9

I was asked in a group interview for a service-sector job whether I would pick up trash on the company's lawn if I randomly walked past it on my lunch break of my own initiative. I indicated that I wouldn't, because that's the truth. Should I have lied and responded with yes?


When I was 17, I was applying for a popular job at a large amusement park in Norway. There was such a vast amount of applicants that the company chose to filter us out using group evaluation exercises. We were put into groups and asked to solve certain problems together, and the interviewers would observe us, deciding who to select for real interviews. Those of us who eventually got employed would be operating rides, serving food, helping customers, selling tickets, etc.

They also asked us yes or no questions in plural. We had to raise our hands to say yes or no. One of the questions that I remember very clearly was:

You have just finished the first half of your day, and are on your way to lunch. Walking through the park, you notice that there is some trash on the grass next to the road. If you pick it up and put it in a trash can, raise your hand. If you ignore it and continue to lunch, keep your hand down.

There were dozens of people there, and I think I might have been the only one who kept my hand down. The vast majority raised their hands.

The reason I didn't is because honestly, I wouldn't pick it up. And I don't believe most of those who raised their hands would, either. I felt that both the interviewers and much of the crowd knew that. I'm not against white lies, but this one just felt too blatant to me. Like I would be sucking up to the interviewers, and we would both know it. I guess I did it a little bit out of defiance. But I also felt there was a chance it was a test question to check the honesty of applicants. Or that, at least, the interviewers would appreciate the honesty. (Some of the jobs involve money and other things that are partly based on trust.)

As for why I wouldn't pick up the trash: I would do it if specifically or generally instructed to do so by my superiors. But I would not take the initiative to do it myself. it's not my job, somebody else are employed to do it. It's my lunch time. The trash may be unhygienic to touch, risk staining my uniform, etc. What if my job was related to food? (A lot of them are.) How would the guests like it if they saw a food worker handling old trash from the roadside?

Should I have lied here, and raised my hand?

I will reveal later whether I was selected for a private interview or not.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Kent A., paparazzo, keshlam, Michael Durrant, jmoreno May 22 '16 at 3:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 4
    If they wanted to know whether you knew the "right" answer, they could have asked "Should you pick it up?" or "Would an ideal employee pick it up?". – Patricia Shanahan May 21 '16 at 7:55
  • 3
    The interviewers might appreciate the honesty, but still prefer a chance of getting a possibly lying employee who might do the right thing over an honest employee who definitely won't do the right thing. Also, I think this is rather opinion based; whether or not you should lie depends on your own goals and motivations, I doubt there's an objective answer. – Erik May 21 '16 at 9:11
  • 3
    @Erik Maybe the problem is that I didn't even believe picking up the trash was the right thing to do? That's not my job, someone else is employed to do that. It's my lunch time. The trash may be unhygienic to touch, stain my uniform, etc. What if my job was related to food? (A lot of them are.) How would the guests like it if they saw a food worker handling trash? I might have alerted the people employed to keep the park clean. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica May 21 '16 at 9:23
  • 2
    This sounds like one of those questions bad HR departments ask to suss out a candidate's moral/ethical positions, but actually serve to strongly select for sociopaths and/or Machiavellian candidates. Probably not an employer you actually want to work for, unless you want to be surrounded by a mix of rule Nazis and lying backstabbers. – HopelessN00b May 21 '16 at 18:57
  • 2
    I agree I wouldn't honestly pick up the trash. It's gross and you shouldn't perform job duties at lunch (mandated by US federal law!) So I think the fact they even asked this question, expecting "yes", means there's no reason to take the interview seriously. Since it's a game now, go ahead and raise your hand to proclaim "yes, in an ideal world, we'd all pick up trash" since that's what they're really asking. – person27 May 21 '16 at 21:59
13

When I was your age, I would also never pick up random trash around a building even if I was at school or at work.

Now I do pick up random trash items pretty much anywhere if it means I'm not going out of my way too much for it and there is a trash can nearby. (And to answer Paparazzi's question, no, I won't pick up cigarette butts unless they're directly in front of my home, but generally at other locations I only pick up the more obvious trash items).

What has changed? I am not really sure. It's not guilt. I certainly don't feel more guilty than when I was a teenager. Part of it is a feeling of ownership and part of it is habit I think since I didn't start doing these kind of things until I had been working a few years.

