Monday, April 04, 2005

What does your father do?

I've been going through a series of job interviews and exams at an American multinational company in Cairo during the last period. Over a period of three days, I've been through four exams, and four interviews.

During the last interview, the interviewer asked me a question that I really disliked, "What does your father do? What does your mother do? What does your sister do?" Huh! Now, I have nothing but pride in what my parents and sister do, and in what they've achieved. But excuse me, what kind of a job interview question is that?! My answers to these questions apparently added points to my score, and I received an offer at the end of the interview. But what if the job applicant's father had a job that wasn't appealing to the interviewer, a job that is not of the higher social class of our society? How does that make the job applicant less or more suitable for the job?! Or do they just want to be surrounded with people whom are socially of a certain class to preserve their "culture".

So, they did make me an offer, and while the offer was actually just fine financially, and the kind of work was just awesome, actually it was the kind of work that I've been dreaming of doing in Egypt, I've actually rejected the offer! How dumb am I?! Other than being abit confused, and not sure yet if I'll end up leaving Egypt or not, I was just not comfortable with the whole environment and culture of the place, with the "what does your parents do?" question being only one indication for my fears. A profitable expanding multinational that is using (il)legal schemes to avoid paying taxes, and which seems very rigid with its employees does not sound like a place that I'll be enjoying myself at. They gave me an offer and told me its not negotiable. So two days later I called them up and told them that the offer was not suitable for me, and I reject it. When asked why, I told them I'm not comfortable with the whole legal setup they're hiring the employees onto this project through, and I find that this adds to the risks and is thus worth more pay. Yes, I was actually willing to put my fears to rest for a 25% increase in the offer.

It was also kind of a test to them I guess. If they accept, then 1) they're not as rigid as they seem (flexibility is something I look for in a workplace), 2) their management is bidirectional (instead of unidirectional, which flows downwards), 3) they're valueing me so they'll treat me well, and 4) they're paying me well, so who the hell cares about anything else. Regrettably, I was right. They're rigid, their management is unidirectional, and they don't value me! They never came back to me. Its regrettable, because it was a really good job, really awesome kind of work. Just the kind of work I'd like to be doing. How dumb am I, thinking I won't fall again for an ill-managed company, so I'll reject the offer, or accept it via a small management test. Well, good luck finding that right environment in Egypt.

What is it with Egyptian employers? Why is it a trend to mistreat their employees, and to have management so isolated from the workforce. What is it with Egyptian authority figures, even in the business environment (keep that in mind when/if I write about how Egyptians suck). How can a manager, even in such a large multinational be socially discriminitve in hiring (if he didn't like what my parents did, he would've either denied me the job or offered me a much lower salary). Why do Egyptian employers believe that their employees should be grateful to them that they have a job?!

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you read "The Yacoubian Building" by Alaa al-Aswany? One of the principal characters is asked the same question, kicking off a chain of events whereby he joins the Gamaa' al-Islamiyya, is jailed and tortured, and ultimately blows stuff up.

If for no other reason than your (righteous) anger at the question, read the book (if you haven't already).

Mohamed said...

Yes, I get the connection. I've actually written about it. As I say there, this is why everyone is reading this "novel", its strong resemblance to reality.

Anonymous said...

hehehe... This is really funny!!! What if they called you? Do not you think this will mean that they are not honest and straight forward from the beginning... an attitude that might tell you something about their indirect style?!

TIC said...

Mohamed, this is after all the culture of 'don't you know who my father is? (enta 3aref an ibn meen?)
But I don't understand, are you actually regretting what you did? Because you seem to be. I think you did the right thing though.

Don Cox said...

I think you did right.

Now you need to start your own business.

egyptiansally said...

As an Egyptian who grew up outside of Egypt and I've only just been living here for 7 months, I find the culture of "don't you know who my father is?" quite irritating. I teach at AUC and this attitude is ever-present there so I can only imagine what it's like in the work force.

I think you did the right thing by not compromising.

Al Sharief said...

