As we inch toward election day, in what many describe as the most contentious election in recent memory, political banter has undoubtedly found its way into your office — triggering some heated discussions. But what do you do when it enters your all-important job interview?
“There’s a reason for the old saying, ‘Never talk to new acquaintances about religion, sex, or politics,'” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job.” “These days, talking politics with even close friends or family can be flammable.”
If the hiring manager gets on their own soapbox on the virtues of their candidate for President, you’ll need to put your emotional intelligence into high gear — to avoid getting drawn into a (no-win) debate of your own, she says.
“The hiring manager may appear laid back and open-minded in the beginning of the dreaded conversation, but don’t take the bait,” she warns. “Take a backseat. You could be lured into an uncomfortable battle — taking the proverbial hot seat to a whole new level.”
Even if you agree with the hiring manager’s candidate of choice, going down this path can still be perilous. “The interviewer may continue drilling down to your stance on controversial subjects, evaluating whether you’re fully on the same page. It can become a bottomless pit if the interviewer is fervent.”
If you’re asked point-blank who you’d vote for, you have several good options, all of which will keep you out of hot water, says Taylor. Here are some responses to consider:
Taylor says you can choose a non-committal response:
“I think it’s a discussion that’s teeming with controversy, so lately I’m just staying out of the fray as much as possible. I look forward to some post-election normalcy!”
This should be enough of a signal to the hiring manager that you’re uncomfortable opening the can of worms. If not, beware, Taylor adds.
She says you can also try something like these comments to illustrate your diplomacy and humour, while intimating you’d prefer not to engage:
1. “I think I’m going to plead the fifth. I’ll probably keep more friends that way.”
2. “I’d sign up in a minute for anyone who could make even a dent in world peace. But I may be waiting a long time!”
3. “Well, if the candidates stop attacking each other and their policies become crystal clear, we will all benefit from better insight. Of course that’s probably slated for the next Millennium.”
Taylor says the best way to respond is to transition away from the topic:
1. “It’s a challenging election for so many reasons. But the process certainly brings to mind the whole issue of leadership. For example, I’m always drawn to business leaders who do X and Y.”
2. “It’s a topic filled with so much polarity, which is the antithesis of what I really admire in companies. I really enjoy a sense of building something together as a team. Which reminds me of a question I have … “
She suggests bridging to a discussion of the company’s own leadership or your most admired corporate icons — steering the conversation away from politics. You might even be able to turn the tables and ask your interviewer for their thoughts on certain business luminaries.
“Your interviewer may wax on a bit on about why they like a candidate, so it’s helpful to show some neutral acknowledgment, such as a couple nods,” says Taylor, or:
1. “Hmm, interesting … “
2. “Really? I hadn’t thought of that … “
3. “I can see how you might feel that way … “
Your ideal strategy is to transition the conversation to business and the job interview at hand, making the segue at your earliest opportunity. “This is also your valuable time to present your qualifications, and you want to maximise it — while remaining courteous,” she says.
If the hiring manager seems hell-bent on discussing it, despite any obvious discomfort on your part, take note. Do they go off on a rant? Challenge you unnecessarily? This is your opportunity to evaluate your prospective manager’s work style, emotional intelligence, and your mutual compatibility. You should never feel forced to discuss something that makes you feel uncomfortable in a job interview, she says.
“Your best approach is to remain professional, diplomatic, and focused, even if your interviewer attempts to stray,” Taylor says. “Gauge the reaction you get as you try to shift gears. Then you can decide if they should get your vote.”
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