Know the Laws That Protect You from Discrimination

Two major laws come into play in cases of hiring discrimination:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which was enacted in 1964 and is still very much in effect, makes discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, or national origin illegal in hiring discussions.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990 and was put into effect in 1992, requires that an employer provide an equal opportunity for an individual with a disability to participate in the job application process and to be considered for a job.

A specific job might require an answer to some questions that might appear to be illegal for other jobs. For example, firefighters need to be in good physical condition because they may be required to climb a ladder carrying 100 or more pounds. Therefore strength and health-related questions are acceptable in interviews for firefighters. Bartenders need to be at least 21 years old, so the interviewer can ask about age when interviewing a bartender. These are examples of legitimate job-related questions that an employer can ask when interviewing people for these jobs. In general, an employer is not allowed to ask for or consider information that is not related to a person's ability to do the job.

Turn Your Negative into a Positive

So let's assume that you are concerned that you might be unfairly discriminated against and you are reasonably well-qualified for the job you seek. First, understand that highly qualified people with no apparent problems often are unable to obtain jobs after many interviews. The labor market can be very competitive, and others may get the jobs simply because they have better qualifications. In addition, less-qualified people often get offers simply because they do well in the interview. Because you can't easily change your personal situation, you need to improve your interview skills to give you an edge.

Tip: If you think that you have been discriminated against in the job hiring process, visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Web site at This Web site contains guidelines for determining whether discrimination has occurred and instructions for filing a complaint.

Begin by considering how an employer might be legitimately concerned about you or your situation. Might the employer think that you would be less reliable, less productive, or in some other way less capable of doing the job? If so (and the typical answer here is that some might), practice an answer that indicates the problem will not be an issue in your case.

For example, if you have young children at home (an issue, by the way, that men are rarely asked about), it is to your advantage to mention that you have excellent child care and don't expect any problems. In addition, look for a way to present your "problem" as an advantage. Perhaps you could say that your additional responsibilities make it even more important for you to be well-organized, a skill that you have developed over many years and fully expect to apply in the new job. In other words, turn your disadvantage into an advantage.

Answer Open-Ended Questions Effectively

Employers want to get the information they need to make a safe, profitable hiring decision. You, the candidate, want some privacy and a fair chance to be considered based on your merits. Open-ended interview questions generally achieve both goals.

For instance, instead of an employer asking "Are you living with anyone?" she may phrase the question as "Do you foresee any situations that would prevent you from traveling or relocating?" The employer may want to know whether you have any limitations regarding work schedule or whether you have roots in the area that will encourage you to stay. The less direct question allows you to decide what information about your private life applies to the job at hand. Of course, if you are not prepared for such a question, you could provide information that might damage your chances for getting the job.

So, you see, employers often want to know details of your personal situation for legitimate reasons. They want to be sure that you can be depended on to stay on the job and work hard. Your task in the interview is to provide information indicating that, yes, you can be counted on to do the job. If you don't get that idea across, you will probably not be considered for the job.

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