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Fielding age-related illegal/unethical questions in Interviews

Age discrimination persists, both young and old. So how do we handle illegal or unethical questions about age during interviews?

First, rest assured, you do not have to answer illegal or unethical interview questions.

If this happens you have two choices:

1) Decide the interviewer or organization is immoral and you don’t want to work for them. You can even tactfully end the interview early if you feel it's a waste of your time.

2) Decide the interviewer is simply poorly trained or unaware that they’ve stepped into the illegal/unethical zone. In this case, watch for more infractions and carefully frame your answers.

If you determine it’s worthwhile to continue the conversation, address the concern BEHIND the question, as opposed to answering an uncouth question directly.

If an interviewer asks point blank about your age...

The concern is that you may be dwindling in energy reserves or for younger candidates, the concern might be centered around lower retention rates or lack of professional experience. Either way, emphasize the positive attributes of your age.

Q — How old are you?

Your answer can address experience, not age. It might sound something like this:

A (Older candidates) — I have enough experience to know in what parameters I thrive and I am confident I will excel in this role.

A (Younger candidates) — I have the experience to know that I can excel in this role.

If the interviewer ask about your health...

The concern is whether you will be an insurance liability for the hiring organization or that you will be a high cost employee with poor ROI.

Q — Do you have health issues?

A — I am poised to deliver tremendous outcomes for your organization. I have driven 5% year-over-year revenue growth for the past 3 years, traveled extensively to quality check new production lines, and enabled the launch of 21 new products last year.

For younger and older candidates, the interviewer might ask about travel or recent moves....

The subtext might be age-related concerns about transience or lack of commitment, especially if asked in tandem with other age-related inquiries.

If the position includes travel, you can wrap it into your answer. If not, proceed with caution.

Q — Where have you traveled recently? How often do you move?

A (Position with no travel) — I have enjoyed my travels/recent moves, but I am looking forward to establishing some roots and thoroughly enjoy the community that comes with shared experience and mutual goals within an organization.

A (Position with travel) — I thoroughly enjoy traveling/moving around the country, especially to destinations where I have a purpose. I would love to travel on Acme company's behalf to better serve our clients and strengthen those relationships.

If an interviewer asks about your family, loved ones, or caregiving responsibilities

The concern is centered around your availability and ability to manage your fair share of the workload.

Q —Do you have caregiving responsibilities?

A — I am well prepared to meet the availability requirements for this role.

If an interviewer seems to be probing as to whether you’re close to retirement...

The concern pertains to longevity and commitment.

Q — Are you close to retirement?

A — If selected to serve as your next Head of Accounting, I intend to see my projects through to completion and follow through on any commitments.

Bad interviews happen. It doesn't mean you're unworthy.

If you feel the questions were unfortunate, but the interviewer and company remain appealing weigh an offer carefully to make sure you are truly comfortable working there after an intrusive interview.

If the interviewer clearly crossed a line, try not to take it personally. Poor treatment does not mean you are in inadequate candidate, but rather that the interviewer was ill-equipped to conduct a line of relevant questioning.


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