Would You Lie About Owning a Car

to get a job?

Biking to a job interview today was a nine-mile ride to Woburn that took about an hour-about a half-hour less than it would have taken me to use public transporatation (not including wait time) Throughout my interview, I could see that the human resources woman’s lips remained pursed as I described my bike-safety advocacy efforts to her.

“that’s really great,” she said, “and while I don’t doubt your capabilities for the job, your biking concerns me..”

“Oh, really? How so?” I asked,

“..only because this job requires long hours, and I’m not so sure you’d want to be bike-commuting at night, or in the winter”

biking at night! I thought. It’s one of my favorite joys of biking. It’s when I get to look like a walking-traffic-cone; whipping out my blinding 1-watt PDW Radbot 1000, 900 Lumen Headlight, and slapping on my orange reflective construction-vest. Winters? Bring out the studded-tires, balaclavas, and ski-gloves! I’d be honored! But then she finished what she was saying:

“And I’m especially worried, because I grew up in Arizona, and the last experience I had riding a bicycle was in middle school. I was waving “hi” to a friend while riding around the block, and “BAM,” I got hit by a car. I’ve been afraid to ride a bicycle ever since.”

Oh no. I thought. She’s been scarred by biking for life, Also, that is why you always “Look both ways.”(I did not say this out loud)

What came next was my awkward attempt to sympathize with her bicycling misfortunes and try and convince her that just like cars, some accidents like her’s could have been avoided, even on a bicycle. But she wasn’t buying it. She squinted, and the interview ended shorty thereafter.

While it’s not the first time people I know have thought of me as “crazy” for commuting everywhere by bike, this is the first time I’ve run a problem in the job-hunt. While I understand how an employer would want to make sure employees have reliable forms of transportation, it’s surly unfortunate that for many people bicycles conjure up memories of a childhood “toy” or, in this case, a childhood nightmare, rather than a reliable form of transportation.

No, I’m not ready to compromise my moral integrity, but I do wonder how experiences like mine have affected the way other bike-commuters approach job interviews. Thoughts welcome.

On a more positive note, the weather today was outstanding, and I could not have chosen a better day to ride out to Woburn. I rode gloveless for the first time since October, and just a few weeks ago the blizzard we experienced

is melting into the muddy season:

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7 Responses to Would You Lie About Owning a Car

  1. Chris says:

    I sympathize with how you feel. I’ve had experiences of dealing with this too. I try not to mention the “bike thing” and if they ask if I have reliable transportation I say “yes.” Also employers tend to respect and be accommodating to “I’ll take public transportation” more so than “I’ll ride my bike.”

    At both of my office jobs that I worked, I was always “the bike guy” and people would regularly comment on it (good and bad). Both were out in the suburbs more. You’d probably get it less, or not at all, in the city. I don’t really like to stick out, so I found people focusing on my biking to be kind of annoying, but I’d rather bike than drive any day, and public transit is slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww and costs a lot too.

  2. matt says:

    how did this even come up in an interview? you didn’t show up in your cycling garb, did you?

  3. greg says:

    Thanks for the input, Chris. Yeah, people I’ve interviewed closer to the city were much more open to bike-commuting. This particular interviewer admitted it was her first year living in Boston from Arizona, so she probably wasn’t familiar with the strong bike-commuting culture here.

    Matt, I showed up in “business professional” (suit and tie). Since I’m still a recent college grad, when someone asks me to describe my background, I touch on my educational and work background, as well as my extra-curricular activities, all of which are on my resume. Since organizing BU Bikes was my most prominent extra-curricular, I started talking about it. When asked how I would commute every day, I told her I would bike and use public transportation when needed. She made it pretty clear that she obviously didn’t see biking as a reliable mode of transportation, that she was “unfamiliar” with the public transportation system here, and expected me to own a car.

  4. Teja says:

    The reality is if we identify with our passions, others will identify us with them too. If you continue to develop your passion for biking, others WILL refer to you as “the bike guy” at work (if of course you don’t work in a biking environment, if you do, you’ll be defined by something else that differentiates you from the people there, maybe your interest in economics, who knows). Sometimes that characterization helps your career, sometimes it doesn’t.

    I had an interview recently where the guy was a martial artist, and I had my various accomplishments in martial arts and fitness listed on my resume, so we hit it off well. The counterexample is your case. If you don’t want to be identified with that, don’t bring it up beyond a simple explanation about how it would allow you to clear your mind before you got into the office and relax afterwards.

  5. Teja says:

    Also, just add to that, the reason why you’d bring up biking in an interview, is not of course for biking’s sake. The activity that you’re describing is just a veneer, especially if you’re trying to move into another industry. You need to make it more about what you learned, what you developed–your ability to lead, organize people, multi-task, work in a team, develop projects, delegate responsibility–all that stuff that interviewers love.

    And if you did that, and she still let her childhood experience cloud her ability to see what you were doing, she’s dumb and probably part of a company not worth working for anyway.

  6. jthandle says:

    That’s a tough situation. One thing I’ve learned from gigging is to know your audience and to play what they want to hear, at least until they’ve warmed up to you.

  7. matt says:

    oh ok, so she asked. and you answered truthfully. good for you.

    probably a good thing you found out about the anti-bike bias during the interview rather than later. they could’ve made things a pain for you. still, sorry this one did not work out.

    if you do any programming and want to keep busy while looking for something permanent, let me know. I need to scrape a bunch of info off of Google Scholar

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