That being said, back to your question, yes, I do think you should have lied.

Fake it until you make it. Or so, the saying goes (assuming you really did want the job instead of letting the recruitment staff make that decision for you).

Also customer service at an amusement park does mean that management might require you to lie at some point. At Disneyland in Los Angeles for instance, whenever a ride broke down, and there was no ETA on the repair time, a friend of mine who worked there was only ever allowed to tell customers that the ride would be back up in 15 minutes, which irritated my friend to no end. She didn't want to lie to customers, she felt the policy was counter-productive, but she had to suck it up and lie anyway always with a smile.

Which brings me back to your second question, did the recruiter know that many of the candidates would lie to him about that?

Yes, I'd say that he did. The thing is. It's better if he finds young people who are willing to pick up trash, even during their lunch time when no one is looking. But if he can't find enough of those young people with that kind of attitude, the second best thing is to find young people who are willing to fake it at the very least and seem compliant enough to want to fake it.

Now, is it a big deal that you didn't lie? No, it isn't. As a young person, failing your first couple of interviews is perfectly normal. It's part of the learning process.

Sometimes, being offered a job can also be a numbers game. So don't be discouraged and apply to many more employers.

  • 1
    That's cool ! I just saw your edit. Hopefully, you were able to find a job during those 10 years. It would suck if you didn't. – Stephan Branczyk May 21 '16 at 16:58
  • 1
    Hehe! Yes, I have had several jobs since then :) – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica May 21 '16 at 16:59
  • 2
    "Fake it until you make it." Or, you know, see such questions as a red flag. Only work there if you're running out of options. Decent employers ask better questions in a better way. – Mast May 21 '16 at 20:17
  • 6
    Advising lying is immoral. If I had the rep to do so this would get a downvote. – Joshua May 21 '16 at 21:20
  • 3
    @Joshua Well, more importantly, it's a bad idea. They want and expect employee to send their lunch hours providing free labor. Doesn't sound like a good group to work for to me. – HopelessN00b May 22 '16 at 0:11
22

No, you shouldn't have lied. From your attitude towards picking it up, it's clear that you wouldn't be a good fit for the job - sticking to a rigid definition of your "job role" isn't a good way to get ahead in any job, let alone an entry level service industry job. Better to find that out now than later.

  • 26
    And that attitude is going to be a real killer for your career prospects long term. No employer, in any industry, wants an employee who needs to be micromanaged like that before they'll do what is clearly the right thing. – Philip Kendall May 21 '16 at 9:51
  • 3
    So you would pick up trash on the side of the road on your lunch break? If you see a cigarette butt on the ground as you enter your building before work do you pick it up? – paparazzo May 21 '16 at 11:30
  • 9
    So it needs to be more than clearly the right thing - it needs to be important to the success of the company. You would not pick up trash at your place of business because is it not what you deem important to the success of the company. If it is important to the park then they should have a cleaning crew. I personally would not want to see the same guy that served my girl cotton candy picking up trash. – paparazzo May 21 '16 at 14:01
  • 5
    It's not at all uncommon in the service and hospitality industries for there to be a big focus on cleanliness, and I'd wager that the park's management considers it more important than you think, because they asked the question. You could also look to the extraordinary lengths Disney, a leader in the industry, takes to keep its parks clean. – Zach Lipton May 21 '16 at 19:02
  • 4
    I mean, it sounds like you were overthinking the question. I think the exact details and any food handling rules are the kinds of things you could have asked your manager about if you actually had the job. And there's sort of an assumption that we're talking about a piece of litter like a coffee cup and not a giant mess (you could call whoever is in charge of cleaning the park for that). At the interview stage, the point is more: "would you walk by and ignore an obvious problem because you didn't think it was your job to do anything about it?" and no employer wants to hear "yes" to that. – Zach Lipton May 21 '16 at 20:16
12

Perhaps you are not looking at this in the right way. You could interpret the question as "We expect our employees to take pride in their working environment and contribute by helping to keep the place tidy. Raise your hand if you understand, and are prepared to do that."

Now you can raise your hand if you are willing to do the job that's expected of you.

6

Sometimes you need to do what you believe is right, even if you suspect you might have to bear the consequences.

