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Movers and Salt Shakers

Claim:  Job applicant who salts his food before tasting it is rejected by business tycoon.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, 2000]

This was told to me when I interviewed with a fairly large company, in 1996:

The interviewer remarked to me that I was lucky I was interviewing with them and not IBM. He told me that IBM had some really odd interview tests for its candidates. For instance, one of the tests was that the candidate was observed very carefully when taken to lunch. If the candidate either salted or peppered their meal before first taking a taste of it, it didn't matter how well the candidate did in the rest of the interview. They would not get the job.
 

[Collected via e-mail, 2001]

When Thomas Edison went to hire people, he would take them out to dinner. If they salted their food before they tasted it, he wouldn't hire them.

[Collected via e-mail, 2003]

I heard that when Henry Ford was hiring a new executive, he would take him out to lunch. When the food came along, Ford would watch his prospective closely. If he salted his food before tasting it, Ford wouldn't hire him.

 

Origins:   In Salt the annals of business lore, the legend of the hapless job applicant who forfeits his chance for the position he seeks through what he reveals of his personality by salting his food prior to tasting it is particularly cherished. Our earliest print sighting comes from 1977, but this story is likely far older than that, having been mentioned in numerous newspaper articles about dining habits or secrets of job hunting.

Through the years a number of corporate and military luminaries have been named as the one who read the job seeker's character through that one unthinking action; sometimes the story is even attributed not to a specific person but to a large business entity. We've located versions of this legend which have starred each of the following as the one saying "Thanks, but no, thanks":
  • IBM, monolithic computer company.
  • The Ford Motor Company, another monolithic company.
  • Thomas Edison, renowned inventor.
  • Henry Ford, legendary car maker.
  • J.C. Penney, founder of the department store chain that bears his name.
  • Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear Navy.
  • General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander of the Southwest Pacific theater during World War II.
  • Howard Hughes, business whiz kid millionaire who later became a recluse.
On rare occasions, we've run into versions of the legend in which the job seeker rejects the company interviewing him on the basis of his interviewer's food-salting behavior:
[Fowler, 1977]

There was the case of the Chicago executive who turned down a major publishing company post because the president salted his steak lightly before trying it. "The steak may not have needed seasoning. How could I work for someone who makes such arbitrary and hasty decisions?" the candidate asked.
Most who encounter this legend read it as a cautionary tale warning against the folly of not keeping an open mind. The one who unthinkingly salts his food, it says, is of a mindset that precludes him from analyzing data before making a decision.

We, however, offer an additional explanation as to why the mythical tycoon would turn up his nose at any job candidate who displayed such behavior: To salt one's food without first tasting it is just plain rude — it displays a lack of confidence in the skill of the chef and is an insult to him and to the dinner's host.

Barbara "the season of our discontent" Mikkelson

Last updated:   21 April 2011

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Sources:

    Bonnin, Julie.   "Dining Etiquette Digested."
    South Bend Tribune.   23 May 1994   (p. D4).

    Fowler, Elizabeth.   "Of Fish and Beef, Cabbages and Kings."
    The New York Times.   2 December 1977   (p. D1).

    Holmes, Stanley.   "Good Manners Are In; In-Your-Face Is Out."
    [Jacksonville] Florida Times-Union.   8 December 1997   (Business; p. 15).

    McCormack, Mark.   What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School.
    New York: Bantam Books, 1984.   ISBN 0-553-05061-3   (p. 231).

    Seltz, Johanna.   "Polite Company."
    The Boston Globe.   12 March 2000   (p. D5).