How to answer the secret illegal question

We all know that there are certain questions that interviewers and employers are not legally allowed to ask.  These are questions about age, questions that indicate a bias about women (i.e., “Gee, you are a parent that has young children.  Are you sure you can do a job like this?”).  “How old are you anyway?”  Things along those lines.

These are obviously illegal questions.  However, there are secret illegal questions.  These are the ones that an interviewer thinks about but never comes out of the mouth to ask about in the form of a question.  Invariably, these are questions about bias in one form or another.

The obvious bias about ageism.  How do you handle that?  How do you handle the question of, “Gee, you been out of work for so long?   What’s wrong with you?”  That’s not technically in the legal question.  However, you know, it’s a question on their mind, so why avoid it?

These are things that you can be proactive about and that’s the philosophy I take about this.  You don’t wait for them to ask questions that may never come.  You address what you know, the issue is going to be in the course of telling the story.

For example, on the question of ageism, if I were in my 60s looking for a job and I was interviewing with the manager in their 30s, the 1st bias to recognize is can someone in their 60s work for someone who might be 35.  The easiest way to address something like this is to say something like, “I was responsible for… (And you talk about your role responsibilities) and I reported to someone who was 30 years my junior and got along great with them.”  

One of the biases is whether you can report to a woman; I don’t know why this still shows up in people’s minds, but sometimes does.  Lord knows, women in the workforce, at least in the US is pretty normal.  I wouldn’t address this one head-on.  “I reported to an individual who was responsible for such and such.  Her span of control…” Notice how I use the gender term, “her?”  Or, you might say, “She was responsible for…” It addresses it in a very subtle way without you saying, “I REPORTED TO A WOMAN . . . “You never want to telegraph that quite so obviously.

If you are African-American or Latino, I know you’ll recognize this one, can this black woman fitted with a bunch of white women or can this Latino man fit in with a bunch of white guys?  You might just talk about working with a diverse organization whether people from all different kinds of backgrounds where you have very diverse clients.  You supported or worked with and you can address things in that manner.

Again, the way to deal with the secret illegal question is very suddenly through telling the story of your career, talking about working in environments where you dealt with that situation or cope with the situation and succeeded, you started that situation, you are a champion in that situation…

That’s the easiest way to handle it.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2020



Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1800 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

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