What if you are asked about your politics as a job interviewee? First of all, is it legal? Second, how do you answer? Third, is this somewhere you want to work? While most interviewers know better than to tackle that subject directly, sometimes conversations arise about world events, the company or agency mission, or your past employment history that can bleed over into that touchy subject.
What’s Legal in the Interview Process?
Is it legal for an interviewer to ask you about your politics? If you are being interviewed by the federal government, the codified answer is no. Under “Prohibited Personnel Practices” , 5 USC 2302 (b) Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority….discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment…… on the basis of marital status or political affiliation, as prohibited under any law, rule, or regulation.
While most states have similar laws, what about the private sector? Per se, there are no requirements that an interviewer must comply with regarding questions about political affiliation. Most interviewers, even those with a political agenda are smarter than that.
REsponding to Fuzzy Interview Questions
However, anybody that follows social media knows that those with a vested interest can politicize practically all subjects and your position on the matter, or your neutrality, can be queried as a way of finding out what your political beliefs are. Moreover, they could look at your resume and job history, and infer your beliefs based on where or for whom you might have worked. If you have made it to the interview stage, hopefully, the potential employer has already favorably considered your resume and wants to hear more from you directly.
So how do you answer these fuzzy questions? While every situation is different, there are some helpful ways to respond.
1. Flip the Questions Around and Back
Ask the interviewer why they are asking the question? If it is truly relevant to your job, such as working in a lobbying organization, they should be able to rationalize themselves and you should have done your homework early, knowing what type of position you applied for. If the answer is not clear and the interviewer dances around the question, it may be time to reconsider where you are seeking employment. I heard of one case in which the interviewer from a government contractor asked a candidate who was interviewing for an engineering position if there was too much waste in defense spending. Is that political or not? How do you answer? The candidate simply said, “I have no idea as my knowledge of the DoD budget and procurement audits are limited, but I do know that I believe in a strong defense of the nation and strongly support the mission of this company”. Another candidate was asked about Edward Snowden. Getting to the bottom of their reasons can help you understand the reason for the question.
2. Find the Safe Zone
There are always the safe answers such as “I am not really that familiar with the subject as I try to stay out of those discussions and social media”. This is great unless you have pinned yourself down to a position on social media, which is an entirely difference article topic altogether.
3. Be Honest and Let the Chips Fall
If you choose to dare, answer them honestly. It may be a way to both eliminate you or select you by the employer, or just to see how you react. A good response would be “I think that xyz company is a good/bad organization because of xyz reason, but let me say upfront I can work with anybody that has differing views because that diversity of thought or perspective is what makes an organization great”. Sometimes interviewers will feel you out tacitly by editorializing on a political subject, just to see your response. Don’t bite, and think very carefully about why they might have said it.
Political Fishing Could Be Your Sign to Exit
Again there are no right answers. Putting the questions asked in the context of the job and more importantly, doing your research on the job and the leadership should you prepare you for most anything. If the questions seem silly and irrelevant, it is probably only going to get worse, and you may want to reconsider working for that company or agency.