Interviewing for a job is pretty stressful on its own. But the experience can be even more unnerving for women. Even though we've come a long way in recent times, sexism is still alive in the workplace and the interview room is no exception—female candidates have to deal with it even before they join the company.
To learn more about it, Reddit user u/poxycabbage posted an open question on the platform: "What strange personal questions have you been asked in a job interview that you don’t think they are asking male applicants?" In just a few days, it has received a few hundred replies, many of which detail the gross, offensive, and downright illegal phrases recruiters throw at women on a pretty regular basis.
At least they get some useful information about their potential colleagues before they start working there.
"Are you in a relationship?"
--"Yes, I have a partner."
"And that partner is....?"
--"...doing well, thank you."
Becca Carnahan is an experienced career coach located outside of Boston, MA. She is dedicated to helping early and mid-career professionals find fulfillment and joy in their work.
Carnahan told Bored Panda that every job interview is different and the same. "The skills and competencies interviewers screen for will differ significantly based on the role and the company," she said. "However, you will almost always be asked a variation of 'tell me about yourself.'"
All kinds of questions regarding my marriage status, if/when I plan to marry, if/when I plan to have children and how I would organize childcare for the hypothetical children.
All of those questions are illegal where I live, by the way, and I refused to answer them. I didn't get those jobs, in case that wasn't obvious.
I have also heard multiple people openly admit (outside of job interviews) that they don't like to hire women of a certain age (because ALL of them get pregnant and who has the money for that kind of hassle - we have a right to paid parental leave and a return to your previous position here) or mothers because they are unreliable and won't do overtime. Hiring men of the same age or fathers came with none of those concerns. But "I have to understand them. They need to make money. They don't have anything against women!".
The fun fact: I don't have or want children. I still get "punished" just for having the biological setup to do so.
I was asked if I was married, and then asked if I would be open to the idea of cheating on my husband.
"There are subjects that are not just off-limits, but also illegal for interviewers to ask," Carnahan highlighted. "Questions around marital status, children, ethnicity, religion, race, and age should not be asked in an interview. Keep in mind, the laws in your state as well. For example, in some states, employers cannot ask about your salary history."
According to the career coach, while some inappropriate or illegal interview questions may be asked off-hand or with innocent 'get to know you' intentions, it is fully within your rights to not answer the question. "You can state that you would prefer not to answer, you can redirect the conversation, or directly ask 'Is that relevant to this position I am applying for?' or 'Can you help me understand how this question is relevant to the job I am being considered for?'" Carnahan said it can be intimidating to respond in this way but it's also important to protect yourself and your boundaries.
I've definitely had the pregnancy/marriage, etc. questions, but I remember an interview I had with a random company while I was just searching for any job I could get because I needed a job, and the people who interviewed me were the owner of the company and the two women I would be working with. After getting through my skills, they asked me if I was okay with swearing, I said sure, then they asked me if I was a "snowflake, because a lot of young people are nowadays." They also basically told me that, since I would be working with a lot of middle-aged and older men, I would just need to deal with some light sexual harassment and that they wouldn't be doing anything about it because "that's how it's always been."
This was during an exit interview where I was leaving a traditional job to pursue something less traditional. My manager (M45) asked me what my parents thought about my decision, making sure that I had their permission to quit.
For the record, I am in my mid-thirties, well established in my field, and do not have any sort of financial dependence on my parents.
Completely surreal and condescending.
Sadly, we might see a spike in such interviews. Recent projections based on economic scenarios modeled by McKinsey and Oxford Economics estimate that employment for women may not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024—two full years after the recovery for men. Without significant action, such as additional employer support and training programs, there is a real danger that female labor force participation could face its steepest sustained decline since World War II.
FORTUNE reported that without significant action, such as additional employer support and training programs, there is a real danger that female labor force participation could face its steepest sustained decline since World War II.
Female workforce participation has already dropped to 57%—the lowest level since 1988, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
If my period was regular. My supposed to be boss was a 40-year-old guy. Awkward af. I was 19.
“Did you grow up in a nuclear family?”
Huh? Lol what does that have to do with my ability to work at a coffee shop?
