As we inch toward election day, political banter is likely seeping into your workplace, triggering some strained discussions. But what do you do when it enters your all-important job interview?
“There’s a reason for the old adage, ‘Never talk to strangers 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 a hiring manager starts talking politics and decides to tell you how they feel about the candidates, or who they plan to vote for, you’ll need to use your best diplomacy and avoid getting drawn into a potentially heated, no-win debate, 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 dialogue and put to the test — taking the proverbial hot seat to a whole new level.”
Even if you agree with the hiring manager’s politics, 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 there are two great 'noncommittal' options:
1. 'I don't think I'll decide until last minute, there are so many issues to consider. Thankfully, we still have time.'
2. 'While I've paid attention to the major headlines, I've been so focused on my work, I haven't made a decision.'
She says you can also try something like:
1. 'I think I'm going to wait before formalising an opinion. I will 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, after the candidates stop attacking each other and I understand their policies, it will be a lot easier. Of course that could take another millennium!'
Taylor says the best way to respond is to transition away from the topic:
1. 'I don't have a favourite yet, but I am always drawn to certain leadership attributes. (Pause) I'll give you an example ... I admire business leaders who do X and Y.'
2. 'I'm actually still deciding -- but that reminds me of a question I have about the leadership team here ... '
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 be a staunch devotee of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or someone else, and continue to seek a reaction,' says Taylor. 'It's helpful to be armed with such neutral phrases as:
1. 'Hmm, interesting … '
2. 'Really? Wow. I hadn't thought of that … '
3. 'I can see how you could feel that way … '
Your best move 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. It may raise the question of his or her emotional intelligence, the work culture, or your mutual compatibility.
'Your best approach is to remain professional, diplomatic, and focused, even if your interviewer attempts to stray from the task at hand,' 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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