Stealing bread for the family

We’re finally in a position at work now to take on some much needed additional help. We’ve got four (!!!) open positions in the department, and I’ve been tasked with doing the interviewing and making hiring decisions. That’s the only downside to the situation – we asked for 2 with a note that “4 would be nice,” HR approved 4. It’s win-win, but you can imagine how I’m not looking forward to the next two weeks.

So I’ve been preparing some interview materials for our first batch of applicants, all coming in on Monday. I thought back to my own experiences on the other side of the desk, and drew on some of that. Which reminded me of this question that I’ve seen on pretty much all of the pre-employment screening questionnaires:

Would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your family?

In retrospect, I can only recall encountering this question on retail job applications. My current job doesn’t do this kind of “advanced pre-screening questionnaire” (thank god.), but I’ve answered this question at least 4 times before. I’ve always answered “yes,” and I was called on it during two interviews.

The first, the interviewer said “I noticed on your pre-employment screening you said yes to this… that must have been a mistake right? Why’d you say yes?” I explained that it wasn’t a mistake, and that the situation would need to be pretty dire before any kind of bread-stealing would occur, with all other options exhausted. I got the job.

The second, the interviewer said “How can we trust you to work here, knowing that you would steal for your family?” I explained that, being an electronics retailer, they don’t sell bread, so it’s unlikely for the situation to ever come up. That, and I can’t imagine a situation where a family member would be in a life or death predicament if they didn’t get an iPod. I got that job, too.

Needless to say, I think it’s a poor question (and I would never consider using it during one of my interviews). Personally, I might be biased into looking for a positive answer – I’d probably harp on the ones who answered “No” as to how they could justify letting their family starve to death over something so cheap and trivial.

Anyway, what’s your take on this cliched question? I think “personality assessment” questionnaire-type activities are overwhelmingly useless and reveal very little about people. I’ve never been the interviewer for a company that’s used them, and I’m glad.

Come Monday, I’ll be face to face with the applicant and have their resume in hand. I think that’s all I’ll need.

It’s a question you probably won’t get many honest answers on.

I would answer “No” but only because stuffing a loaf of bread down your pants is too obvious.

Yes, it’s a stupid question. The dishonest applicants, who might steal, will answer “No.” The honest applicants, who would only steal in the direst situation, will answer “Yes.” Employing people based on their answer to that question will tend to get you more dishonest employees.

I have to agree with this. Personally, I wouldn’t hire someone who answered “no”. He’s either an irresponsible member of his family, or he’s lying to get the job. Either way, I wouldn’t want him.

The best companies I’ve worked for are the ones that realized that family *always *comes first.

It’s totally stupid. It’s also a sign of the corporate mind-control crap that seems to be insistent on taking over every damn nook and cranny of our society. Why cause interviewees more stress than they already have about getting a job, by posing them a question designed to mindf*ck them?

It’s a really, really stupid question, at least if it’s asked in a context where a simple “yes” or “no” answer is required. The question is going to be interpreted by many to mean that the family needs the bread to keep from starving and that there’s no other way of feeding them, but it does not explicitly say this. If your family already has plenty to eat, and plenty of money to buy more food, then only a kleptomaniac or a sociopath would steal bread to feed them. If stealing a loaf of bread, especially from someone who could easily afford to lose it, is the only way to keep them from starving to death, only the most hard-hearted or cowardly would not steal it.

Because so much depends on unstated context and interpretation, it’s a deeply, deeply flawed question.

Unless you are interviewing for a job at a bakery, it’s a bullshit question. When interviewing a candidate for any position, questions should be asked that will aid in one’s decision, not just to fuck with their mind a bit. I don’t see this as a corporate influenced shakedown but more as the interviewer getting off on tongue tying their candidates or exerting power that they normally lack in their “real” job.

If I was asked that question, I’d probably get up and leave. It would be obvious to me at that moment that the interviewer cared more about tripping me up than my qualification for the job.

Actually, based on that analysis it seems like it could be an effective question. Since more dishonest people will answer no, it can be used as a flag for dishonesty. No one single interview question should be used as a basis for employment anyway.

If I was conducting the interview, I would make hires based on peoples explanations of their answers, not their answers themselves.

Its a stupid, irrelevant and unfair question.

Its the sort of question that people will start second guessing,treble guessing and so on.

