Despite all the increased awareness, warnings, and abundant corporate training available today, some hiring managers still openly ask illegal questions during the job interview, says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job.”
One of the most discriminatory queries of all is, “Which religion do you practice?”
“It may be that you’re dealing with an inexperienced hiring manager,” Taylor says. “But more often than not, interviewers who inquire about religion are trying to get at your work schedule. Questions about whether you observe certain holidays or attend a place of worship have little to do with your job, and you have no compelling reason to shed light on them. If a company wants to know more about your availability or schedule, they should not link it to a religious inquiry.”
While you don’t have to answer the question, you also don’t want to come off as combative and hurt your chances of securing the job. So what do you say when put on the spot?
“Your challenge is to enlighten the employer to focus on your commitment without letting your emotions get in the way,” Taylor says. “Realise that, like other illegal interview questions, it’s probably the manager’s lack of experience behind the question, and you can take the high road. You can also get to the bottom of any discriminatory practices by inquiring politely.”
Taylor and Adam Robinson, CEO of Hireology, a software platform that simplifies the hiring process, offer seven examples of responses you could give to the discriminatory, “Which religion do you practice?” interview question without sounding like a jerk:
1. “Are you looking for information about which religious holidays I might observe for scheduling purposes, or was there some other piece of information you were looking for?”
2. “Is there a particular schedule I should be aware of for this position other than what’s been described?”
3. “My religious beliefs never get in the way of my job. Actually, I can’t think of a time in my life where it affected my results and performance. I don’t know if you have differing views of how it impacts productivity…”
4. “I have always focused on good performance and hard work, and so I keep my private beliefs out of the office in that same spirit.”
5. “Does that relate to this position in a way that I should be aware of? Doing the best job I possibly can do would always be my top priority.”
6. “Interesting question. Is there a particular reason you ask?”
7. “I have never been asked that in a job interview. Religion and spirituality are complex matters for me that would consume a lot of our time here; it’s not a simple answer. I would like to spend a little more of our time learning about the XYZ aspect of the job. Can you elaborate on that?”
“It behooves job candidates to ask for more clarification with red flags like these, as you want to complete your due diligence before accepting any position,” Taylor says. “To do that, you can use a combination of these sample responses. Decide what best fits the situation and your comfort zone.”
She says it’s always wise to plan ahead for the occasional discriminatory question, whether intentional or inadvertent, and react in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your chances of landing a job. “But the interview is also a chance to delve into the culture you’re exploring — so take advantage of the two-way conversation. Your diplomacy and job savvy can help keep you and the employer out of the legal fray, while maximizing your career opportunities.”
Robinson agrees that, at the end of the day, you may not want to work for someone who doesn’t know better than to ask these types of inappropriate, discriminatory questions. “Even if the illegality of the query doesn’t bother you, it may speak volumes about that particular manager’s cultural awareness and tact,” he concludes.
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