How to navigate tough questions during a job interview

Despite some employers’ efforts to boost inclusiveness and combat biases and ageism, such queries can arise during recruitment. At The Wall Street Journal Job Summit in March, executives, career coaches and economists advised job seekers how to navigate thorny questions during in-person or video interviews and avoid potential pitfalls. Here is their advice:

Reframe questions about your current salary

It’s an interview question many candidates dread: “What are you earning at your current job?” In many cities and states it is illegal to ask a candidate what his or her salary is—which doesn’t mean that a hiring manager won’t try.

If the question does arise, Trier Bryant, co-founder of workplace consultancy Just Work, recommends responding “I don’t feel comfortable answering that.” Then, say what you expect to earn based on your skills and experience.

“Compensation-benchmarking data is out there. Go find out, what are the bands and what’s the market for the type of company that you’re interviewing for?” said Ms. Bryant. “A small startup that’s still private, that’s not public, their compensation structure’s going to be very different than a larger public company.”

Keep in mind that total compensation includes more than base salary, and consider pushing for a signing bonus, a relocation allowance, equity or repayment for transportation or sessions with an executive coach.

While some job seekers may shy away from negotiating, Kim Scott, co-founder of Just Work, warns that there is a cost to skipping the conversation entirely. “Just get the money that you deserve,” she said, “because the tax of realizing that you are underpaid is huge. It prevents you from doing your best work.”

Head off ageism

When Ms. Scott moved to Silicon Valley from New York in the early 2000s, she went from consistently being one of the youngest people in the room at work to typically being the oldest. She suggests a little trick that experienced job seekers can use to win over younger interviewers.

“The most helpful advice I got was to say, ‘I’m really eager to learn,’ ” she said. “That feels like a statement that is not as strong as you want to make. But if you realize that people are worried that you think you already know it all, it’s a great sort of response to that bias.”

Discuss your children on your own terms

An interviewer who asks about children may just be making conversation. But there also is the chance he or she is looking to learn about your availability to work outside regular hours or the possibility of child-care interruptions.

“Say, ‘You know what? I would actually like to focus on the skill sets and my experience for this role,’” said LaFawn Davis, group vice president of environmental, social and governance at the job-search site Indeed. “They may be just trying to build rapport with you and have a conversation. But you want to make sure that you’re focused on what you can do for that company in that role and not the other things that may lead to bias in a decision in your hiring.”

If you are concerned about interruptions from children participating in remote school or a babysitter arriving during a video interview, suggest blocks of time that work for you.

“It’s okay to say to the recruiter, ‘Hey, this is the best time for me and it’s going to be the quietest,’ ” said Laura Fennell, executive vice president and chief people and places officer at financial-software maker Intuit. “Don’t worry about asking for, ‘Look, I want some quiet time and two o’clock to five o’clock would be the best time to schedule this.’ “

Get a sense of the company

Ms. Davis recommends that before interviews, job seekers do some research to learn how inclusive a company is. Peruse the organization’s core values, its social media accounts and any recent statements in support of marginalized groups. Pay attention to the interviewers themselves. Are they diverse or are you likely to be an early diversity hire? If the interviewers seem to be emphasizing “cultural fit,” ask what that means.

“Be active participants in the hiring process,” Ms. Davis said. “You are also interviewing the company. You’re vetting the company. So, is this where you want to be?”

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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