I didn’t, but I lied and said I did! I ended up getting the job but quit 5 minute after accepting the position because this a-hole turned around and said “oh yea, by the way we only pay $7/hour for the first two weeks THEN you’ll get the $10/hour we agreed upon”. Minimum wage at the time was over $8.
So not only is he a jerk, he’s also a wage thief.
That was a few years ago and I’ve heard a few similar stories from other prospective/ex employees about that place. Apparently he’s some big Trump supporter and borderline fundie, doesn’t surprise me at all.
I still have the email saved in which he blatantly admitted to paying below minimum wage. Maybe I’ll leak it one day or something lol
"The interview is not one-way, you are assessing if this company is the right fit for you as well. If there are red flags around culture and how the company treats its employees, then you do not have to accept an offer or even continue with an interview process," Carnahan said. Don't worry too much if it doesn't work out. Walking away from a hellhole will save you a lot of time and energy in the long run.
However, there are plenty of reasonable job interviews too. Carnahan said a good way to start preparing for them is "reading the job description closely and reflecting on any earlier conversations you had with people at the company. What are those skills and competencies that are most relevant to the role, and how can you make sure to highlight that you have what the company is looking for, not just in the behavioral interview questions you'll be asked later on, but right away as you offer your introduction."
I had a “medical exam” I had to pass. It’s basically a medical history report and they have a section just for women: number of pregnancies, C sections, abortions, last menstruation, last pap smear date and its result. It was invasive and uncomfortable, felt violated by the end of it.
“I see an engagement ring, do you want children soon because I advise you to wait at least a year if you get the job. I don’t think it is good to train you only for you to go on maternity leave”. Words spoken by a recruiter, highly illegal. Nothing I could do against him with zero proof.
I had someone ask me how much money my husband makes
Why I was married to an Arab/ why did I divorce him/ will he have problem with me working/ will he come bomb the office / ending with I don’t want a single mom with an Arab as ex husband to work for me
I was overqualified, my ex was truly non-violent person, and from well off family. It was all around awfully prejudiced.
It left me enraged. For better tho. I wouldn’t like working there anyways.
"Do you have a boyfriend?", "Are you planing on getting pregnant?". In the same interview. It is illegal there to ask but its my word against them.
"As a woman do you think that you will be capable of doing the job?" "Will you be confortable in an all male team?" Another interview.
At 21, interviewing for medical school, this like 80 year old man asks me why I have two addresses listed. When I explained that one was my legal address but I was living with the other parent at the moment (mailing address) because I was working closer to their house. He asked me so many questions about my parents divorce despite me changing the subject several times, like that had anything to do with my ability to be a doctor. Then he asked me ethical questions and was an ass about every answer, telling me get aggressively how wrong my opinions were. I talked to one of the guys that interviewed with him the same day and they had a totally normal conversation based about his resume & application.
If you're wondering if the problem was in fact my application and not my gender, I'm now a physician and through training have been the team member voted to have difficult conversations with families.
I was interviewing for a senior role in which I'd be the only woman on the management team. It was an important hire for them, they were investing a lot in it (flying me across the country for multiple interviews, etc.), so I guess they hoped I'd be with them a long time if hired. At the time I was single, no kids, early 30s. So in an effort to avoid hiring me only to have me get married, get knocked up and leave basically they asked things like whether I wanted kids (they already knew I didn't have any) and seemed skeptical when I said no, I don't. Then they asked 'What if you move here and meet a nice farmer who sweeps you off your feet, you get married, want to settle down, stay at home, etc.?' They said 'farmer' jokingly b/c I was moving from a major city to a very rural area.
I actually did take the job, but I was there less than 2 years b/c - surprise, surprise - it wasn't a good fit for me, culturally. On one of my first days the same person who asked me those questions sort of gently advised that all of these traditional older men would probably not appreciate it if I speak up much in meetings lol. I went ahead and spoke up a whole bunch in meetings.
How I would feel working in a manufacturing environment that was not temperature controlled. I had just gotten out of the army. An organization that specializes in working in stupid conditions.
"Where else do you have piercings and tattoos? Maybe some that'll go 'sticky outty'?" Motioning to his nipples.
