Interviews can be tough to navigate, and some employers make it particularly difficult by asking women questions that would make you cringe even in a social setting. If you’re a woman who has ever been cornered into an uncomfortable situation, know that you are not alone. Studies show women are often asked more frequently to answer questions such as “Why are you applying for this job?” and “Why should we hire you?” more times than men to prove their worth. However, the interview questions aimed at women which should stop being asked because they’re inappropriate (and sometimes even illegal) are below.
1. Do you have any children or are you currently pregnant?
This question may get asked to determine if a) you will be missing time from work to care for sick children or b) leave early before daycare closes. John from Finance who’s making his wife do this may not have these restrictions and will be able to stay late. Of course, these are all assumptions the interviewer will be making in his/her head. Additionally, if they are asking about whether or not you’re pregnant, they want to know what will be your maternity leave situation in the future. Most companies offer this benefit to pregnant employees, and the idea of you being on paid leave for a few weeks may not be attractive.
2. What is your childcare situation?
Here, the company again wants to pump you for information. They want to be able to predict your work patterns based on your family’s schedule, but guess what? As long as you can meet the job’s demands and be in and out when they need you to be, you are not obligated to divulge any information regarding whether or not your kids are with a neighbor all day, with a local daycare center, or spend half the day with your mom and the other half with your mother-in-law. If you’re applying for a job, they should assume you won’t be needing their help caring for your kids, and that’s all that matters. Marissa and Julio won’t be tugging on your skirt under your desk during meetings, will they? Nope, then, end of conversation.
3. Are you married?
Is this their business? How well it affect your performance? I’m honestly not sure why anyone would ask you this, but the way I see it, the more personal information they ask that you haven’t volunteered, the less power you have and the more power they have. Perhaps they see an available woman as less of a threat. A married woman might have someone to defend her in case something goes wrong in the workplace, or it could be the other way around. A married woman is not available, so other men cannot hit on her or flirt with her if they’re interested. I’ve heard of women who don’t wear their wedding rings to interviews for precisely this reason, and it’s sickening. You should be able to be yourself, without having to think about these little things and how you’re perceived by the male population.
4. Do you work better with males or females?
Again, this is irrelevant. Maybe the company, or this specific manager, has had issues in the past with women not getting along and is trying to determine how well you will play with others, but this isn’t the way to do it. A team player is a team player regardless of the person’s sex, and if you’re being asked to answer this question, I bet you’re going to be nervous searching for an appropriate thing to say to this inappropriate oddball. How do you respond? I’d laugh it off, and say, “I work best with people who are also team players.” This shows that the type of people who are likely to not spark a tense situation are going to be employees with the right traits, not specific body parts. If they don’t appreciate this answer, then dodge it by turning it on them and asking who they work better with. I’m sure whatever they have to say is not going to be HR-approved, so they’ll move on.
5. Are you done having children?
I hate when people ask me this question in a social setting, much less a workplace area. If it came up in an interview, I’d feel obligated to say that I was because it seems that employers consider mothers a burden, but I’m not going to give a firm answer and then be expected to stick to it. A woman has the right to change her mind, right? Besides, I’m not procreating with the interviewer, so I don’t have to tell them what’s on my mind regarding this topic, and neither do you. If they ask, let them know just how inappropriate it is by expressing your shock. I know as women we are taught how to expertly navigate strange, odd, uncomfortable, and even scary situations with the most pleasant look on our faces, but honestly, sometimes you have to be straightforward. By letting out a laugh or even blushing, as if they just asked for your bra size, I think you’ll get your message across, that this territory is personal, off bounds and not going to get a response. A stern, “I think that’s a conversation between me and my partner, don’t you?” should do the trick, even if it makes the interviewer feel stupid. And if you’re more concerned about how they feel than how you feel, this job probably isn’t the right one for you. The workplace relationships should never make you feel like you don’t matter.
6. What will your family do if you have to travel?
I was actually asked this question and gave a thorough response about my detailed plans, given that the post required a lot of travel. However, after moving onto a new position (at a different question), I realized that if I had been a male candidate, no one would have pressured him to come up with his babysitting schedule on the fly should he ever be asked to travel to Argentina. The burden would have been left on his partner, and no one would bat an eyelash when the plane took off. My previous bosses have traveled weekly to different locations around the country, even with children, and no one asks how their family handles it or if their wives care. Yet, when I was interviewed, the sympathy expressed for my husband and kids was wild. It’s offensive how people still don’t understand that gender roles don’t exist in this day age as much as they used to. There are stay-at-home fathers who are fine with their wives traveling if they’re bringing in the paychecks, or husbands and wives who both work and share the childcare responsibilities and both have to tradeoff watching their kids or dropping off the kids at school. But it is still perceived that if the woman is busy (doing her job), she’s failing at her duties at home.
