You want the job. You apply for it and you’re granted a job interview. Your next hurdle is answering the unexpected, irritating questions you may be asked.
Ideally, employers select new employees on their ability to do the job. However, many job interviewers still ask personal questions that have nothing to do with the job. Ability does not depend on your sex, your race, or how many children you have.
Many women feel hostile and resentful when asked questions about their private lives or family arrangements. These questions are seldom asked of men. You can express these feelings by snapping, “Mind your own business,” but you are unlikely to get a job that way.
You have a right under the law to resist some of these questions. Anti-discrimination legislation in three States makes it unlawful to discriminate against applicants for jobs on various grounds.
It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you on the grounds of your sex, race or marital status. “Marital status” includes a de facto relationship, so there is no justification for an employer asking you whether you live with your boyfriend. The question itself is not unlawful, but discrimination based on the answer you give would be.
You are protected from discrimination on the grounds of sex or marital status, again including de facto relationships.
Job interview places you in a difficult position. You don’t want to antagonize the interviewer, even if you are asked unfair questions. Employers have a right to information about an employee: age, address, qualifications, experience and so on. It is reasonable, also, for an employer to ask whether you intend to stay long enough to make the training period economically worthwhile.
In the eyes of many employers, there is a conflict between motherhood and a career. If you have overcome the problems of combining the two roles, say so. If you haven’t had any children yet, give some thought to what effect parenthood would have on your working life, and be prepared to discuss it.
Some questions, for example, what your husband thinks of your working, have no justifiable basis.
How do you field the questions without losing your chance of getting the job? To help you assert your rights without sounding too hostile, here are some of the commonest curly questions and some suggested answers.
Q. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a man’s world?”
A. “On the job I’m accepted for my ability, not the fact that I’m a woman. I have qualifications and experience for this work.”
Q. “How do we know you won’t leave as soon as you’ve been trained?”
A. “I’m interested in making a career in this field, and I don’t expect to leave in a hurry. Statistics show women are no more likely to leave jobs than men are.”
Q. “Are you engaged? Do you have a steady boyfriend? etc.”
A. “I have a happy private life, but I don’t think that the details have anything to do with my ability to do this job.”
Q. “Do you live at home with your parents or with your boyfriend?”
A. “Are you asking all applicants that question?” If the questioner persists, try: “I’ve already given you my address.”
If you don’t object to the question, you can, of course, simply answer it.
Q. “You’re 23 (or 19, 27, 35, etc) – when are you going to start having children?”
A. Again, you could try: “Are you asking male applicants that question?”
Q. “What does your husband think of your working?”
A. “Naturally, he agrees with my right to work. There are no family barriers to my career.”
Q. “What will happen if your children get sick?”
A. “I have made suitable arrangements for the care of my children.” (Don’t feel obliged to give details about grandparents, neighbors and so on. This question is seldom asked of men.)
Q. “Won’t you be upset by bad language?”
A. “Most people are used to a certain amount of bad language. Women may swear less, but very few of us are so sheltered that we’re shocked by bad language. I’m certainly not.”
Q. “Don’t you think a man is better accepted in a supervisory position?”
A. “Attitudes to women in management have changed a great deal. Acceptance is not a problem for someone who can do the job and who can lead a team to work together towards a goal, especially when the firm’s management policy is on side.”
Q. “Won’t you be too emotional and easily upset by failure?”
A. “Some men are even-tempered; others aren’t. It’s the same with women. I try to deal rationally with setbacks.”
Q. “What do you plan to be doing in five years’ time?”
Work out a positive answer to this question assuming you will succeed in the job you’re trying to get. Do not give answers that imply you’ll leave the workforce altogether, or that you expect to become managing director overnight.
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