Hurrayyy! for what you 've done MO!
Actually you have out smarted this whole setup... If you got an offer here you could get an offer almost anywhere you like... You could...
"You are NO ordinary Egyptian" (remember);), regardless of what your parents do or whom they are!!
You are as proud as they are...
Beside there is no perfect job!! and just watch out of too much pride...
Good Luck

Twosret said...

Mo,

I would totally refuse to answer a question like this. My reply would be why do you ask?. I have gone through interviews with major companies in Egypt and was shocked at the kind of questions I was asked. I have to agree with you that big companies in Egypt are not a great place to work for.

Your topic brings to mind something that really bothers me a lot about the US system. When you fill an application here they never put middle eastern as a race they only list (Asian, white, african-american, etc...). It really bugs me so much that our race is not in any choices, we are not counted for in any census here in the United States.

I have already wrote to ADC about this as we need to work on a bill to congress for our race to be counted for in this country.

T.

Mohamed said...

Well, part of me kind of regrets it, yes, TIC. I now have to spend more time at my current lousy job!

Twosret, good luck getting a job here if you're not gonna answer these questions. Another interviewer asked me if I was married or not (but he did it in a nice friendly way actually). But you know, he wanted to see if I was stable enough.

Its not only this company, its Egyptians really (as you point out TIC). Egyptian management is mostly like that. But as I said in the post, this question that was asked was not the only reason for me to reject the offer.

Each one of us has his prejudices and unfortunately in Egypt, we carry them with us to work. Some don't want to hire except from a certain social class (or don't want to pay enough except from a certain social class), some don't want to hire veiled girls, some don't want to hire Christians, and others try to only hire Christians. This just sucks big time I think.

That was a little off-topic. But basically this seemed to be a really good job, having more or less the same working environment problems as most other Egyptian workplaces. There are other factors for my decision, that's for sure. I'm just getting tired of bad management and mis-treatment of employees, and I'm not up to getting into another such experience (which this seems to be one).

So I guess this is one of the reasons why some of my friends call me crazy, eh. Actually, if I had taken this job, I would've been called crazy too (for other reasons however that I won't get into now).

But thanks guys for the support. And just don't think so highly of me, I am willing to compromise! Or atleast I hope I can.

MG said...

True Story... a friend of mine who was on a job interview, after filling an application and handed it to the Human resources manager, the guy started the interview with him by asking the same pathetic question "What does your father do?", which resulted in the same pissed off reaction with my friend... he replied as a joke but in a very serious tone "My dad is a drug dealer" aboya tager mokhadarat ya basha... the director smoothly smiled and told him "then you obviously don't this job pay" and he torn his application and kicked him out.

It's not about wastta or enta ibn meen. Actually, they take these sort of questions very seriously because they believe it will give them an idea about your backgrounds! As much as it's stupid, but companies dig into backgrounds much deeper now especially multi-nationals because they are looking for a certain category of employees.

Al Sharief said...

What MaGdee is saying is very true... HR managers as well as decision makers are trained that way and @ the end of the day they would evaluate How much money they could save and the liklyhood of what a candiate may accept if he qualifies... It is even very crucial info if you are a bit older and how many kids you may have it will all cost money in terms of insurance they offer or what have you... including the fact that they could tell how bad one NEED a job..and hence squeeze the candiate.

Mo... you must be able to comprmise and you must be able to say NO.. and at least counter offer once.. reads (leave the door open and stay flexable). After all it's all about negotiation...

Twosret said...

HR managers are trained by the head office in the United States or European companies. Such policy is unheard of. It is actually discrmination.

There are a lot of people with Jalabiya and can't read or write and have outstanding children with a lot of accomplishements. My mom worked in the Egyptian courts and 65% of the crimimals came from family with professional parents.

As I said before I refused to answer some questions in big companies like P&G and Lever and they offered me the job in Marketing and it is only because they thought I'm daring enough to be a good marketeer.

I turned down their offer because I could see clearly there was no loyality to such companies and no marketing manager survive in any Job for more than two years.

