By Angela Copeland
Job interviews are full of bias. Very often, it’s unconscious. Companies want to be fair. They don’t often realize where they may be biased. That’s where rules around interviewing come in. There are certain laws in place to help minimize bias in the job search process. These laws are to protect the job seeker.
For example, a company is not allowed to ask your age. We can all agree that this is a good thing. When we’re interviewing, it feels like we’re always too old or too young for a job. But, keeping our age a secret helps us to be considered – based on our skills and work experience.
Two other questions employers are not allowed to ask are: Are you married? Do you have children?
This may seem strange. Perhaps the interviewer just wants to get to know more about a person. The problem is, there is quite a bit of bias that can be introduced through these questions. And it has nothing to do with your skills or work experience.
You may wonder what bias could be created. Sometimes, a hiring manager loves it if you are single with no children. They might think that you can work long hours. Other times, a hiring manager may worry that with so few commitments, a single person can pick up and leave more easily. There are also times when, if you have no children, the hiring manager may wonder if you will start having children soon and may be out on parental leave.
These guesses are assumptions. And they may have no connection to reality. A single person can be just as distracted as a person with children. Or, a person with children can work just as hard as someone who is single. This is why these questions are both inappropriate and illegal in the job interview.
Unfortunately, a shocking number of companies are finding a way to ask these questions. They’re packaging it up with relocation. In the very first phone screen, many companies will ask out of town candidates about relocation. But, they don’t ask, “Will you relocate?” Instead, they say, “So, when it comes to relocation, what exactly will you be relocating? I mean, will you be relocating alone or will some other family members be relocating with you?”
These questions are all getting at two issues: Are you married? Do you have children?
This question is unnecessary. It flies in the face of laws in place to make the job search process fairer. And, it happens often. When asked this question, the job seeker is left with few choices. You can answer and stay in the running for the job. Or, you can refuse to answer and be perceived as difficult.
If you are asked questions like this, you may want to consider sharing your experience on the public forum Glassdoor.com. Glassdoor allows you to share feedback about your interview experience.
Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.