this little thought experiment realizing the truth: That if you can’t rationalize desert based on accidents of birth, then that applies to ALL accidents of birth.

Of course, there’s a sliver of hope here. You see, at one point or another in history, all of points 1 through 5 were considered just as reasonable and just as point 6 is considered by our society today. But bit by bit, through some combination of general societal enlightenment and the tireless efforts of the champions of the downtrodden, those absurd opinions were gradually overturned. There are still some holdouts, of course – there always will be – but thankfully we seem to grow more enlightened each day. And so I’m quite assured that over time (maybe, if I’m lucky, in my own lifetime), I’ll see the end of one of the last great institutionalized prejudices – nationalism.

This post was inspired by the article Waitresses in Saskatchewan lose jobs to foreign workers.