The Fair Employment Act. The Civil Rights Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These are some of the creations of government designed to ensure that each of us has a fair and equal chance of getting a job and keeping it. However, from a practical standpoint, there are those who encounter discrimination in the interview process, and whose feelings of rejection never reach the level of being addressed by any big-government legislation or commission. So what do you do when you feel like you’ve been discriminated against in the interview process? And also, how can you avoid the possibility of such a situation altogether?
Decide If You Really Want the Job
Many people, particularly in countries where the laws are well-defined about protected classes in the workplace, know that there are certain questions you should never be asked in an interview. Most of us would cringe if asked our age, religion, or family living situation on a job interview. But what if you’re asked those questions anyway? The first thing to do is decide if you really want the job or not. This is because some interviewers may ask ‘prohibited’ interview questions without even realizing it, and without any intention of discriminating against you regardless of your answer. Someone I know was once asked how old she was by one of the senior managers interviewing her. Turns out he was trying to give her a compliment about how accomplished she was in the span of so few years, and got flustered trying to ask the right question. She answered the question, moved on to the next round of interviews, and ultimately accepted their job offer.
This is not to say that when you are asked inappropriate interview questions that you should answer them no matter how badly you want the job. But it’s also probably pretty unlikely that you will fare well in the interview process with a company if you say “Excuse me, but it’s illegal to ask me that question, or any other question about a protected characteristic.” Sure, you could answer the question and then later go file a claim with the EEOC, but that’s not the focus of this article.
Listen to Your Inner Discrimination-Meter
Know your limit and just how much you’ll put up with job interview discrimination questions. Many women, people of color, the disabled, and gays and lesbians, have been doing it for years. Sometimes a stupid but innocent question or comment can be overlooked, and sometimes you need to find a way to address it and let the company know their behavior was unacceptable. For everyone the definition of the truly unacceptable will be different. What’s important is that in your job search, you need to know how far certain inappropriate or discriminatory comments, questions or behavior have to go in order for you to feel offended or unfairly treated. For some, it’s a certain look they get from the hiring manager that makes them feel uncomfortable in the interview, for others it might be questions about their boyfriend and the fact that they live together and aren’t married. Know your limit. When your inner discrimination-meter is sounding off and screaming “Danger!” that’s when you know you haven’t yet found your dream job.
Lessen the Chances of Encountering Discrimination
Many companies nowadays are conscious about diversity in the workplace, and invest considerable resources into touting their status as equal opportunity employers and advertising that they’re a good place to work for women, people of color, etc. Some of these claims are more genuine than others, but these are the places to target if you want to lessen the chances of being discriminated against in the interview process, or on the job. These sorts of organizations have spent time developing a diversity statement and post it on their website. They train their managers on how to conduct interviews and how to manage a diverse workforce. A broad range of backgrounds is represented in their Board of Directors and on the senior management team.
While there is no guarantee that a company with a diversity statement or training or a diverse senior management team will be any less discriminatory than a company without these attributes, there is a chance that the company has become a bit more sophisticated in knowing how to make sure they don’t engage in discriminatory recruiting or workplace management practices.
by Melanie Haniph