You're sitting in the hot seat, answering questions like, "What's your greatest weakness?" and, "Why do you want this job?" Then, the hiring manager asks: "Do you have any children?"
It may seem like an easy, harmless question — but it's illegal, and your response could seriously impact the outcome of your interview.
There is, of course, a chance that the hiring manager is inexperienced and unaware that this question is discriminatory. They may simply be trying to make friendly conversation — but it's more probable that the interviewer is attempting to determine how committed you will be to the job.
"They're really asking, 'Are you someone who can invest the expected amount of time in this role in order to be successful?'" says Adam Robinson, CEO of Hireology, a software platform that simplifies the hiring process. "They're poking at your private life and activities to see what things might 'take away' from your focus on their job."
While you don't have to answer the question, you also don't want to come off as combative and hurt your chances of securing the job. So what do you say when put on the spot?
Here are seven tips from Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job," on how to handle the illegal "Do you have kids?" interview question without sounding like a jerk:
Rephrase the question to emphasize your commitment.
Example: "Perhaps you're asking if I'm focused on my work, can travel, or handle late hours. I can tell you that I have a very strong work ethic, regardless of what happens in my family life, and feel I can contribute a lot, particularly in the [xyz] area. I would like to know more about your goals for xyz."
Inquire further for a better understanding of the inquiry.
Example: "That's an interesting question, but maybe you can help me understand why it might be important. I guess I've never been asked that before, but I want to know what matters in this position."
Answer the question in a vague way that addresses your ability to do the job.
Example: "I try to keep business and personal matters like that separate. I don't think that my family life would ever affect my ability to do an excellent job here."
Don't "flat out" answer it.
Unless you're 100% comfortable answering this question, don't. Taylor says by answering questions about your family, you run the risk of sabotaging yourself during the interview or later on. "Once on the job, your boss may ask you related follow-up questions (also discriminatory), make subtle comments, or quietly make private conclusions based on your comments — which you can't take back." You may unwittingly limit your chances of future advancement by sharing too much about your personal family life, she adds.
Don't be confrontational.
There's a fine line between being assertive and coming across as confrontational or aggressive, Taylor explains. "In general, you want to manage the conversation diplomatically to your own advantage, but also determine if the company offers the kind of workplace you want to join."
Avoid becoming overly emotional or combative.
You may instinctually want to respond with, "I'm sorry, but why do you care if I'm a parent…and what does that have to do with this position?" or, "I don't discuss my private life." But you'll accomplish more by being tactful and friendly, but firm, Taylor says.
Use the opportunity to learn more about the employer.
Remember that interviews are a two-way street. No matter how you decide to answer the question, notice how the hiring manager responds. Whether they press the issue or quickly back off, you'll know "if you're stepping into an intrusive Lion's den or an upbeat, professional atmosphere where discrimination is unlikely," says Taylor. If you get a sense that the company is too invasive, follow your gut and move on.
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