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Are Interviewing Laws Outdated?

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Guest blogger Shari Storm: I can't believe I'm old enough to say that I once had a man ask me in a job interview if I planned to have children. But I must be old enough, because it did happen. Granted, it was illegal by that time, but it seems that we've come a long way in understanding and respecting the discrimination laws in our country. I think that question gets asked a lot less than it did 20 years ago.

two women talking
It's interesting, though. Recently I was interviewing candidates for a job I have open, and I found myself stymied. I couldn't talk about some of the things I wanted to discuss because of these laws. Ha! I'm sure the guy who interviewed me 20 years ago would say the same thing. But I was coming at it from the exact opposite perspective. 

My company focuses on marketing to moms. Having children is a huge bonus for people applying for jobs in my company, but I can't ask them about it! The law was designed to protect people from being discriminated against for having kids, but in my case, being a parent might actually help you get a job. 

Laws are seldom nuanced. I realize this. But it seems like we are now in a market where speaking another language, having ties to other countries and even being gay might help you land certain jobs. However, good human resource people will steer you away from asking about any of that. 

I think the laws should be changed so that you can ask questions about someone's heritage, family status and such if being among a "protected" class might actually help the person get the job. 

Moms, what do you think?


next: Pregnancy Panic: Am I Really Having a Baby?!
9 comments so far | Post a comment now
abluhm November 5, 2010, 8:42 AM

I agree…..sometimes in order to find the right candidate for a position you need to know a few bits of personal information. maybe a disclosure before the interview could help us with that law?

michelle November 5, 2010, 9:19 AM

Having a hard time seeing what the big deal is. Many applicants to these kinds of jobs are self-selecting anyway, meaning the marketing professionals who apply are already more likely to be mothers, or at least they will be candidates with enough related experience that it doesn’t really matter. Also, people tend to mention relevant experience (even if it’s from a protected status) in their cover letters. So just make sure you read their cover letter before the interview, and then in the interview encourage them to discuss “what you feel you bring to the table.” Finally, I think even in the type of job you describe, the on-the-job advantage of being a mother (or gay, or whatever) is probably overblown, and you will be disadvantaging otherwise qualified candidates because of their status. What matters more is how good they are at marketing, or running a nonprofit, or whatever.

Anonymous November 5, 2010, 11:14 AM

but then you’d not be hiring someone BECAUSE they DON’T have kids….so i guess that law would help them….

KS November 5, 2010, 8:56 PM

I understand the frustration you felt at this particular job interview but no I do not agree with you. Intolerance is alive and well. Take for instance the mortgage companies that are having women fill out essays about their family planning before they will approve their loan.

Sure there are a few times when it can get in the way of a few question during the interview stage but if your called back to negotiate the terms of your employment all of these things will be discussed.

Having laws against discrimination keeps intolerant people in check and the last time I took a good solid look around there are still just as many people who need incentive to keep their bias/intolerance out of the work place.

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