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If women are going to make headway on increasing their representation among the ranks of educational leaders, they have to continue to earn the appropriate credentials, apply for open positions and then successfully navigate the selection process. One of the first hurdles is the interview. Despite the fact that almost everyone has been trained not to ask questions about age, race, sex, disability, gender, religion, etc., most women I know have been asked some strange and often illegal questions. It helps not to be caught off guard by the odd questions that are sometimes posed.
Let’s start with a few real-world examples of strange questions. These are actual examples of things that either I or some of my colleagues have been asked:
- What does your husband (or father in the case of one young applicant) do for a living?
- Tell me about your childcare arrangements.
- Do you plan on any leaves in the near future?
- How would you deal with an office with “too much female energy”?
- How would you deal with staff members who don’t respect you because you are a woman?
- If your spouse/partner were offered a job in another state/town, would you move with him?
- If you take this job, would your spouse/partner move here with you?
As I discussed this issue with my colleagues, we agreed that the best way to handle these types of questions is to remain calm and focused on your qualifications for the job. Do not display your shock and even if the question is not legal to ask, it’s best not to point out the error interviewer at that time. Your best bet as the interviewee is to redirect your answer back to the job and why you are a good fit.
For example, if you are asked any one of the questions about your spouse, you may want to briefly mention how supportive he or she is of you and your career and then quickly return to your qualifications based on your skills, experience and passion. You can also use this as a great opportunity to expand upon a previous answer by saying something like, “my spouse is quite supportive of me so that won’t ever be an issue; however, I would like to take a moment to return to your question about X and add to my response”.
Almost every female administrator who is also a mother has been asked about childcare at some point. Again, this is best handled in a similar fashion by acknowledging that you and your partner (if you have one) have always had childcare covered and so it is not a worry and then quickly pivot back to discussion about the job and why you are qualified. In short, the best way to overcome stereotypes or sexism is with concrete examples from your past leadership experiences.
Although it is best not to point out an illegal question in an interview, this is something you may want to follow up on later. If you accept the job, you won’t want your employer asking questions that could result in legal action at some point.
On a final note, you may want to think about your fit or desire to work in a district or school where they have asked you odd or unnecessary questions during an interview. You will want to at least gather more information about the district and the experiences of other women leaders who work there. Accepting a job that is not a good fit can lead to difficult circumstances or sometimes even disastrous outcomes. Remember, you are interviewing each other and its ok to wait for the right job at a school or district that will be supportive of your leadership.