A dishonest person might say no or guess that you want them to say yes and so on.

But I dont think that it would determine the honesty or otherwise of any applicant.

You desperately want a job,you consider yourself to be an honest,upright moral person.
The interviewer shows you a picture of the most pig ugly kid you have ever seen in your life.
He is honestly very proud as he tells you that it is his child and then asks you if you dont think that it is really cute looking.

Do you, the honest person, turn round and tell him that its a repulsive freak?

Of course you dont.

The bread question was obviously thought up by an idiot trying to be clever.

You could ask him/her what hobbies etc.that they enjoy.
Team games are supposed to suggest good social interaction,solitary pursuits are supposed to suggest introversion etc.
But I dont buy that either.

I suggest you just use your own common sense and your own personal experience of people to get a “feel” of the candidate (NO not that way)and leave pseudo psychological questions to fortune tellers.

When I was interviewing for law enforcement one of the questions was whether you’d turn in/arrest your own mother for such-and-such.

People who said “yes!” weren’t being honest, or they were a little too gung-ho about being a cop, in a creepy way.

I love to retell this real story about stealing a loaf of bread.

In WWII both my father and his oldest brother had ended up bunking in the same cocentration camp.

It was my fathers job to go to the kitchen, pick up a specific number of loaves of bread and distribute them among the prisoners in his hut.

When he completed his rounds he returned to his brother with 3 loaves and given that his brother was in worse shape than he was he pluncked two loaves before him and sat down with his own.

Uncle: That’s stealing, I can’t accept this.

Dad: Okay, give me back the second loaf

Uncle complies.

Dad switches the loaves and " I’ll give you my loaf and I’ll eat the stolen one."

Uncle: Okay.

The yes/no answer isn’t very important. It’s how they answer the follow-ups that’s important. Interviewing is often about pushing people outside their comfort zone and getting them to answer more deeply. This type of question can be a good starting point for that.

I would answer ‘no’, because the question is too open-ended - it doesn’t specify that my family is starving and that I have exhausted every other method to try to feed them.

I agree that this is a bullshit question intended to mess with people’s minds. Given the choice, I would not work for someone who plays stupid smug mind games at interview.

It’s a bullshit question.

FWIW, the “correct” interview answer is “I believe stealing is wrong. That is why I have educated, trained and otherwise prepared myself so that I could earn a legitimate living (such as working for your fine company) and not be forced to steal in order to provide for my family.”

And by the way, it’s not ok to steal a loaf of bread to feed your family. If everyone did that, the baker would go out of business and then he’d be the one forced to steal food.

“Kobyashi Maru” questions are fine, but you have to take them in context with the rest of the person. I’ve asked the relatively straightforward question “what would you do if a client asked you to do something illegal or unethical where failing to do so might cost the firm the project.” I’m not looking for a “right” answer, so much as I am looking to see that it should be a conflict - do what’s right or do what’s best for the company.

I only disqualified one candidate for his answer. He basically said “hey man…gotta do whatever it takes to get paid, right? wink” I’m like “dude, there usually isn’t a wrong answer to that question…but that was the wrong answer. You do realize we investigate corporate fraud here?”

Not sure its so cut and dried as that. Maybe the baker is rich and his family is not going to starve anytime soon, yours are starving to death right now. In which case choosing your families immediate survival over the bakers economic well being is correct.
Besides which is the question is “WOULD YOU” not “IS IT OK?”. Irregardless of the rights and wrongs, its think its safe to say everyone WOULD steal bread to save their starving family. Though eveyone also expects that that employer wants them to tick “NO”. So its just a dumb catch-22 question.

I would never hire someone who would allow their family to starve to death.

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

I’d say bread stealing is a symptom of something wrong with the organization, that needs to be addressed, so that bread stealing isn’t necessary.

I think that’s how Anatole France meant it, when he said it.

Would it make a difference if you steal a black forest cake to feed your family?

I got this question once. When I said that I would, if they were starving to death and I had no options. The interviewer told me that indicated to him that I would likely steal other things from him in order to get money to feed my family. I replied that, honestly, people don’t starve to death in the US. If we were actually starving, we’d be in the midst of a disaster on such a scale that I didn’t think anyone would be out there shopping at his fine retail establishment. Got the job.

What if they don’t like bread? Suppose they like… cigarettes…?