Most Multi-nationals in Egypt are terrible employers and they end up with terrible employees. They are experts in back stabbing and Ass kissing and hardly have good qualifications. I speak from experience I have worked for 3 of them :)

Mohamed said...

Yes Twosret, that's right. Such policies are unheard of, and for good reasons. The amazing thing is that those managers should be trained from outside, and yet they still maintain that Egyptian culture somehow. But because in multinationals, the business culture is somewhat imposed from outside, they are actually slightly better environments than local companies were there are absolutely no policies, and nothing to hold them back from all the prejudices, discrimination and mismanagement.

Twosret said...

Mohamed,

I would like to see more start up companies by young professionals in research, Marketing, advertising and finance to suck up their blood instead of them sucking up your blood. So many people did it (Tarek Nour, Azza El-Biar, Inas Abdel-Rahman, Randa Abdou, Hady El- Bagoury...) They managed to take a big slice of the pie despite the presence of Amer, KPMG and Leo Burnett.

Most fresh graduates don't need to worry about rent or food. They live with their families and don't need a BIG salary. I would rather work in a meduim size company and be appreciated rather than work for those big suckers and become a slave :)

I think people in Dubai should do the same and give the Brits the bootie :)

T.

Hellme said...

Mo-

Hate to tell you this mate, but most companies are shite to work for, big or small, locally or abroad. I work for one of the biggest telecom operators in Europe, and it is far worse than my previous employer in Egypt.

Mohamed said...

Hellme, glad to have you back.

Throughout my working experience, I've worked for 6 employers in Egypt, and 3 abroad (yes, its been messy), and there's a huge difference between employers here and there. One thing is for sure here (for me atleast), it sucks to be an employee "mowazzaf" in Egypt.

Hellme said...

Thanks - it's been...quiet being away. Can't say it's all bad :)

Being a mowazaf in Egypt sucks, primarily because a) there's so many of us, we're nearly dispensible (eventhough we might not necessarily be) b) and therefore we have no rights at all, and c) companies in Egypt think they're the real deal because they have a nifty name and English speaking management - they think they know it all and have no cultural sensitivity whatsoever.

To be honest, I can't tell the difference. They're all shite. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but all in all, I'd rather be self employed.

Al Sharief said...

Again it's all relative...
Off course the "What's your father do" Q is overboard and unheared off...
I would add that cotporate ethics when it comes to these issues are very GREY area and it is usually driven by Rules & Regs and whatever they can get away with!!!
Very few good companies that really abide by regs and they want to do so...
the more a candidate( or even an embloyee after hire) knows about his rights the better they are and hopfully will not be branded as trouble makers ...

It is not all rosey either for an Entrepreneurial adventure...you will most propably NOT ask a candidate that you want to work for you "What your father do" but imagine yourself what kind of questions you will ask to get the most socioeconomical,personal, and professional compatable hire. It's all about the "ballance" of doing the right thing!

Dr. Gamal Mokhtar said...

I also do suffer to have proper candidate to my agency ASPECT ADVERTISING. if they have experience the come with their problems too. If no experience the get it from you after damaging your nervous system & they simply leave. If you can help me & recommend an account executive asking for decent (not mach) salary and some one who can work in marketing. I will Appreciate that, please send recommendations to all@aspect.cc more info in www.aspect.cc
regards

Gamal Mokhtar

Mohamed said...

Dr. Gamal, why do you think they "simply leave"? I hope you're not blaming them. That's the easy way to do it. Also, if you are looking for a good account executive, you should be willing to pay, they won't settle for just a decent salary. You should expect spend in order to get a good return.

Brenda said...

I think you did absolutely the right thing. I've learned that if I don't like the people/organization in the interview, then I will not be happy working there. You followed not only your self-worth but also your gut--both the right ways to do things, as far as I am concerned. I don't do anything anymore, unless I really really want to. Follow your heart, as they say.

Margot Morgan said...

You'll find a good job! If they only look at what your parents do, then it's really not the right environment.

Love, Margot