If you’re asked this question, simply state, “They will be fine.” If they imply otherwise, or don’t trust your answer, you’re within your right to start taking notes of all the things you’ll bring up to HR, or even an employment attorney, once your interview is done. Make it clear, if they ask, so they understand that just because they don’t hire you, doesn’t mean you still can’t take action and protect the other women who may file into that interview room after you.
7. Have you ever gotten emotional at work?
This question just seems like a trap. When people get “emotional” at work, it’s likely there were a series of events which led to it, for both men and women, so you’d have to explain all of that to make your reaction seem legitimate. But regardless, the question implies you behaved emotionally to something where you could have held your composure, or conversely, that by answering, you’re admitting you’ve broken down at work before. Perhaps, you have, but you had an emergency and someone caught you at a bad time in the bathroom or a manager acted out and it affected the whole team. Who cares. The point is, this question is rarely asked to men, despite the fact that they are quite frequently witnessed slamming fists in conference room tables, yelling during meetings, and screaming profanities from their office to someone unfortunate victim on the other end of the line. When a man does that, it’s viewed as display of power, but when a woman does it, it comes off as “emotional.”
If you get asked this question and don’t feel comfortable saying that this doesn’t feel like an appropriate interview question, simply continue to answer with your own questions. “Could you please define what you mean by emotional?” or turn it into something positive. Being emotional is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is perceived as such until you frame it differently.
“Are you referring to a time I displayed an emotion such as joy or pride?”
“I often laugh with coworkers to celebrate the wins on my projects, and if I’m disappointed in missing a deadline, I plan more strategically.”
Now, you’ve taken an awful interview question and flipped it into an opportunity to showcase skills they should be focusing on!
8. Do you feel you’re prepared to enter the workplace after only being a mom for so long?
Nothing pertaining to what you’ve been doing as a mother should be viewed in a negative light, and this question does exactly that. If they were to ask how a gap in your resume harms your ability to be a qualified candidate, that is a bit more neutral, and at least gives you the opportunity to explain how your parenting skills translate into whatever role you’re applying for. However, asking you this question with the word “mom” in there is not something that would ever be asked to a male candidate, even if he had a gap in his resume for staying at home to take care of his children. He would be praised as a hero and it would be ignored. For some reason, women are seen as not having skills and staying home because they have no other choice but lots of women have degrees, talent, creative portfolios and large networks that they have sacrificed for multiple reasons and seeing them as incapable employees simply because they changed diapers for a few years is simply insulting. Plus, it negates the fact that being a mom is not the only label a woman can have.
9. Would you like to continue this interview over dinner or coffee?
Hitting on a potential candidate is never okay, but people continue to do it, forcing women to either take the high road or breakdown and be punished for it. I’d say if you’re not sure what to do, but if you have this gem in your back pocket, I’m sure you’ll be able to walk away without feeling too nervous.
“Um, no, I wouldn’t want it to seem like there’s any type of favoritism in the process, but thank you for the invitation.”
And again, remember, you’ve done nothing wrong, and this is not normal! Should you choose to accept a job with this company, make a note that management has no issue making passes at women or blurring these boundaries and decide how you want to handle it in the future if the situation arises again. Some women feel they’re not going to accomplish much by going to HR, so they’d rather keep quiet, and that’s your choice, but at least be aware of what’s happening.
Overall, if you don’t feel like answering these interview questions women should never be asked, then don’t. Simple as that. Silence can be weird, so just spit back another question at them such as, “How is this relevant to my position?” or “Would you be asking me this if it was a man sitting in this chair?” The matters above are all personal and none of their business; if you’re not up for bringing it up to Human Resources after your interview is over, then just remember, someone who puts you in this position and is more concerned about how your personal life will affect them will not value you as an employee. Keep in mind that male and female managers are just as capable of taking on this attitude against women, so don’t be shocked if a woman who should know better acts as if she doesn’t know that what she’s doing is wrong by asking these inappropriate interview questions. Sometimes, even as an employed mother, you’re constantly being tested to see if you can prove your value in a company alongside men, when the reality is, your skills and insight as a woman can often get you further than a man who’s got a one track mind and not able to see multiple routes to the same goal.