I’m in shock. I just came back from an interview for a position as a customer service/order desk clerk position. The interviewer asked me if I had any children, how old they were and if I will be having any more children. I was tongue-tied and offended. I answered him with a “no”. I DO have a family, including a husband and two elementary aged children. I know that these are illegal questions in an interview. I am so turned off that even if I get the job offer, I will refuse it. Please could you advise me in future as to the best way to handle illegal job interview questions at the interview?
Signed – Job Seeker Mothers Beware (JSMB)
Ouch! Sadly, many job searchers share stories such as yours about discrimination in the labour market. In a recent study at Cornell University, presented by author and HR Manager Cynthia Shapiro, researchers found that during the interview process, mothers were perceived as less committed to work than women without children. This problem is real and age-old.
In the meantime, if the interviewer asks you an illegal question because he or she doesn’t know the law or slips up, continues Shapiro, it is important not only to know your rights, but also to be able to respond to the question with dignity and assertiveness. Shapiro suggests not saying, “That’s illegal and I won’t answer it”, because in saying that you might just have “killed the interview”. Instead, prepare an answer that addresses the genuine concerns that the employer might have. The interviewer may be worried about your flexibility, stability and ability to commit to the demands required for the job; they might be concerned about whether you have child care commitments which will interfere with the job.
Without answering their question directly, I would suggest that you reinforce your commitment to the job and that you do not expect to be sick, late or have family obligations that will get in the way of your work. Stress that in your work history you have always excelled in your position and that personal commitments have never interfered with your work. This way you indicate your willingness to demonstrate your suitability for the job without compromising your rights. You do have the option of answering the question directly, but Shapiro recommends doing everything possible to make the question a non-issue, as it should be.
Such questions are illegal for a reason. If it’s important for you to work for a company that values families and supports parents, then this might not be the company for you. You can assess this, based on how you feel about the tone of the whole interview. I would keep your parental and family status private when interviewing. You have no obligation to tell the employer; they are hiring you for your skills and experience. Keep focused on the job description and skills, rather than your personal life.
More examples of responses to illegal questions in the interview:
“Are you Married?”
- Assure the employer that you are:
- well-organized and reliable, and do not expect require time to attend to personal family matters; mention that this has never been an issue in previous jobs
- professional and punctual
- if this is true for you, mention your availability to do overtime and travel for the company (if relevant to the job)
“How long have you been in Canada? Where are you from?”
- Relate your answer to your knowledge of current Canadian market trends
- Describe your transferable skills confidently
- Relate your ability to learn quickly
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how to answer such questions. Weigh the risk of answering a personal question against the consequences of not answering, and make your own decisions. Know your rights.
All the best with your job search, JSMB. Many job searchers overcome this barrier and I am sure that with the right approach, you will succeed too.
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