Can you ask me that?
by Douglas E. Welch
July 23, 1999
© 1999, Douglas E. Welch
Ask people about the most stressful situation they have ever been
in and job interviews will be near the top of the list. There
is so much riding on a few minutes in someone?s office. You are
trying to put your best foot forward an, in some cases, you might
even be a little desperate. Maybe you need to make that next rent
payment. These realities can leave you open to subtle abuses of
the interview process.
Regardless of your desire to win a job there are a few situations
that you should never accept. While interview abuses may not reach
the level of harassment or litigation if an interviewer steps
outside of appropriate boundaries it can be a sign that the company
may have issues or problems much deeper than the interview process
Before you go on your next interview, here are a few guidelines
about what an interviewer shouldn?t be asking you.
While laws vary from state to state, here are some areas that
interviewers have no business asking about:
- Child care, pregnancy or birth control
- Example: Are you planning on having children?
- Race, color, national origin or ancestry
- Example: So is Fernandez a Mexican name?
- Religion or Religious holidays
- Example: Will you be available to work during the High Holy Days?
- Health conditions, Medical history, disabilities or handicaps
- Example: Are you sure you can get around the office in your wheelchair?
Malicious or mindless?
To paraphrase an unknown author, "never ascribe to malice what
could more easily be ascribed to stupidity." Often, interviews
will stray into the areas mentioned above merely because the interviewer
is ignorant of the law. It is best to assume this first rather
than take offense immediately. You can gently dismiss the question
or remind the person that such a question is out of bounds. You
don?t want to sound defensive but you do want to avoid answering
the question. If the interviewer insists on pursuing the question
you will have to make a more important decision.
Get to the point
If you are offended by a question or its wording it may be time
to end the interview and move on to your next prospect. The action
you take after that depends on how offended you are and the chances
of salvaging the interview.
If the interview was scheduled by a human resources representative,
ask to be taken back to their office. In private, explain to them
what occurred and why you asked to be brought to them. HR people
usually have a better understanding of the legalities of the hiring
process. In the best situations they will attempt to settle the
issue immediately. They want to avoid any litigation that might
arise from the interview, even if you don?t mention or threaten
them with it.
In the worst case, you might have been interviewing with a HR
representative. This person should know better than to ask illegal
questions but you can run into ignorant people in any department.
In this case you will want to terminate the interview and then
make notes of everything that was said and the questions you felt
were illegal. Don?t embellish on the facts. Write them out as
unemotionally as possible. These notes will be very important
should you decide to litigate.
Litigate or leave it alone
Litigation over perceived bias can be very difficult, time consuming
and draining on both your personal and professional life. That
said, egregious abuses should be brought to an employment lawyer.
It will be up to your own conscience to decide what is best for
you. It is rare that you run into someone who is purposefully
discriminatory, but when you do you should consider that you might
not be the only person they have discriminated against. Your actions
can help others in cases like this.
As you interview for your next job, be on the lookout for questions
that border on being illegal or offensive. Most interviews go
fine but there is always a possibility for abuse. Don?t let your
desire or your desperation convince you to put up with interviewers
who step over the line. You need to keep your own best interests
in mind. There is always another job possibility out there and
along with that job, someone who knows how to interview correctly.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com
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