Equal Employment Opportunity laws have a lot to say about what employers can and cannot ask you in an interview. These guidelines, of course, apply for physician and other healthcare position interviews just as they would for any other type of interview. Because it can be difficult to find that balance between answering questions truthfully and maintaining your rights as a job candidate, here is a look at how you can answer those questions that you really shouldn’t be asked in a job interview.
Understand which questions are off the table.
Any questions that pertain to the protected classes of race, gender, nationality, religion, military status, and age are prohibited by law. This includes many more questions that you may think, as questions that involve assumptions based on these factors are also prohibited. Here are some examples of each type of prohibited question:
In addition to these, it is a good idea to bring written directions to the interview location (in case your GPS malfunctions) and a folder of briefcase for all of your papers. For things like your letters of recommendation, copies of degrees, and thank-you letters, it is a good idea to keep them together in a three-ring binder or expandable file folder. That way, interviewers can easily flip through them during your meeting. It may seem like overkill, but it is always better to be over-prepared than underprepared.
- Are you a U.S. citizen?
- Is English your first language? (You can, however, be asked about other languages you speak fluently.)
Gender (or marital status)
- Are you pregnant?
- Do you have children or plan to?
- Who is going to take care of your children?
- Are you married?
- Do you prefer to be called by Miss, Ms., or Mrs.?
- What is your religious affiliation?
- Which religious holidays do you observe?
- How old are you?
- What year did you graduate from college?
- How long have you been working? (You can, however, be asked how long you have been working in a particular industry.)
- What type of discharge did you receive in the military. (You can, however, be asked about the education, work experience, and training you received in the military.)
- Do you have any outstanding debt?
- What kind of car do you drive?
- Are you disabled?
- Do you drink socially? (Alcoholism is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. Note that current illegal drug use is not protected under this act.)
- Have you ever been arrested? (You can, however, be asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime.)
Determine what is really being asked.
Let’s say that you are asked one of the above questions during an interview. You should never feel obligated to answer one of these questions. Often, though, the purpose of the question really is to determine whether or not you can perform the job—not to pry into your personal life. If you sense that your rights are being violated by a particular question, try to determine if there is really a different, underlying question at hand that you can answer instead.
For example, if an employer asks if you have any children, they may want to know whether you have any responsibilities which might conflict with your job. You may answer by saying that you not have any responsibilities that would conflict with normal workday hours. If an employer asks whether you are a U.S. citizen, they may really want to know whether you are authorized to work in the United States. You might answer by stating that you are authorized to work in the United States.
Give the employer a chance to rephrase the question.
Alternatively, you can respond with a simple, polite statement such as, “I am happy to answer that question, but I don’t think it pertains to my qualifications for this position.” Doing so reminds the employer than they may have overstepped a boundary, and it gives them the chance to rephrase the question to better capture what it is they are asking.
Avoid conversation that might involve personal information.
You can also protect yourself by avoiding any conversation which might lead to you inadvertently reveal personal information. If you see photos on your employer’s desk and ask whether they have children, for example, that only opens the door for them to ask the same question back without even thinking. If you start talking about current events that occurred while you were in college, that makes it easy for an employer to estimate how old you are. Some light conversation is fine, and it can be very important for breaking the ice; just be sure that this conversation steers clear of any personal information that you are not obligated to share.