I’m often asked this question by people preparing for an interview. What’s really appropriate for the interviewer to ask? What’s appropriate for me to say?
The answer to what is legal for an interviewer to ask is rather easy to answer because there are multiple laws that govern the work of HR professionals that determine this. The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) provides us with the framework we need to determine equitable and legal selection processes.
But the other side to this question is rather difficult. It’s an HR professionals instinct to tell a candidate never to share any personal information. Leave the kids, family, etc out of the conversation. Personally, I’ve always found this to be a challenge to adhere to and I’m not sure I believe it’s advisable in some cases.
For example, I work in the education field. Naturally, the question of why I have chosen this path versus finance or technology, which are both areas I have degrees in and have worked in, comes up in an interview. My real answer is a very passionate one that is deeply rooted in my personal experiences.
So let me tell you the story…
Prior to having children my mother had a 5th grade level education and my father a 3rd grade level education. My mother has since finished high school and took some college courses. I am the last of 10 children. One of my brothers passed away in his childhood. Of the remaining 9 of us, we all finished high school. One of my sisters had her first child at 16 and still finished. Of the nine, 6 of us have bachelors degrees. Of the six, 4 of us have masters degrees or higher. Among the four of us is a medical doctor, college professor, recently retired director of planning and natural resources for the United States territory we grew up in and there’s me. I think I’m fairly successful. You be the judge. 🙂
A lot went in to making us, an immigrant family and a minority family, who we are. Some of it is complicated. Some of it is painful, to be honest, but what we have in common was the benefit of committed parents and excellent teachers. We had teachers that saw our potential and not our circumstance. That is why I am drawn to education. That is why I want to have a direct impact on the kinds of people who educate children.
So is that appropriate to say in an interview? I don’t know. I know I say it if asked because it’s the truth and it relates to why I am specifically seeking out an HR position in an education environment. If a potential employer wants to pass on me because they feel I was too forthcoming to be a sound HR professional, then they weren’t the right employer for me.
I see this exactly the same way I see placing information on a resume that could potentially identify your race or gender. I am from the school of thought to always let it be known in the most professional way possible. So yes, I list that I am a member of the National Association of African-Americans in Human Resources. If the reason why you don’t want to hire me is because I’m Black, then please don’t waste my time. I’m not interested in helping you check a box on a government survey. Find someone else to help you meet your “diversity interviewing” goals. I only want to be contacted for viable opportunities.
So is it appropriate? I guess only time will tell if my approaches work for me or not but it is food for thought.