Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Handling Job Interviewers Who Ask Illegal Questions

Although it's been illegal for forty years now for a prospective employer to discriminate against job applicants "on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin", you still have interviewers who will ask you how old you are or what your religion is. They're not supposed to, but they do. The offenders are rarely human resource professionals. They're more likely to be the people you're going to work for - your immediate boss, to wit - and they should know better. This suggests that smaller, more informal companies may be more guilty of such lapses than larger ones, but non-HR types can certainly interview you at big firms as well.

The practice is as much a problem for the interviewers as for their, shall we say, "victims". According to employment lawyer John Petrella, "It's a very easy area for employers to get in trouble. It's really easy to run afoul of the antidiscrimination laws. You have to be vigilant and diligent about training." Female interviewees can typically be asked about whether or not they have children, are married or engaged, or even whether or not they support themselves - all under the guise of "harmless" chit-chat meant (or so you'd think) to break the ice. Both sexes can be indirectly obliged to reveal their ages, which is often the real agenda behind pre-hiring "background checks" that require the submission of passports, drivers' licenses and other documents.

Interviewees who are faced with such illegal inquiries face a dilemma. If they give their interviewers what they want, but are not legally entitled to, they may become complicit in an act of discrimination against them - but if they protest, they may not get the job anyway. The best approach is to respond with cheerful indirectness, not quite answering the question but using it as a springboard to another topic which you can spin to your own advantage. In other words, fight slyness with slyness - if you're so inclined. A capacity for cunning might actually be what they're looking for a new hire anyway. On the other hand, you may want to consider whether or not you would want to work for such an insidious employer to begin with.

"What you need to know about what they can ask" from The Christian Science Monitor

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