Controversy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine has added a new level of politics to the interview minefield. I was debriefing a client, who I will call Jeanette, after her recent interviews with two companies and asked if there were any questions that she had difficulty responding to. It turned out there were a few that left her shocked and flummoxed.
Some questions bordered on illegal and other questions and comments seemed to be aimed at determining her political leanings.
What is interesting is that these companies were on opposite sides of the aisle.
The first company required everyone onsite to wear a mask at all times. When Jeanette was brought into the interview room, she asked where she should sit. The interviewers indicated that she should sit directly across from them. Jeanette then let them know that she had recently flown across country and wanted to be sensitive to any concerns. The response was, “We’re both fully vaccinated.” This was followed by silence. My client felt the interviewers were looking for a response from her indicating that she was also vaccinated. She declined to respond and after few moments of silence, the interview continued.
At the second company no one wore a mask. When she met the interviewer his first question was, “Can I shake your hand?” Jeanette was taken aback, said sure, shook his hand and was careful not to touch her face during the remainder of the interview. She felt that this was a not-too-subtle test to determine her political views. Later in the conversation, the interviewer mentioned another person in the organization and said something along the lines of “he is a lot like Donald Trump,” paused and looked directly at her. My client wisely declined to comment.
Before wrapping up their conversation, this interviewer asked her point-blank if she had children. Jeanette said a little bell when off in her head and she thought “isn’t that illegal?” She responded that she didn’t have children, had married late, and that that ship had sailed. In retrospect, she felt that by responding she gave away information both about her family and her age that may be used against her when making a hiring decision. She is right to be concerned since questions about marital status and children are frequently used to discriminate against women.
I give Jeanette high marks for deftly navigating these interview minefields. Here are three strategies for handling illegal questions or politically sensitive statements during an interview.
- Respond without providing the information requested. “Wow! That’s an interesting question. I’ve never been asked that in an interview.” Follow this with silence.
- Question the relevancy of it. This must be done carefully and without an accusatory tone. “I’m not sure I understand how that question is relevant to this position. Would you please explain?”
- Answer the question. If you think your response won’t impact your chances of being hired or are in a tight position and really need the job this may be the best option for you.
Jeanette successfully deployed elements of strategy No.1 when she didn’t respond to statements about vaccination status and Donald Trump. She used strategy No. 3 when asked about having children. Having run the gauntlet on these two interviews, Jeanette will be much better prepared to respond to illegal, politically sensitive, and tough interview questions.
©2021 Mary Jeanne Vincent. All rights reserved.