You Married? You Have Kids?
February 19, 2014 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I got asked about my marital and family status in a job interview. Now what?

I just returned from a job interview that involved talking to several people individually. One of those people was unprepared and obviously not experienced at interviewing. The second question out of his mouth was about if I was married and had a family. It totally through me for a loop. There was no beating around the bush. He just straight out asked, which I know is a violation of Federal law. I'm a guy, so it's not like I'm going to get pregnant or anything, and I don't think the fact that I'm single can be used against me. What I want to know is, if you were the HR person, (with whom I also had an interview) would you want to know that this guy was asking candidates that question? I thought about bringing it up at the end of the interview, but decided to not say anything then.

The interview was for an admin position at a large, state research university if that matters.
posted by dortmunder to Work & Money (16 answers total)
Best answer: Asking is actually not a violation of federal law. What's a violation is using that information to make decisions. Most workplaces counsel against asking, because you can't make a decision based on what you don't know. . . but the asking itself is perfectly legal. However, their HR department might well want to know. You might reach out to them and say "By the way, one thing has been puzzling me -- Mr. Soandso asked about my marital status and plans for children during the interview. Is that something that is going to be relevant to the job? I was a bit taken aback."
posted by KathrynT at 9:44 AM on February 19, 2014 [32 favorites]

Given that he seemed awkward and not like he was fishing for information in a nefarious manner, I would let it go - at least until you find out whether or not you got the job. My boss asked me how old I was and if I was married when I interviewed and I have been working here, extremely happily, for nearly nine years. He's a nice man and was clearly flustered rather than trying to use my answers against me.

Once the interview process is over, it wouldn't hurt anything just to let the HR person know that happened, if only so they can counsel the guy that asking those sort of questions is not a good idea.
posted by something something at 9:44 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

KathrynT 's wording is perfect - just wait until the hiring process is completely over to use it.
posted by thatone at 9:48 AM on February 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would tell HR - after the interview process. My immediate fear, given some familiarity with admin hiring, is that this dude was trying to find out if you were gay because he is homophobic and would use that to advocate against you. You must be aware that admin positions - unless you mean "higher level administrative thing like being an assistant dean or something" - are generally filled by women. I've encountered some suspicion of men who apply for these roles....although I've also encountered some bias in favor of men, for misogynist reasons, so it's a wash overall. But anyway, when I encounter people who ask men (or me, since I am visibly gender non-conforming) about marital status in a work context, I assume that it's from homophobia and I assume that it's hostile.
posted by Frowner at 9:48 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Absolutely anyone can be an interviewer for job candidates. I have interviewed many people for positions, and the first few times I was always asked in the manner of, "Hey, can you interview this person? Ask about [my specific skill set]." There isn't necessarily any training that someone gets before being asked to interview a job candidate, and so someone who hasn't really done it before might just be choosing the wrong questions as smalltalk or because he doesn't know what to say. Don't assume that there's some nefarious purpose behind the question.

I'd probably tell HR about it, but not until after they'd decided to hire me or not.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:51 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

(My point being that while gay men can actually be married now and have always been able to be dads, I've encountered a lot of fishing about marriage and children in a homophobic context, since frankly that type of homophobe tends not to grasp the finer points and assumes that marriage/kids equals straight-married/babies-with-female-partner.)
posted by Frowner at 9:55 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

For a large state research university, I would be shocked if there were NOT training for interviewers. Most public higher ed institutions take hiring very seriously (sometimes to the point of inanity, but at any rate...). I wonder if this guy was actually subbed in for someone who got sick or otherwise cancelled at the last minute.

HR probably wants to know (however, again, I would be shocked if he didn't get a stern speaking-to from the rest of the committee later). But do wait until everything is over.
posted by wintersweet at 9:57 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Last minute subbing definitely happens - I used to sometimes do interviews at a large research university, and still remember the time I interviewed someone to work on an autism research project, and my last-minute subbed-in co-interviewer started asking all about whether he had children or family members with autism. Same interview, same guy, he dropped some information about his own chronic health condition and said co-interview got super-interested in it and tried to ask him all sorts of questions about it. I don't think for a second she had sinister motives, I think she was just interested, and totally oblivious to what you do and don't ask in an interview. It was all I could do to drag them both back into less fraught waters, but I still left that interview uncomfortable with both the questions asked and the information volunteered.

I told my boss and she was happy to know, and retrained that staff member. So I do think it's a good idea to mention this to HR - but I would agree with waiting until after the hiring process, one way or another.
posted by Stacey at 10:25 AM on February 19, 2014

Response by poster: Last minute subbing definitely happens

This was not a last minute sub. He was on an agenda that was sent to me a week prior.
posted by dortmunder at 10:55 AM on February 19, 2014

Speaking from experience, that doesn't mean they told him!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:06 AM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

For a large state research university, I would be shocked if there were NOT training for interviewers. Most public higher ed institutions take hiring very seriously (sometimes to the point of inanity, but at any rate...)

For what it's worth, it really depends on the school. We're a largish state school, and while I'd say we take hiring seriously, the extent of our "training" during our last search was an emailed handout reminding us of dos and don'ts a couple days before the first candidate interview.
posted by joycehealy at 11:31 AM on February 19, 2014

I would also go with KathrynT's advice.
My guess is that he was just asking random questions and didn't know any better or that he wanted to find out if you had children (which may mean more missed work).
posted by KogeLiz at 12:26 PM on February 19, 2014

I have conducted job interviews for a large state research university (the University of Virginia), while employed there, and while I happened to know full well not to ask about marriage or children, I'm pretty sure that I was never given any training or instructions that told me not to ask about such things. FWIW.
posted by waldo at 12:29 PM on February 19, 2014

I would wait until the hiring process is over, whether or not you get an offer and whether or not you accept it. Then, inform their HR department.

It sounds to me like he may have been unprepared for the interview and/or merely trying to make casual conversation. The only thing that should matter in an interview is whether or not you can do the job they are hiring for, and your personal life should not matter (except for obvious things like a criminal record or recent drug use or something like that).
posted by tckma at 1:16 PM on February 19, 2014

Was this person a researcher? In my experience (as an admin at a university-affiliated research hospital, not in the USA), researchers are sometimes extremely clueless about HR. If this person is an investigator you would be working with, for example, I would write it off as conversational.

On the other hand, if this person is an investigator you would be working with and it would frustrate you to be working with a researcher who is clueless about HR, then you have some useful information.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:20 PM on February 19, 2014

There's likely no training for interviewers. At a large state university I have heard other interviewers ask questions that would determine whether the candidate would be in a protected class or not. I suggested to department administration that they remind people that such questions are ill-advised but nothing happened.

At best you telling the HR person will result in such reminders being sent out (which might result in a reduction of liability of the institution but probably won't result in an actual decrease in discrimination), at worst they will tell the interviewer and they will be annoyed at you from the start.
posted by grouse at 7:01 PM on February 19, 2014

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