Most people who work in Human Resources, or who are often in charge of interviewing candidates are well aware of this restriction, and will be sure not to ask these types of questions. But, just because they don't ask these questions doesn't mean that they don't have them. This is where the “secret” illegal question comes in, because it is often only asked in the interviewers mind. And, since it isn't expressed, you don't have a chance to respond to it.
Frequently, this comes into play when you can't hide the answers to some of these questions that can't be asked. Some examples would be, if you are physically challenged, over 50, are a member of an ethnic minority, or your resume makes it clear that you are a single mom returning to the workplace. While the interviewer can't specifically address any of these factors, they may be taking them into consideration and asking questions about it to themselves. They may wonder if your disability will limit your work abilities and if you have the physical strength to handle a long work day, or they may ask themselves if you family obligations will take valuable time away from you work responsibilities. So, when you are in this sort of situation, how is the best way to deal with it?
Basically, you have two choices. And, this is where doing a little bit of research on the company and the corporate culture can really help. Is the culture open minded and innovative? Are they a very formal company that prides themselves on being traditional? By finding out who they are as a company, you can get a better idea of what “secret” questions they may be asking and it can help you decide which way to choose.
Address your obvious situation directly. If you have a visible physical disability, mention it and let them know that your physical challenges don't interfere with your ability to perform the job. If you are a mom who is returning to the workplace, when the interviewer asks why you are looking for a job now, you can tell them that your children are older now and you feel confident that it is the right time to start devoting more of yourself to your career. By addressing the situation head on, you can answer the questions they may have without them having to ask. The truth is that just because they can't ask the question, doesn't mean they don't have any, and more than likely, they will come up with their own answers, so you might as well help them out. On the other hand, because the interviewer knows that these questions aren't allowed, by talking about your situation openly, you may make them feel uncomfortable, and it is possible that they weren't even concerned about the issue until you brought it up.
Address any of these concerns indirectly. Think about what question the interviewer may be asking themselves and offer plenty of counterbalancing information to reassure them about your abilities. The key to this option is to try to understand the intent of the question. For example, if you are over 50 and you think that the interviewer may be concerned that you aren't going to be able to pick up new skills and training easily, you can highlight skills and experience that show your willingness to learn new things and your openness to adapting to new technologies. This will reassure the interviewer that your age isn't a problem in the areas he may be doubtful about. No matter what your particular situation is, it is important to think about which of your key abilities demonstrates that you are capable of performing the job and hit them hard, leaving no doubt that you are a great candidate for the job. Be sure though, to not come across as defensive about yourself or to in any way imply that the interviewer has unspoken, discriminatory questions.
Whichever option you chose, the key is to attempt to understand what sort of ideas and preconceptions an interviewer might have about you. One way to find out is to ask yourself what sort of concerns you would have, if you were hiring for this position and were interviewing yourself. This should give you an idea of what concerns they might have and give you an idea of which of your strengths, accomplishments and abilities you should stress in order to strongly counterbalance any unspoken concerns about your ability to be a good fit for the company and the position.
Are you looking for a job in the Philadelphia area? Be sure to visit PhillyJobs.
By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer, along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.