Knowing how to answer common interview questions is a key part of any job search process.
You can likely rattle off the answers to questions about your education, work history, or career path in your sleep. But, when an interviewer throws in a question about your personal life do you know what to say?
Getting caught off guard by questions about whether or not you have kids if you plan to have kids, and other similar questions can potentially derail an otherwise flawless interview. Being prepared ahead of time to know how you will respond to such questions can have a huge impact on whether or not you land the job.
“I’d like to believe that sharing your status as a parent wouldn’t hurt your job changes, but we know that this isn’t always the case,” says Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network, a community for professional women that fosters equality in the workplace.
Understanding the interviewer’s motivation
Believe it or not, this is not typically a trick question. It is, however, an illegal one.
“Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees are expressly covered against pregnancy discrimination of all forms – that includes hiring, firing, promotion, pay, and other employment benefits. The PDA also prohibits discrimination based on current pregnancy, past pregnancy, potential or intended pregnancy or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth,” Wallace says.
Despite the legality of it, some interviewers will still ask. “In an interview, many candidates strive to make personal connections with the interviewer so as to leave a better impression. Discussions about family are one way to do this,” Wallace says.
Employers may ask these questions to feel out your level of commitment to the job or your career in general. If you say you’re newly married, looking forward to having kids, and you plan to stop working after you have a baby, they could wind up right back where they already are, trying to fill this same position again in a year or two.
Alternatively, they could ask to determine how you might fit in with their company culture. If their office is full of families, they might be looking for someone with similar values.
What do you say?
You want to answer tactfully regardless of whether you want to reveal your status as a parent/non-parent or not. It is up to you what you are willing to share. Wallace shares these
1. Flip the script
Wallace says you can answer questions about kids by responding with a question of your own like: “Thanks for asking, is Company X family-friendly?” “What is your experience, do you have a family?”
2. Let the interviewer take the lead
“I’d recommend letting the interviewer take the lead if they bring up their family and you wish to do so as well so as to strengthen the relationship or share something personal about yourself, then do so,” she says. “But you should never feel obligated to discuss your family situation, even if the interviewer talked about their family.”
3. Change their focus
Your goal in an interview situation is to land the job, so highlighting your skillset is never a bad idea. Wallace suggests shifting the conversation back to your abilities with a statement such as: “I’d rather focus on the impressive skills I can bring to this role.”
4. Call them out
“If you’d like to call out the questions more directly, you can say something along the lines of, ‘I’ve never been asked that question in an interview before, why do you ask?’” Wallace says.
“However you decide to navigate this question, make sure the interviewer understands you are coming from a point of respectful inquiry, rather than a direct confrontation,” she adds.