Wednesday, October 24, 2007

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Qualifications for the job

When I interview a job candidate at work, I look for a number of things. Obviously, I look for direct qualifications — related work experience, research done in the area, education, that sort of thing. I look at the candidate’s interests to see how they dovetail with the work we’re doing. I try to make a judgment about how the candidate will learn on the job, an aspect that’s in many ways more important than specific prior experience. I consider general personality, looking at eagerness, ability to fit in and work with a team, and so on.

There are, too, some things I don’t ask, because they aren’t relevant to the job interview. And some of those are things I mayn’t ask — things that are actually illegal for me to ask, in the United States. I may not ask the candidate’s age or marital status. I may not ask whether s/he has kids, or plans to. And questions about the candidate’s religion are definitely out of bounds.

If I violate those, I open my company up to be sued for illegal discrimination, should we choose not to hire that candidate. There could be a claim that our decision was based on my question about age or religion, or that we didn’t want to hire a woman who would likely be on maternity leave soon.

So as I consider people for jobs in my company, I neither know nor care whether those I’m considering are Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist. Nor should I care. I may be hiring them to do computer research, to lead software development projects, or to run departments of programmers and manage budgets, but I’m not hiring them to give spiritual advice or to lead a church. And, in fact, if they should choose to spend the interview talking about their religions, I would wonder whether they were covering up a lack of real job qualifications.

Hm.

Candidates. Religion. You know, that sounds familiar.

Here’s the thing: it’s not relevant for politicians either. We’re electing people to run the town or the state or the country (executive branch), to manage budgets and hire and supervise subordinates and such; to work together to enact laws (legislative branch); to study the law and the constitution and to make judgments about them (judicial branch). We’re not electing them to give spiritual advice or to lead a church.

Just as I don’t need my president (or governor, mayor, senator, judge) to be my beer buddy, neither do I need him/her/it to be my minister. Quite the opposite: I’d like to know that these people go into their jobs ready to look at the whole situation, to consider all sides and to come to reasoned decisions based on the evidence at hand, based on how the situation presents itself, based on how it will affect the people they’re serving. I’d like to know that they don’t have a predetermined answer based on “scripture”. I’d like to know that they don’t claim to have been selected for their jobs by a “higher power” than the people.

Selecting leaders based on their alleged relationships to deities is something we did way back, back when we were superstitious fools who thought that sacrificing a chicken during a full moon would give us a more robust corn crop. If we picked the right leader, who had the ear of the right god, we might have the “in” we needed to make sure the rains came reglarly. Some societies even believed their leaders to be gods.

More recently, we believed our kings to be chosen by God, and we needed a male lineage to preserve that birthright. Once in a while, a new king would defeat the old one, and, thus, God would have chosen a new line of kings.

When we defeated George III, established the United States, and banished kings from our shores, we changed that. We have no divine lineage here. Government of the people, by the people, for the people is what we’re about now. Now we have more appropriate job qualifications to look at.

And that’s as it should be. If a candidate spends too much time telling me about God, maybe that means s/he doesn’t have enough else there.

4 comments:

Ray said...

back when we were superstitious fools who thought that sacrificing a chicken during a full moon would give us a more robust corn crop

Whilst I agree with most of your points, I must take issue with your blanket dismissal of the people of earlier times as "fools". I think "unenlightened" would be more accurate, just as, no doubt, we ourselves will appear unenlightened to future generations (some of us more than others!).

Government of the people, by the people, for the people is what we’re about now

This is a grand theory, although I fear that in recent times it has been thoroughly corrupted and is more accurately stated as "Government of the people, by the rich and powerful, for the corporations is what we’re about now".

Jim Fenton said...

When we defeated George III, established the United States, and banished kings from our shores, we changed that.

I'm just a little too young to have direct knowledge, but I remember being told that it was considered groundbreaking when a Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy, was elected President. Every previous President was Protestant.

These days, we're quite a bit more open about the consideration of religion in political arena, and I greatly prefer that to the "Psst...[s]he's a {insert religion here}, you know" climate.

The Ridger, FCD said...

"We know the many excellent gifts wherewith it hath pleased God to furnish many, inabling them for publike service to their Countries both in peace and war (as all ages and experience testifies) on whose soules hee hath not yet pleased to shine in the face of Jesus Christ."
-- Roger Williams

Barry Leiba said...

Ray: Yes, clearly I'm writing this from an idealistic point of view, hence the "grand theory". We're obviously not really there now. It at least is where we're supposed to be.

Jim makes a good point: is it better to be paying attention to religion under the table, or in the open, "in front of God and everybody," as they say? In some sense, it's definitely good to have it out in the open.

Unfortunately, that's not how it's worked out. The more open it is, the more emboldened people seem to be to let it take control. It's one thing to acknowledge that, yes, we really are using our religious leanings to pick our leaders. It's quite another to overtly make it a condition of employment, and even to expect them to call on their spiritual beliefs to run the country.

I think we're going to have the whispers, in any case. Having seen the alternative, I'd much rather go back to the whispers.