the weirdest interview question ever?

This amazing story comes from one of the commenters on my U.S. News & World report post earlier this week about how to handle inappropriate interview questions.

Linda R. wrote:

When I was just out of college (ahem…the early 80’s, a less enlightened age), a friend went on an interview for an administrative position. She felt the interview was going very well. Then, the interviewer asked, “Can I look in your purse?”

In response to her shocked expression, he explained that he finds that to be the best indicator of how organized a woman is. She lost her composure for a minute, she was taken so by surprise, but wound up handing it over. He fingered through it, muttered something, thanked her and handed it back. She didn’t wind up getting the job — not due to a messy purse she was sure, since she had just cleaned it out. Nothing I’ve ever heard since then has struck me as a weirder question than that one.

Several reactions:

1. This would really annoy me. To the point that I might not take a job working for him.

2. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy for their purse contents.

3. Most importantly, I wonder what he asks men.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. GeekChic

    Or how he deals with women who don't carry purses (like me)? Or would that not be traditional enough for him? :P

  2. Nick Corcodilos

    Oh, this is a fetish pure and simple. What a whacko. Sorry, I've been in this business a long, long time — and this is a new one. My bet: the guy just likes going thru women's purses!

  3. JaneA

    I know what I'd be tempted to say, but it would (a) not be printable and (b) would make sure I didn't get the job.

    As that guy sounds a bit creepy to me, I rather not work there anyway.

  4. Anonymous

    There's no need to look in someone's purse when all a skillful interviewer needs to do is to look at the candidate's shoes.

  5. Anonymous

    Perhaps the interviewer was testing the candidate's reaction to the question rather than wanting to see the content of the bag. Would you give a job to someone that cannot stand up for themselves when asked personal and irrelevant questions?

  6. Cary

    My take is he was looking for incriminating evidence. Pills and the like. I like to think I would have said no (in a professional manner of course) to this question. In would also be tempted to report this to the HR department at the company as this is whacko behavior.

  7. Schoonte

    Creepy. As a HR Director, if I heard that one of my managers was doing that, I would never let him conduct an interview alone again. Seriously creepy! And, there is a good chance that he could see something in a purse that would lead to a discrimination claim when the woman isn't hired. Yea, it's just really creepy.

    I often leave my purse in my car when I go to an interview. I wonder if he would have walked out to the car with me to check it out. I'm just creeped out thinking about this guy as a manager.

  8. Anonymous

    What does he ask men? Sounds like he would a) hire just about any dude just for not being a woman, or b) absolutely not hire a man because he doesn't have a purse (among other things).

  9. Anonymous

    I agree with Nick – it's a fetish. There's a whole porn community based on purses and their contents. He's also got a little power-dynamic thing going on; he figures women in a subordinate position (interviewees) won't be able to say no.

  10. Lani

    I've heard of guys doing that while on a first date with a woman (waiting until they're in the ladies' room, not asking), but this is all kinds of weird.

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  12. LJL

    I see that in the same category as “can I look at your underwear?” Seriously. I was raised that a woman’s purse is sacrosanct. to this day, I will not look in my mother’s purse. It is private property. (and I am a woman.)

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