When you’re preparing for a job interview, you’re playing a guessing game, figuring out what the interviewer will ask you while simultaneously finding out more about the job. Of course, no matter how well you prepare, you have to be able to roll with the punches. Especially if your interviewer doesn’t stick to the script — or even to questions he’s legally allowed to ask.
Pauline Millard of Learnvest recently contributed a guest column for The Jane Dough outlining this dilemma, which came up in her own life when she interviewed at real estate company, only to be asked seemingly unrelated questions about her husband’s job and her childcare arrangements.
“In the days that followed, I realized that a lot of her questions were not only unprofessional, they seemed rather illegal to me,” Millard wrote. “While I’m pretty quick on my feet, I also realized I didn’t know how to respond when a career recruiter started getting too personal.”
After reading Millard’s column, it seems to us that there are three main ways to handle the situation:
1. Tell the truth.
In some situations, you barely need to use any spin at all. For instance, if someone asks what you’ve been doing during a gap in your resume, and you’ve been freelancing while looking for the perfect gig, feel free to say just that. Then relate the skills you acquired during your time an independent worker to the job at hand.
2. Deflect graciously.
In her quest to find better ways to cope with these kinds of questions, Millard asked an expert, Amy E. Feldman, for advice. Feldman is general counsel at a staffing services company called The Judge Group, and is also the co-author of, “So Sue Me, Jackass!: Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work, at Home, and at Play.” Given the amazing title of her book, it’s unsurprising that she had some tips on what to say when you’re asked a question you’d rather not answer. For example, if someone asks what your spouse does, and he’s a lawyer, Feldman advises answering, “He’s a lawyer. I hope you won’t hold that against me.”
3. Deflect slightly less graciously.
If you feel totally pinned down, it’s OK to turn the tables on the interviewer. For example, Feldman suggests that if someone asks you if you’re married, it’s perfectly OK to ask in return, “Do you have to be married to do this job?”
The key is to keep your tone gentle. Even if you suspect the question is illegal, bringing that up in the interview won’t help you out. Deal with the questions as best you can at the time, and focus on your goal, which is both a job offer and enough information about the role and the company to decide whether you want to take it.
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