Can you cook? Tell me how you’d make this sauce. Tell me the recipe of xyz....
I was interviewing for a software engineer role.
Thankfully I do cook and could tell him but wtf?
Lots of sneaky questions about when/if I want to start a family, how I plan to dress for the job (including if I planned to wear makeup?), what I would do if a male client hit on me, and my fave: whether or not I identified as a feminist and how I reconcile that with my career choice.
"Do you have any kids?"
"Your hair is so nice..."- then he reached out to feel my hair
"You speak really good for a Mexican girl"- (I was born in the US)
SMH. This was for a position at a long term care facility. I got offered the job a few days later, but I refused the position.
I was 23 at the time, the guy asked if my two kids were planned, and if they shared the same father. When I answered yes to the last question he said 'are you sure?' I was so uncomfortable. And other people would justify it when I told them what happened. 'He wants to know what kind of person you are so it's normal for him to ask personal questions.'
Just interviewed this week at a small town library and was asked if I was actually married because I'm not wearing a wedding band (I had mentioned earlier in the interview that I relocated to the area because my spouse recently started a new job there). I just stared at the woman who asked the question until someone else said "This is an interview. You can't ask that." The same woman asked for my social media handles because she wanted to look me up.
When I was getting my master's in forensic psych, I went to an interview for an internship with a forensic psychologist who does clinical evaluations for the courts. I was so excited, thought this would be a great fit, did all the paperwork, went in for interview.
He asks me maybe five questions in total, of course starting off with where I go to school, what track I'm in, what other research/clinical experience I have, but then he asks, "If I asked your dad or your boyfriend about you, what would they say? Are you responsible, are you naggy, are you b****y?" and I just completely froze since it was so out of the blue and just said something like, "Uh....well, I hope they wouldn't say any of that??? But also why would you be asking about them?" and he kinda backtracked a little to play it off as a joke. He even had one of his current interns (a guy who I had a few classes with actually and knew tangentially) in the interview and it was just awkward as hell.
I ended up getting an interview with a different internship and they were MUCH more responsive and better fit, so I went with them and got hired by them quick and am still working for them in a senior position! So [screw] that other guy, though I sometimes see his reports come across my desk lol.
"Are you married? No? There's a great bar downstairs, do you want to go and finish this interview there?"
Sitting there with the interviewer and he says " That's a really expensive watch, how did you get it?" I was stunned but answered that it was a gift. Still have the watch, didn't want the job. Another one asked if i really needed my glasses, or was I just wearing them to look smart.
Interviewed for a position at a hospital and when they asked me to tell them about myself I mentioned how I want to become a doctor. The response: “have you ever considered nursing?” Smh
Not as problematic as most of the others answers on this thread, but still.
I did a bunch of interviews to work as a programmer in the video game industry. This is a very male-dominated field.
Everytime they ended up asking if I played video games, and if I liked it. Some of my males friends were doing interviews at the same time, and they were never asked this question. I had to prove that I was "one of them", and it was somewhat infuriating.
A lot of sneaky attempts of them trying to find out if I have children and or want them.
Grinds my gears. Its illegal to ask those questions during an interview and I hate how they try to coax it out of you anyway.
One asked me what my husband was thinking about me working. Whole thing was so surreal, it was more funny than upsetting. Did not take their offer tho.
In this case, I was actually the interviewer, and I was running my organization's information table at a job fair. I was talking with three students--2 women, 1 man--they were law students in their early/mid 20s, I was a lawyer in my early 30s, so it was a pretty casual conversation. I asked the group "any other questions for me, about the organization or about being a lawyer in general?" and the guys asks "Are you single? Haha, just kidding."
I was honestly so thrown off, I just half-laughed and said "Nope, married and pregnant with my first child." This was a few years ago, but I wish I had had the presence of mind in the moment to say "That's completely inappropriate. You need to leave." If I had, I think he would have learned an important lesson, and I would have set a positive example for the 2 women there. Later in the day, once things slowed down and I had a minute to think, I just threw his resume away...and the next day wished I hadn't because I could also have emailed him that feedback.