In this modern day politically correct society, we can only expect that potential employers will ask us questions in the interview process that will be of utmost professionalism and they will never ask anything that may be in violation of the Human Rights code. Although this practice is expected, it is most certainly, not always practiced. Throughout my career, I have been asked a variety of wild and awkward questions to which I had no choice but to reply in an equivocally awkward manner. These are my top instances:
Q1: Are You a Vegetarian?
A1: “No, I am a carnivore. Well, more precisely, an omnivore.” This was in an interview for an animal health company which entailed selling products to veterinarians who catered to all species . Although I feel that this question wasn’t particularly relevant to the position I was applying for, it actually can be in some positions. For example, one sales representative that I knew got a job at a large animal health company that sold vaccines for cattle and he was a vegan. Needless to say, the company never asked him about his dietary preferences and the situation arose where his clients (cattle veterinarians) invited him to their dinner table and let’s just say that didn’t go over so well. So that being said, In spite of this awkward question, one’s dietary habits may actually be quite relevant to the position.
Q2: “Are You Jewish?”
A2: “Just because my last name is Goldman, it doesn’t mean that I am Jewish. Why do you ask?”. Apparently they asked because my interview was scheduled just before sunset on a Jewish holiday (Shabbat). When they told me that, I replied, “If I was Jewish, why would I schedule an interview minutes before I had to leave and be home before sundown? That isn’t professional is it?” They explained to me that they were asking me out of politeness because they knew a lot of Jewish people. Uhhh..ok??
Q3: “Is family important to you?”
A3: “Yes, absolutely, but if you mean to ask if I want to have children, I do not.” When they asked me that question, I knew precisely what they were REALLY asking and I knew if they asked me that question outright it would be illegal. Regardless, I answered honestly and perhaps if I didn’t get the job, it may have been an issue. The primary reason I decided to answer this question is because I am of the belief that women often don’t make the same pay as their male counterparts and it is simply because they take years off at a time to raise children and I wanted to make it clear that I do not fall into that category and should be considered in the same light as a man for the position.
Q4: “Wow! You were responsible for so many roles in your past job. Why don’t you go into business for yourself?”
A4: “I have considered it but for various reasons, it is simply is not an option at this time.” This interview got awkward very fast. They knew I was a highly skilled individual who was accustomed to regularly undertaking multiple tasks within a small company vs. a very specific sales role within an massive corporation. I ultimately left the interview prematurely upon realizing that this company did not want someone of my skill set but rather a cookie cutter sales person.
Q5: “We require 5 employer references at a minimum, but in your 10-year career you have only worked for two companies. Are you able to provide this?”
A5: “Since I am currently employed for one of the only two employers in my 10 year sales career, no, I cannot provide a reference from my current employer who is my only supervisor.” I couldn’t help but laugh inside thinking that it is a good thing that I have only worked for two companies in 10 years given that the average sales person changes jobs on average every two years but I suppose because of that precise statistic, the HR person specifically asked for one employer reference per two year period. Can you say closed minded? Being on the receiving end of this question can be a potential death sentence especially if you are currently employed and your employer does not know you are looking and in my case, I worked for the same company for almost 9 years. So I said, “If you ask any of your sales representatives across the country to ask any of their clients if they are using my products (since I was the only national sales representative), I am 99.9% certain they will inform your representatives that they are using my product. There is no better reference than that.”. Unfortunately, my response rubbed these folks the wrong way and they told me that was in no way sufficient. As a result, I had zero interest in working for such a company. As far as I am concerned, if you can’t judge a sales person on their results, but only on references because your company has such a rigorous “process”, then good luck finding a stellar sales representative and running a successful business. Needless to say, I rescinded my application for this particular job.
All and all, in spite of how politically correct our society is supposed to be, when we are conducting business or involved in the interview process, sometimes things simply just slip. As an interviewee, although it is great to be aware of what a potential employer legally can or cannot ask you, if you are interviewing for a job you are at a disadvantage. You are at the mercy of a potential employer and you want a job or perhaps a career. All I can say is, keep in mind that you don’t have to take just ANY job. Just like you don’t have to settle for an inferior romantic partner. If you ever feel uncomfortable in an interview, stand up for yourself and say so, regardless of how awkward it may be. Heck, even walk out of that interview if you feel that it is a waste of your time! I have done that many times.
Remember, you are looking for a job that suits your needs too, not just your potential employers.
Good luck out there my friends.