During a job interview, you might feel as if your prospective employer is in the driver’s seat, and you must go wherever he or she leads you. However, this is simply not true. There are many laws in place to protect applicants from facing undue discrimination and to ensure each candidate for a job is viewed as objectively as possible. If you find yourself in a situation in which you feel you’ll be unfairly judged, there are many ways in which you can “flip the script” and drive the interview in a direction you’re more comfortable with.
1. How old are you?
This might seem fairly innocuous to job seekers in their 30s, but there are many hidden agendas behind a question of an applicant’s age. Employers can ask if an applicant is over 18 if it is company policy to not hire minors, but that’s about all they can ask as far as age is concerned. According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, it’s illegal to inquire about an applicant’s age, since those over 40 are specifically protected by the law. Such a question is clearly attempts to discern how long a person may stay with a company, and whether or not he or she will be able to perform the job’s duties 10 or 20 years down the line. There is no need to answer this question; instead, refocus your answer on your years of experience.
2. Are you married?
Again, this question might just seem like small talk, but the answer can give away more information than you think. If, for example, you just got married in the past year, the interviewer might decide you won’t be dedicated enough to the job, as you will just be starting a family, might have to take maternity/paternity leave, etc. Also, your answer might reveal your sexuality, which is, of course, protected by the US Department of Labor. It’s best to avoid going into your personal life, about which you do not have to volunteer any information. However, any info you choose to give might be used to disqualify you from employment.
3. What country are you from?
While it might seem like a good time to discuss your worldliness, discussing your national origin may lead to a subjective judgement by your interviewer. Of course, you must be lawfully able to work in the United States, and must possess documentation expressing this. However, you are under no obligation to divulge what part of the world you were born in. Along with this, you cannot be made to discuss other languages spoken at home, unless it is to your advantage. If you are comfortable discussing these aspects of your personal life, repurpose your answer to show that your bilingualism is an advantage to the workplace.
4. What religion do you follow?
This goes along with the aforementioned Civil Rights act. Though obviously there is a chance that the interviewer might be biased toward a certain religion, there are other implications to how you answer this question as well. Employers might be fishing for information regarding your availability to work on weekends or holidays. Of course, they can just ask about your availability, but many interviewers don’t wish to be so candid. Again, repurpose your answer to express your availability, and inform them that the company will know far in advance if you will be taking a holiday.
5. Do you drink socially?
This question might come up in interviews for jobs regarding public safety, but you are under no obligation to answer. In fact, the ADA protects alcoholics as long as the disability does not interfere with their duties. And, as alcohol is a legal entity in the US, prospective employers have no right to know what you do on your time off. If this question comes up, simply answer no. As a word of advice, I wouldn’t drink at job-related events or parties in the future, regardless of how you answered the question.
6. Do you or have you used drugs?
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, am I right? Just kidding, of course. This question might seem cut and dry, but it’s actually up to interpretation. Do you drink coffee or soda? Caffeine’s a drug. How about Motrin? What about if you’re a medical marijuana patient? There are many facets to this question, so in order for interviewers to be in the right, they must ask: “Are you currently using any illegal drugs?” Asking in such a manner specifies that it is not a past habit, and that an affirmative answer is confirmation that you partake in illegal activities. Employers also have a right to drug test prospective employees, as well as ask about past convictions regarding drug possession. And while we’re on the subject…
7. Have you ever been arrested?
Interviewers can’t ask this question, because an answer of “yes, but I wasn’t convicted” won’t exactly put you in a positive light. Some states do allow this question, but employers cannot discriminate based on the answer given. However, they can ask “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” and ask for details, and they can run background checks on applicants. If you have been convicted of a crime, and you know a background check is imminent but may not disqualify you from employment, the best thing to do is be upfront about it. Express regret about the circumstances, and demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistake and have grown as a responsible adult.
For more information regarding the legal issues surrounding employment, visit the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.
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