By now most people know they’re not supposed to ask questions about age, race, religion and whether a woman is planning to have children. But beyond the illegal questions I’ve found clients sometimes confronted with the occasional inappropriate question.
These usually occur when the employer is a smaller one or a family-owned business. In other words, larger, more structured companies typically operate in a more standardized setting. But less structured interviews, particularly if they involve a lunch or supper meeting, can occasionally stray into question about public issues of the day. I don’t necessarily think the employer is trying to catch the candidate as much as the inquiry is simply born of ignorance.
Politics and pop culture can be dangerous topics if not handled properly. Imagine sitting there during the height of the Iraq War and being asked your view on President Bush and our nation’s strategy? Or President Obama and healthcare?
On the one hand you’re thinking, “What does that have to do with my ability to do my job?” And you’d be correct. Yet, how should you handle that inquiry without appearing rattled, confrontational or evasive? How can you convey that, well, it’s none of that person’s business without somewhat alienating the interviewer?
A simple technique I’ve found effective is to use a verbal cushion to acknowledge the question, but to then turn things around and ask the employer their thoughts on the subject.
For example, “I’m not sure there’s any easy answer on the war. There are certainly passionate opinions on both sides. I’m curious, Mr. Employer, what you think about it.” And if the interviewer doesn’t respond, change the subject. If they do respond while giving their opinion, at least you know whether what you might have said would have matched your with your potential employer.
If the employer responds, then further asks you your opinion, I think you’re within your rights to respectfully refuse to answer. Try, “While we both know it’s a hot topic, I hope you’ll appreciate my desire to separate my personal views and interests from my work objectives.” Be careful not to impugn the employer’s motives for asking or verbally slap their wrist too harshly.
Awkward, inappropriate or even illegal questions can easy rattle many candidates. How calmly you respond under such circumstances could help separate you from your competition.
Learn more about us at www.woodengroup.com.
The Wooden Group
As founder and president of The Wooden Group, Randy brings over 25 years of experience in a number of human resource areas including outplacement, career coaching, executive recruiting, in-house staffing and training. Additionally, Randy has served as a college adjunct instructor, teaching classes on interviewing and the overall job hunting process.