Part 1 – Still No Kids, But Thanks For Asking
Several years ago, I left a job that was emotionally draining and making me utterly miserable. Everyone was shocked that I made such a bold leap, but the moment I left the place behind, I felt free. I took the summer “off” and devoted my time to writing.
After a few months, I decided it was time to look for another job. I quickly discovered that my old job had given me a skill I couldn’t put on my resume – I was an expert at identifying potentially unhealthy work environments.
It seemed that every time I went on an interview, something strange happened or the interviewer asked a bizarre question. I started paying attention to this new “trend” and wondered if it was just me. Did I have the ability to draw out insane questions from hiring managers? Or did I just apply to “weird” places where nobody else wanted to work? Some of the questions I was asked surprised me, some amused me, and some made me wonder what the heck I was doing there.
What follows is my unusual (yet practical) advice to anyone going on an interview. There are hundreds of books and websites offering interview tips (bring a resume, wear a suit, etc.) but here are a few things I’ve learned first-hand from wallowing in the trenches. For obvious reasons, I won’t give out company names, but all of the quotes and situations are real.
Let’s start with the biggie:
As a woman in the 30-something age bracket, I’m often asked (mostly by other women) if I have children. Now we all know this isn’t a politically correct question, but how does one handle it? Several ideas came to mind, with: “I’m not answering questions you’re not allowed to ask” being the most polite. (I figured “None of your business” might be considered rude.) Interviewers decided to sneak around the issue by giving the “forbidden” question a preamble: “I know I’m not supposed to ask this but…” Well then, why are you asking?
I generally ended up following the old “just say No” advice. But many times, after hearing that I didn’t have children, the interviewers seemed overly concerned about a population decrease and followed up with: “Why not?” or “Are you planning to have any?”
Part of me wanted to answer: “Yeah, as soon as I get home and take off my pantyhose, I’ll start working on that.” Once I asked: “What does that have to do with this job?” The woman didn’t know how to respond.
After numerous rounds of defending my childless state, a friend suggested that I stop wearing my wedding ring to interviews. After all, if they didn’t see the ring, they wouldn’t be curious, right?
Wrong. The question changed to: “Are you married?” If I confessed that I was, then I got the usual “Do you have children?” as a follow up. My friend suggested I try a new answer: “I’m in a committed relationship with my life-partner.” And let them wonder.
Some of the jobs I applied for wanted a salary requirement. Almost everyone knows this is a warning sign. I played it safe and included a minimum salary requirement, thinking that employers knew the definition of the word minimum. Oops, wrong again!
After sitting through a dull interview (Nope, still no kids, but thanks for asking!), the woman interviewing me said: “You indicated your minimum salary requirement in your cover letter, but that’s not in our range. Is that the lowest you can go?”
I wanted to ask her if she knew what minimum meant, but instead I replied, “Yes, actually it is. I need to pay the bills.” (What if I had kids? I wondered. Would they pay more?)
Her response: “And what do you hope is included with that salary?” (I thought money would be nice…)
Since I was on a roll, I decided to ask what benefits were available. I was told: “We have benefits for employees only and it costs $730 a month. You pay for it yourself. We don’t provide anything.”
Wait! My mind shouted. Where’s the benefit in taking their benefits? With that extra-low salary that’s beneath my minimum, I won’t earn anything!
The woman followed up with: “Since you’re married, you can use your husband’s benefits.” Thanks! We’ve come a long way, baby!
(Horror and romance author Kelli Wilkins has more to share about her experiences – check back next week to read Part 2 of her article!)