In their Wall Street Journal article, “Thanks for the Job Application — Shall We Begin at the Squat Rack?” Christina Rexrode and Sarah Ng examine the peculiar, and increasingly prevalent, practice of “gym interviews.” As they explain, fitness-crazed bosses are inviting potential hires to exercise with them as part of their interviews. These forays into the ‘field’ (so to speak) aren’t announced ahead of time and, as one would expect, catch the interviewees off guard. One hiree spent an hour walking around the bay area in high heels, another was invited to join his boss in the sauna, a tech company manager was asked to join a potential partner (an ex-marine) for an hour of box jumps and sled pulls in a gym frequented by bodybuilders.
The interviewed employers said that the non-traditional interviews were a way to test the metal of potential hires, one employer saying that he would “yank the shirts and step on the shoes” of applicants in basketball games to see if they could keep their cool. “Gym interviews” seem like a reflection of the growing corporate culture of exercise and the rationale behind the practice seems interesting and fruitful, but dubious in its ethicality.
Many studies, such as the one outlined in the Goodcall article “New study links exercise to college success, from better grades to graduation rates,” extol the positive correlation between exercise and an uptick in mental acuity. If regular exercise is beneficial in an educational setting, it surely has a similar positive effect on job performance. Therefore, these bosses may be trying to assess which potential employees do — and would likely continue to — exercise, as all signs point to the amount someone exercises as being a good indicator of ability.
Bosses, like the one who stomps on shoes in basketball games, are also likely trying to determine whether their prospects possess certain qualities — in his case, the alacrity to accept abuse — or, more commonly, the drive to impress their higher ups and, like the man who went to the sauna with his potential boss attested to, a comfortability with openness and the willingness to show a different, more personal side of themselves in an otherwise professional setting.
While employers are allowed to hire whomever they choose and these meetings help them identify personality traits they see as desirable in potential employees, there are regulations regarding what they can and cannot ask applicants to disclose on their résumés and these meetings seem to be a way to skirt a grey line around that disclosure. While exercising may make someone a more effective worker than than they’d be without it, it seems entirely unethical to force a person to exercise unless the job actually requires a high level of physical fitness. The employers interviewed in the article said that the invitations were only that — invitations — and that the applicants were free to turn them down if they so chose. A couple of employers also mentioned that they would offer meetings over lunch or coffee as non-aerobic alternatives; but when such invitations come with such obvious expectations and potential benefits, that’s no longer just an invitation. The employee knows he or she would be better off attending, putting those with health or injury concerns in a tight spot.
This being said, unless some very interesting legislature is introduced in the near future, it’s unlikely that the popularity of “gym interviews” will stop rising as long as exercise continues to become an integral part of the modern workspace. So, college students and young corporate-climbers take heed: you’ve yet another reason to exercise. Not only does it benefit your health, academic performance, and eventual job performance, but in some cases it’s starting to affect your ability to get a job in the first place.
Sam Portelance is an English Major and Philosophy Minor at Dickinson College.
He’s working as an intern at CareerPath this summer, doing content creation for the platform.