Nominee for "2020 Contributor of the Year - Women in Tech." I write about modern culture.
“I’m so glad we’re getting along,” said the founder while he dry erased the board in the large WeWork conference room for the group waiting outside. “Do you want to have lunch now?”
“Sure, sounds good!” I replied.
I had done my research on this guy to think that if I worked for him and this new startup idea was successful it could really help my career. He was, after all, a successful serial entrepreneur. I knew this was just another part of the interview process and was all about cultural fit.
We walked to a non-descript ramen place that he liked and sat side-by-side at the bar since we would have had to wait for a table. Over our bowls of mediocre ramen, I listened to stories about his wife and how he had so many ideas for startups that he needed someone like me to help him.
After we finished and he paid, he turned to me and asked, “Would you like to go for a walk? I do better thinking and walking anyway.”
“Sure, sounds good!” I kept up my interview act, thinking this was now part two of the cultural fit process.
Zigzagging through Chinatown, he continued to do most of the talking. I heard more personal stories about how he met his wife on a dating app, his family and what property he owned.
Then we arrived at the Embarcadero. I sat on a bench looking out towards the pier and water while he stood facing me with his elbows resting on the rail.
“How old are you?” he asked, then continued quickly, “Well, you know, some men trade up but I don’t really get that at all.”
“I think that’s an illegal thing to ask,” I replied, thinking he should have known this if he gotten to be so successful.
“Well, do you smoke? For my team, we’ll go on these weekend retreats and if you join, we can all hang out and smoke.”
The day interview was now over when I made up some excuse of having to go somewhere. I ended up signing a contract with the entrepreneur and doing a remote project for which he has never paid me.
It was at least fifteen minutes past the start time I was supposed to be at an interview somewhere on the Peninsula. I quickly got out of my car and walked through the large parking lot to the glass doors of the building lobby.
As I entered the building lobby, there was a woman standing waiting for me.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” I smiled, trying to make a good first impression.
The woman shook my hand and reassured me that she was happy to meet me. We entered a very bright, fluorescently-light room that only had one table and two chairs. As we sat down, she began to explain to me that this was a “transition office space” and that most of their time was spent out “in the field” at schools who were their current clients.
After a bunch of questions about my background, she started to describe the schools. The schools had very diverse student populations and intercultural communication skills would be of value.
“Our team has experience working with people from all over the world — Latin America, the Middle East, Asia — everywhere! The families are great at all our schools. We want to build stronger relationships and hire the right people to match the culture,” she explained.
“I love to travel and I love kids,” I replied.
“And, so, what country do your parents come from? I can tell you about which school that could relate to your ethnic background so you can see who’d you be working with.”
“Sorry, what? I’m from Ohio,” I replied, feeling a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“Where in Latin America did your parents come from? Did you speak Spanish at home?” she continued.
“I’m from Ohio,” I said again, uneasy for the second time.
“OK, well, we’ll be in touch,” she said unfazed and walked me to the door.
The next day I wrote her an email with links to references to why asking about a candidate’s ethnicity was illegal and that I was not interested in pursuing the opportunity with her company.
The line was out the door for this group interview in The Mission. It was my first group interview for a startup and wasn’t sure what to expect.
I finally got to the check-in table where I got my name tag and moved along in the process.
“Stand there,” a man said, as he pointed to a space out in front of him.
“I don’t want my picture taken,” I said upset, imaging that my picture could end up on some intranet HR page for perpetuity.
“Everyone has to. It’s so we remember who you are,” said the man snootily, and quickly took a picture.
The next person was already at my side, ready to have their picture taken when I turned right to follow the person in front of me down a hallway and into a kitchen. Every table in the kitchen had an XL pizza box on it.
Looking around to see if any employees were there in the kitchen, I saw a small group of employees in the corner of the kitchen talking together and sizing up the rest of us.
After a few minutes, the employees disbanded to divide us into groups. I was in a group that migrated to take a skill assessment test of the company’s product on some employee’s desk. While I was completing the assessment, a Nerf arrow hit me in the head. I looked up to notice a woman employee a few desks away with a Nerf gun in her hand. I looked back to my assessment as if nothing had happened. I knew this had to do with the startup’s culture but I didn’t want to engage. (For more on this read my post: Culture Eats Diversity For Breakfast.)
The group interview quickly ended after the skill assessment was over. And I ended up not being offered a job at the startup.