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Equal Opportunity Interviewing
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law's non-discrimination policy supports equal opportunity in interviewing. Despite the fact that employers agree to abide by this policy as a condition of interviewing at Ohio State, interviewers sometimes ask inappropriate questions during the interviewing process.
By inappropriate questions, we generally mean any number of questions, asked directly or indirectly regarding subjects such as race, color, citizenship, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious or economic status, criminal record and marital/parental status.
Outside of taking legal action, there are a range of options available to students when confronted with this situation.
Refuse to Answer the Question.
For example, if asked to provide details about a parent's or spouse's ancestry or nationality, a student might respond, "I'm curious about how that question is related to my ability to practice law in your firm?" If the interviewer persists, the candidate may choose not to answer the question and reply, "I feel uncomfortable answering the question as it violates the Moritz College of Law's non-discrimination policy."
Remember that interviewers may be inexperienced. They may be following up on a topic you introduced. They may ask a question because it was asked of them when they interviewed 20 years ago. They may not realize the question is inappropriate or unlawful.
Recognize that refusing to answer the question may eliminate you from further consideration. At the very least, it could create tension in the interview which may adversely impact the hiring decision. Conversely, such questions may eliminate the employer from your further consideration. After all, you are choosing your work environment - do you really want to be employed by a firm/organization that makes you feel uncomfortable by the questions its interviewer asked you?
Answer the Question.
If asked about children and child care arrangements, you might say something like, "I have a son who is three and attending a nursery school/child care facility." In answering, you give the interviewer information that could be used to discriminate against you. You can't tell whether the interviewer has a genuine interest in getting to know you better or is looking for factors that could disqualify you from further consideration.
In answering inappropriate questions, another strategy is to provide an intentionally vague response. To the prior question, you might respond, "I have the necessary arrangements in place to work the number of hours your firm requires." Technically, you have answered the question without providing personal details the employer can use to disqualify you from further consideration.
Answer the Question and Direct the Interviewer Back to Lawful and Appropriate Topics.
When asked about age, a student might respond, "I consider my maturity to be a significant advantage to the firm's goal of developing new business. Can you tell me what direction or training the firm would provide to turn my community contacts and prior business associates into new clients?"
If asked about marital status, the single candidate can discuss availability to work the hours the firm requires. The married candidate can discuss how stability and maturity make the candidate equal to the long-term commitment necessary to becoming a partner in the firm.
Your overall goal is to deal with difficult questions in a way that preserves your personal integrity and hopefully advances the employment process. Prepare by anticipating questions and developing responses in advance of interviewing. The Career Services Office is available should you need help in developing specific responses or an overall interviewing strategy, or if you need to report any instance of perceived inappropriate questioning.