Is swearing by the interviewer ever appropriate?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

We have a young, inexperienced sales manager who has taken to using swear words when conducting interviews.  He says he does so in order to evaluate how the candidate would handle his swearing in the office.  Just last week he interviewed two middle-aged women, both well qualified for the position – and now one of them will not even return my phone calls. Is swearing by the interviewer every appropriate?

Please help! Finding candidates in our niche market is hard enough without them feeling intimated and wondering about the company’s culture.

Short answer: No. Absolutely not. Especially when you’re talking about swearing that is so severe that the candidates won’t even return calls.

Long answer: This guy stinks as a manager as well. Where’s his boss? If it’s you, it’s time for a sit down discussion about not only how he interviews, but how he manages his people. If his excuse for swearing in an interview is that he wants the people to be aware of how he’ll be as a manager, this is a sign that he is a bad manager. A very bad manager.

I know that many people think swearing is just nice and normal behavior. Fine. Got it. But, we’re not talking about him saying, “We work $&*! hard here and sometimes the customers can be $&*#!” If he said stuff like that, it’s doubtful candidates would be offended to the point of not returning calls. (Although, to be honest, while I would return a call after such and interview, I’d do so only to withdraw my name as a candidate. I would not wish to work for such a boss, although most people wouldn’t be bothered.) What I suspect he does is take it to extremes, and that is inappropriate. Very inappropriate.

And if he does it with his candidates, he’s doing it with his employees. And this means he’s not showing leadership skills. No, in fact, he’s using bullying techniques in order to get results. He thinks he’s being hip and cool, but he’s not. He’s just being young and dumb. And it’s his manager’s job to inform him of this.

So, if you’re his boss, sit down and tell him it’s over and done. He needs to clean up  his language or you’ll kick him out the door.

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34 thoughts on “Is swearing by the interviewer ever appropriate?

  1. How bad is the culture in that office that an interviewer feels the needs to evaluate job candidates on how they handle swearing?

    Even though most swearing does not bother me; I would do as you, Evil, return the call to say that I am not interested as this indicates a lot about, not just this one manager, the whole company. Thanks, but, no thanks for the job offer.

    And, I’m speaking from experience. Several years ago I worked for a small company where we joked that the owner had one, and only one adjective, the “F” word. Again, swearing doesn’t really bother me; but, it was just a symptom of his personality – the guy was a total jerk.

  2. Thank you for your directness in this article. I know our culture has changed, but that does not change professionalism. Professionalism is a skill and as such, should be a desired skill for all management. Foul language is not professional. In fact, those who use it regularly, simply show others that they lack that skill and most likely a few more. Although it happens, foul language is NEVER appropriate in the workplace.

  3. It’s disappointing to hear professionals swearing in the workplace and even more so when it occurs during the interview process. Any manager who swears during an interview to screen for profanity tolerance should be sent to a hostile workplace seminar. Hello, it’s zero tolerance… always!

    1. Hostile workplace is directly dealing with sexual harassment, and not all swearing has a sexual component to it. That said, he needs SOME sort of training because he’s being an idiot.

      1. Yes, but given how much swearing is highly sexual, the odds of this behavior crossing that line are high, even if the guy weren’t a jerk.

        The fact is that he clearly swears more than the norm for his industry, otherwise he wouldn’t need to screen for it. And, it’s something that offends people. Yet, instead of thinking about modifying his behavior, he’s just screening out potentially great candidates so he can continue acting like this. In other words, he’s either unable or unwilling to moderate his behavior to meet social norms.

        By the way, another reason to get this under control is that he’s likely to say something to or around a customer that could really sour things for you. Remember, even though he may not be a sales man, he is a sales manager, which makes this a customer facing position. He needs to knock it off, and NOW.

  4. I realize you’re quoting the writer in the title of this post, but is it necessary or appropriate to quote, verbatim, the typos and grammatical errors as well?

  5. The lack of professionalism at a time when most folks are on their best behavior would be considered egregious to many. Worse – it could actually case disperate impact in hiring. Older workers in general, older female workers in particular are going to be upset by this more than the younger generation.

      1. He’d screen out this young male, too.

        In fact, this could cause a disparate impact not just with regards to sex and age, but religion and national origin as well.

  6. Something like this happened to me in an interview a few months ago. The hiring manager was very rude while asking questions which really left me bewildered. The HR representative looked very uncomfortable during the whole thing. I have a friend who is related to the owner of the company and she told me this hiring manager does this on purpose to see if the applicant can handle rude customers. When they called for a second interview I turned them down.

    1. My bet is that they get more than their fair share of rude customers because this hiring technique attracts rude people. And rude begets rude.

  7. Being an arrogant jerk interviewer is the new normal. Don’t you guys call it the “stress interview”?

    It’s a shame that there’s a shortage of talented people willing to be demeaned by employers.

    1. It’s a shame that there’s a shortage of talented people willing to be demeaned by employers

      Yes, that pretty well sums it up, doesn’t it?

  8. I swear, quite a lot sometimes, and I still think this guy’s interviewing techniques are stupid. I don’t think I’d withdraw from the process, unless the swearing was truly excessive*, but I’d watch out for red flags.

    In an interview, I wouldn’t consider an f-word or two excessive, but a string of f- and similar-words would be worrying.

  9. I know someone who has navigated this in interviews by just explaining that due to the nature of the business, the office can sometimes be under pressure and that the people who work there occasionally do swear.

    That way, people who really can’t tolerate it can remove themselves from the interview process, and nobody has to channel their inner Tarantino in a job interview, for Pete’s sake.

  10. The use of foul language demonstrates a lack of professionalism, as well as a deplorable lack of vocabulary, rendering him incapable of expressing himself without resorting to foul language. There is no excuse for abusive language in the workplace.

    My staff and I, when dealing with verbally abusive customers (internal or external), advise them that, when they are ready to discuss their concerns in a civilized manner, we will be more than happy to try and resolve any problems, but if the abusive language continues, we will hang up/walk away from the conversation. It’s amazing how quickly these individuals modify their language.

    I would also turn down the job offer. I offer respect and consideration to my coworkers and customers and expect it in return.

    1. Me too! Heck, I used to lay people off. Talk about anger. I just didn’t tolerate the bad language, and people generally calm down and communicate nicely.

  11. If one must use foul language, which in spite of my fluency I believe is inappropriate and a sure sign of weakness of character, then at least take the time to learn how to do it artfully. “The Anatomy of Swearing” by Ashley Montagu is the very best primer I’ve found. The typical Anglo-Saxon blue utterances pale in comparison to what vitriol the skilled speaker can spew. Our good friend William Shakespeare wrote many colorful examples which one can update with more modern words.

      1. The Anatomy of Swearing was first published in 1967 and has been continuously available since then. Seems that there’s a .pdf download available, but in paperback can be purchased online. It is amusing reading, and historically accurate.

  12. A lot of people are functionally illiterate and have connived their way into their positions. They have no other way to express themselves other than to use abominable language. This type of boss will never assist your career.

    As a college student, I worked in a law firm where one of the partners cursed up a storm. Her justification/apology was that she was “manic – ha, ha.” She brought nothing positive neither to her partners, clients, husband or children. Misery lay at every side. What rolls off the tongue comes from the heart.

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