Posted by Writers in Residence
Employing Your Personality
In today’s atmosphere, applying for a job entails providing a large amount of personal information to prospective employers. Health records, medical documents, and psychiatric records, are – in the vast majority of cases – protected information beyond the reach of anyone without direct written authorization. This helps to prevent specific discrimination as exemplified by the 1990’s film Philadelphia. 
At any rate, savvy employers may not necessarily require a direct peek into health information as a few carefully worded questions can give any HR Department insight into what type of people are applying for jobs. This way businesses can weed out those applicants – who despite meeting qualifications – are simply not the kind of worker the business desires. Let me exemplify how questions could be posed to applicants in the near future by recalling a few ethics scenarios that I encountered in my college days.
The first scenario presented to you, goes like this:
“Imagine you’re a train conductor on a runaway train. The brakes have failed, the horn does not respond and you have come to a fork in the tracks. On the right side of the tracks – the side you and the train are – there are five Girl Scouts crossing the tracks headed to an adjacent neighborhood to sell cookies. On the left side of the tracks there is a hobo who has fallen asleep on the tracks. You have only enough time to either A) pull a lever to switch the course of the track, saving the five little girls, but killing the hobo, or B) do nothing, whereby the five Girl Scouts are killed, but saving the hobo’s life. Which action do you take?”
That was a rather common ethics question; one I have proposed to my own students over the years. I have heard everything from, “I’m not answering that”, to “I need more information”, and even, “I’m just jumping off the train”. While their responses are simply attempts to avoid responsibility, for class, this was OK, but mostly, for others, the question is a great point of deep contention and leads to discussion that allows students to get to know one another early on in the course.
Let me give another scenario.
“Imagine you’re a mute walking along the sidewalk at a roadside festival. You are part of a small crowd of people where only you notice an oncoming vehicle that is about to ram into three women at a high rate of speed and kill them. The women are beyond your reach, but there is an elderly man between you and the girls such that if you were to instantly act, you know with certainty that A) pushing the man into the girls would create a domino-effect which will save the lives of three ladies, but would kill the man by placing him in the path of the vehicle, or B) do nothing whereby the three women are killed. Which choice would you make? ”
If you compare the two scenarios, there is a basic distinction that produces answers that could be of keen interest to prospective employers. While the vast majority of businesses will never request access to protected health information, answers to scenarios like these are not protected, and may reveal more about “the real you” than a physical exam. In fact, one retailer, KMart has used actual personality assessments. These are used to determine likelihood of deception in answering, or perhaps an inclination to steal, or embezzle money. The practical usefulness of assessments are unknown, but answers are compiled to hopefully reveal more about you than what you present in your history.
Part of the point is that you have to pay close attention to the changes in the law as relates to applicant-prospective employer relationships, but more importantly, that you occasionally remind yourself of the kind of person you truly are. Reread the two scenarios I presented above. If you have any trouble answering, then perhaps you could benefit yourself and everyone else around by taking some time alone to hopefully figure out why that is before applying for that job.
1) HIPA ( The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Public Law 104-191)
• Images: public domain customizations