Monday, January 28, 2013

Strategies on Handling Illegal Interview Questions

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As part of my efforts to get myself from behind a desk, and out into the real world, I volunteer with a phenomenal local initiative that pairs local professionals and business owners with local schools, and builds students' knowledge of the career options available to them.

I speak to teens about resume and interview strategies, and occasionally hear of illegal questions that recruiters or interviewers pose during the interview. It would be my guess that employers refrain from posing these to more savvy recruits-those who have been "around the block" so to speak, or professionals who are well aware of legal vs. illegal questions. Having a strategy to deal with illegal questions is a good idea for everyone.

What is an illegal question?
Truth is, this differs according to country, and according to job requirements. To work in a bar, for example, a candidate must meet a minimum age requirement, meaning that it is not illegal to ask a candidate's age. Each job hunter must take the initiative to discover what the illegal questions are in his or her area.
How does one handle an illegal question?

But how does one deal with an illegal question. For example, if you are white-haired and clearly no longer claiming to be 39, and the interviewer asks your age, what are you to do? If the interview is going badly, and you are uninterested in the opportunity, you could simply confront the interviewer and say, "I believe that question is illegal." However, if you would prefer not to burn your bridges (and that is almost always my recommendation), you need only to think of the concern behind the question to devise an appropriate answer. In this case, the concern is likely "I'm afraid that you won't be a reliable and healthy employee." Your answer might sound like this.

" asking my age, I am assuming that you might be worried that I will only stick around a few years, or that I may have health challenges. Let me assure you that I have many more years before retirement, I am very fit - in fact I work out three days a week and feel better now than I did as a 30-year old - and I am healthy - my doctor tells me at each annual that I am one of her healthiest patients - so yes, I am reliable and you'll have no special challenges with me."

That is actually my personal answer (and a visit to my website will confirm the white hair!), and obviously each person would have his or her own "health highlights" to share! You might refer to your exemplary attendance record or award, or you might share that your sick days are half of the company's average.
I would actually not finish the answer there. I urge interviewees to use the interview to their advantage, and add onto answers whenever possible. In the case above, I might add something like this: "In fact, at my current position, this is a typical day. First I...." And then go on to position yourself as an energetic go-getter, working in examples that are, of course, relevant to the position you are interviewing for. You may choose to address a once-a-month challenging workload; another may quote a colleague who remarked on his stamina ("You're amazing; I swear you get more done in a day than me and I'm half your age."); and yet another may point to her weekly 40 km. bike rides.

More strategies
Here is another example. One young lady shared that she had been asked whether she has any children. Now this girl was very young, maybe 16, so the inquiry was questionable in its intent. I advised an answer along these lines.

"In asking that, I assume that you are really wondering whether I will be reliable and punctual and let me assure you yes. I am always on time for school, do not skip classes, am rarely sick... in fact, one of my teachers recently said to me 'Tara, if all my students were as dedicated as you, I'd be a happy teacher.'" Tara could go on to add "Once I land my first part-time job, I am going to be the best employee. I know that job will begin building my resume for the future, so I will take it very seriously."
What employer could resist that!?

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