We all face times when we know that stark honesty might be somewhat costly. We need to weigh in our own minds if that cost is worth being dishonest or not.

You were honest. Hopefully, that honesty worked out for you. Perhaps not in that particular job (which you may not have wanted anyway), but perhaps in another job that met your requirements.

But I would not take the initiative to do it myself. it's not my job, somebody else are employed to do it. It's my lunch time.

My guess is that this was the whole point of the question.

Some employers want people who care about their job, the company, their surroundings, and who would do good things that aren't technically their job. Some companies want their employees to have initiative. Some companies don't really care as long as you do what you are told.

You felt that picking up trash was beneath you. And you also conveyed that you wouldn't take the initiative to do things (anything?) on your own, but would do what you were explicitly told to do. For some employers, that would be fine - for others, not so much. If you felt strongly about it, then perhaps this wouldn't be a good job for you anyway.

3

The job is in customer service. You are in a uniform. The place you will be working in is the amusement park. Managers expect all their employees to take pride in making sure their customers have a safe, enjoyable stay at the park. They know that once a level of uncleanliness creeps in some customers will not be comfortable.

The expected answer is that you will pick up the trash.

As to the answer they are looking for: no idea. They could be using this question with a series of other questions as another way to filter the potential employees. And filter may not be hire/No Hire; it could be uniform/no uniform.

The confusing thing is that if the group of applicants was large and the expected answer was for people to raise their hand, they would never know you didn't raise your hand.

  • We were divided into groups, and the evaluators would certainly be able to keep track of who raised their hands when. I'm assuming that was the point of the questions. This was the very first stage to filter people out. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica May 21 '16 at 12:38
  • The group evaluation as a whole was the first stage, I mean. I don't remember at what stage of the evaluation those questions came. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica May 21 '16 at 12:47
1

We don't know what the "right" answer is. It is possible that the "right" answer is to pick up the trash. It is also possible that the park has recently gotten in trouble for break violations and the "right" answer is to not pick up the trash.

For perspective here is the story of a man who got fired for picking up trash.

Smith said he was interrogated by a manager and security staff who told him that collecting garbage and recycling the discarded cans for money was the same as theft of Walmart property.

Don't steal WalMart's precious garbage.

In my opinion, you should use your lunch break for eating lunch and not for picking up garbage.

  • 3
    This is a great example of false equivalence. – Lumberjack May 21 '16 at 18:44
  • 1
    With that said, it was truly a shame that man was fired for redeeming the deposit on those bottles. Even more so when you consider that he was fired for "theft" of $5.10 but another person at the same store was NOT fired for stealing a $20 bill from the cash register. Insanity! – Lumberjack May 21 '16 at 18:47
  • 1
    @Lumberjack I think the actual equivalence here is that the HR departments/practices at both companies are completely abysmal. So... in that sense, emory's not exactly wrong, either. :) – HopelessN00b May 21 '16 at 19:42
  • 1
    @Lumberjack It is not obvious to me what Smith should have done. In retrospect, the safest course of action for Smith would have been to not "steal" WalMart's $5.10 worth of cans. If I could go back in time and counsel Smith, I would tell him to not pick up WalMart's trash. – emory May 21 '16 at 19:44
  • @HopelessN00b lol. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica May 21 '16 at 19:58
0

You need to realize that (like almost everything else in adult life) being employed is about "playing a game according to the rules." Not putting your hand up was a signal that either you don't understand that fact of life, or that you don't understand the rules of the game you want to sign up to.

Objectively, a piece of litter on the ground isn't very important in itself, provided it's not attracting the sort of critters (rats, flies, wasps, whatever) that customers won't want to encounter in an amusement park.

But the management case-study version of this scenario is "aircraft coffee stain syndrome". You book a flight with Cheapskate Airlines. When you get on the plane, you find the tray in front of your seat is covered by the remains of a spilled cup of coffee. Well, that's not a big deal considering how cheap your ticket was. But then you might start thinking "hey, if these people don't bother to check if the inside of the plane is clean, I wonder if they bother to check the important stuff that might kill me if it fails" - or if they check if anybody on the previous flight left a bomb in the overhead lockers".

Exactly the same applies to an amusement park. You don't want the customers to be worrying if this might happen to them...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12013930/Alton-Towers-The-Smiler-crash-caused-by-human-error.html

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.