Responding to Interview Questions About Age, Family Status

a Staff ReportFront view portrait of four business executives sitting in a line

How should job applicants respond to interview questions that pertain to their age or family status or both?

That was the question posed recently to Vicki Gaddy, a Career Coach and the Director of the BioNJ Talent Network.

Although it is legally inadvisable for prospective employers to ask these kinds of questions because they could serve as evidence of intent to discriminate on illegitimate grounds; Interviewers, nevertheless, often raise these issues, either directly or indirectly. Thus, it is important to consider, before an interview, how to handle comments and questions pertaining to personal matters.

Vicki emphasized that when responding to these questions it is best to return the discussion to the position under consideration and respond by showing how you will be able to carry out your responsibilities.

For example, questions pertaining to whether you have children are generally motivated by concerns about whether you’ll be able to make it to work consistently and fulfill your obligations, she explained.

Cautioning that there is no actual script job candidates should follow to answer this kind of question, she suggests that they convey to the Interviewer that they have a support system in place; and, explain that “there is nothing that would prevent them from meeting the responsibilities of the position.” She added that candidates should tailor their responses to reflect the truth about their particular situation.

Questions pertaining to a candidate’s age are often subtler. For example, the statement “you are overqualified” is often really about a candidate’s age, she noted.

In response to these kinds of statements, Vicki suggests job candidates underscore the positives of their extensive experience. Unlike candidates with less experience, those who are more experienced “can hit the ground running,” she elaborated. Mature job candidates could also point out that, because they are more seasoned, they will have already encountered many of the challenges specific to their field and, thus, can perform more effectively.

During an interview, prospective employers may also make offhand remarks regarding a candidate’s marital status. For example, an employer might note a candidate’s newlywed status and the prospect of children in his or her future.

Vicki explained that these kinds of remarks should be handled in much the same way as questions regarding an individual’s family status. That is, candidates should avoid responding in a defensive way. Instead, they should convey in a “positive, confident way” that they will be able to handle their job responsibilities regardless of their family status.

If you want Vicki to help you with your own career decisions send an email to: vgaddy@bionj.org.

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