MTMMary Richards’ job interview with Lou Grant is, perhaps one of the most famous job interviews ever. So says Time magazine.

Before I go on, though, there are probably more than a few of you who don’t know what I’m talking about.

But with the passing of Mary Tyler Moore earlier today here in Connecticut, I was reminded of an early exchange from her television show that was included in an employee training seminar I did for employers many years ago.  It was used as an example (with humor) of what NOT to do in a job interview as a supervisor and there were many in the audience who remembered that television show.

I haven’t been able to find the actual video online – but YouTube does have a remake of the job interview featuring cartoons.  And you can get a sense of the dialogue elsewhere.

First, you have the supervisor (Lou) asking Mary what her age was. (Sigh.) To compound matters, he then asks what her religion is. (Double sigh.)

But this is where the show was groundbreaking — Mary doesn’t just respond.  She’s a “modern woman” (as The New York Times called her) and tells him: “I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but you’re not allowed to ask that question when someone is applying for a job. It’s against the law.”  He pushes back — “You gonna call the cops?” To which, Mary demurs.

And the interview continues with personal questions including whether she was married (she was not).  Then Mary stands up and calls him out for asking so many questions that have nothing to do with the job.

Lou responds in a classic line: “You’ve Got Spunk.”  Of course, he then says he hates “spunk” but this was the early 1970s and she was still hired.

It was groundbreaking television.  As NPR reported from an interview Ed Asner (who played Lou), that moment was critical: “It was the most powerful moment in theater I’ve had, because she played it so beautifully,” Asner told NPR in 2001. “The audience was going ‘oh-goo-goo’ at that moment.”

A few years ago, Time Magazine — in calling this show’s pilot one of the 10 best of all time — noted that it really formed the foundation of the workplace-as-family sitcom that so many other shows tried to copy.

As a child of the 70s and 80s, Mary Tyler Moore stood out to me because, well, she kinda seemed like my mom who was already in the workplace. Growing up, I didn’t see it as that unusual.

But now with the hindsight of history, all employment lawyers can point to Mary Tyler Moore as giving workplace issues their rightful place. And for a generation of women, Mary Tyler Moore represented more than just a television show.  She represented them.

Proper hiring procedures are still a topic we’re talking about today and I’ll be presenting on the topic next month.  Maybe it’s time I bring back the Mary Tyler Moore reference.  Watch for details soon.

Rest in Peace, Mary Tyler Moore.

(Due to an editing error (and spell check) an early version of this post referred to her character as Mary Roberts; it is obviously Mary Richards.) 

So this week, I’ll be speaking at our firm’s semi-annual Labor & Employment Law seminar.  Amazingly, we have reached capacity for this event and are now taking names for a waiting list! Many thanks to all who have signed up.  It should be a lot of fun.

Frequent blog contributor (and, well, a colleague) Chris Engler and I will be talking about the nuts and bolts of the hiring process.  Hiring is, after all, the engine that runs companies.  And making good hiring decisions can yield a ton of benefits in the long run.  Moreover, hiring good employees can help avoid lawsuits from arising too.

So what are we going to talk about? Well, we’re going to look at some of the new laws on hiring.  “Ban the Box” is the latest law to arise — limiting the ability of employers to ask about criminal histories on job applications.  Limits on the use of credit reports is another relatively recent law in the last few years.

After I put together the presentation, though, I came across a really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about how some companies are using quirky interviews in their hiring process.    In doing so, the companies are striving for “culture fit”.

At Zappos, an online retailer famed for its offbeat office culture and corporate values, veteran employees size up candidates’ ability to blend in—and have veto power over those who miss the mark. The culture experts ask candidates questions that seemingly have little to do with the job, such as “If you were to write your biography, what would the title be?”

Rick Jordan, who leads talent acquisition for the nearly 1,500-person company, says longtime employees sometimes have a “gut feeling” about who is likely to succeed. About 1 in 8 don’t make the cut, he notes. “People who are true fits to the culture and believe what we believe—they’ll do anything for the business.”

But as the article notes, “culture-fit interviews raise concerns among employment experts, who warn that such screenings may be rife with potential for bias. Though these screenings haven’t been at the center of a major employment lawsuit, legal experts are concerned that they could put companies at risk.”

Indeed, there’s already a backlash against such interviews. Facebook, the article notes, “discourages its managers from using culture fit as a criteria in hiring, and calls the term ‘a bias trap,’ according to a spokeswoman.”

Where to from here? Well, employers should continually look at their hiring processes to ensure that the message of fair, non-discriminatory hiring is getting across to those who are making the decisions.

We’ll discuss this and more at the upcoming seminar. If you’re coming, please feel free to introduce yourself to me (during a break!).  See you then.

(P.S. Many thanks to Jon Hyman who alerted me to the hilarious video of President Obama’s “job interview” with Stephen Colbert. Worth a watch.)