When heading into a job interview, you already have enough sweat on your hands to fill the cup of water you’ll need to quench that inevitable dry mouth of yours. Add the pressure of gender-biased discriminatory questions, and suddenly, “where do you see yourself in five years?” doesn’t seem like such a daunting question.
No one wants to admit it, but when it comes to a job interview, you run the risk of being discriminated against.
So… What’s Off Limits?
Unless the question has a job-related basis, it’s illegal for your interviewer to ask about your age, marital status, plans for a family, religion, ethnicity — the list goes on. Although these questions are easy to answer, especially if you don’t think before speaking, it’s the weight behind these questions that you should be concerned about.
You should familiarize yourself with certain unlawful questions you might run into so that you can better prepare how to answer and/or avoid them. There might not be any specific intent behind the questions; the interviewer could just be making small talk or trying to establish common ground.
But if you do find yourself facing some serious discrimination, you can make a case for yourself and have your voice heard by taking it to the law.
How to Answer an Inappropriate Question
Our now-President Donald Trump once said that pregnancy was great for families but an inconvenience for employers. Regardless of how you feel about politics — and a politician’s stance on family benefits, parental leave, etc. — some employers do follow this thinking but do not admit it because it is against the law.
If an employer asks about your family, gauge the purpose of the question. Some might genuinely be trying to make a connection with you, while some might want to know your plans in case you’ll be needing significant time off or to determine where your dedication level sits.
If a question about your family or future plans for a family comes up, be sure to keep the focus on your dedication to the job and add in something about how you manage many tasks while staying organized. For example, you might say, “My career is important to me, and I’ve always been good at handling many tasks at once while remaining organized and motivated.”
If you know you’re being asked a discriminatory question, you have every right to say so. You can simply say, “I don’t feel comfortable answering this question,” which hopefully will point out to the interviewer that they are crossing a line.
Keep in mind, though, you’re still in an interview. You’re being considered for a role and judged for how you react to certain situations. It’s important to be polite when declining to answer a question. You want to answer these questions professionally and tie them back to your skillset and the job at hand.
So review what types of questions are legal and illegal, and prep yourself with hypothetical, light-hearted answers.
Should You Take Action?
If you think you’ve being unfairly separated from the pack of contenders due to discrimination, you have every right to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Commission provides an in-depth look at what constitutes discriminatory employment practice. Fortunately, laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Family Medical Leave Act are all set in place to protect people from discrimination.
Despite these laws, it can be very difficult to prove your case. You will have little opportunity to find out why you didn’t get a job over someone else, so you might need to recruit some legal help. A lawyer can provide you council, specifically regarding issues related to the federal discrimination statutes.
An attorney can help you decide if your claim is worth pursuing or if you should just move on. If you do decide to pursue legal action, many of legal filings are public record. Your claim could be visible to other potential employers you apply to. Could it work against you? Potentially. Is it worth it? That decision is up to you. It may be just as well to move on and pursue a better employment opportunity.
Listen to Your Intuition
Only you are in tune with your intuitions. Listen to your instincts. They should help you figure out the purpose of a question and be able to read the interviewer's intention. While the interview is an opportunity for a potential employer to vet you, it’s also about whether or not you want to bring your talents to them.
Be honest and polite — and don’t be afraid to do what you feel is right.
Sarah Landrum is an expert career blogger and the founder of Punched Clocks, a career and lifestyle blog helping professionals create a career they love and live a happy, healthy life. For more from Sarah, follow her on social media and subscribe to her newsletter.
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