The Mid-Career GPS Podcast

208: How to Handle Illegal Interview Questions and Prioritizing Career Well-being with Ana Goehner

December 14, 2023 John Neral Season 3
The Mid-Career GPS Podcast
208: How to Handle Illegal Interview Questions and Prioritizing Career Well-being with Ana Goehner
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever found yourself in the hot seat, fielding uncomfortable questions during a job interview and wondering how best to respond? We've all been there, and our distinguished guest, career strategist and well-being expert Anna Gaynor, is here to guide us through those tricky situations. An inspiring figure who’s been featured in Time Magazine and Fast Company, Anna shares her personal journey of overcoming a health crisis and finding her way to career well-being.

Join us as we unpack the concept of career well-being, defined as intentionally caring for one's health and well-being as much as career goals. We dive into the complex terrain of illegal interview questions, with Anna bringing her wealth of HR expertise to bear on the topic. This isn’t just theoretical, we're sharing practical advice, real-life scenarios, and personal anecdotes on how to handle these questions professionally, putting you back in control during job interviews.

This episode isn’t just about interviews, though. From discussing the importance of disconnecting from work to reconnect with oneself and loved ones, to focusing on skills and qualifications during interviews, we've got you covered. Anna's insights on standing out in the interview process and her emphasis on job satisfaction are gems not to be missed. So, grab your notepad and tune in for an enlightening conversation on career well-being and mastering job interviews. Remember, your well-being matters as much as your career goals, and we're here to help you strike that balance.

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Speaker 1:

Picture it You're sitting in an interview for a job you really want and you are asked a question you know is illegal. These are questions pertaining to your race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability. You know they can't ask, but somehow the interviewer tries to sneak it in. What do you do? Do you answer the question anyway? Do you remind the interviewer that they can't ask those kinds of questions? How would you handle it? My guest today is career strategist and career well-being expert, anna Gaynor, and Anna is going to share how to professionally, gracefully and tactfully handle those awkward situations during a job interview, as well as what career well-being should look like. As you build your mid-career GPS, let's get started. Hello my friends, this is episode 206 of the Mid-Career GPS podcast. I'm your host, john Narrell. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, using my proven four-step formula. As a solo immigrant and first-generation college graduate, no one taught Anna Gaynor how to navigate corporate America. For over 10 years, anna faced invisibility, burnout, toxic work environments and serious health issues until she learned the power of prioritizing her well-being. Her winning career strategy helped her succeed without compromising her well-being. Anna leveraged her experience as a former HR specialist and now owns Digital Butterfly Communications LLC, where she helps you prioritize your well-being to achieve your career goals and reclaim your work-life balance. Anna has been featured in Time Magazine, fast Company, coffington Post and LinkedIn News Plus. She's a LinkedIn community top voice in job search strategies, career development and interviewing. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Anna Gaynor.

Speaker 2:

Hi everyone. I'm Anna Gaynor, career strategist, career well-being expert. It's a pleasure to be here.

Speaker 1:

Anna, I am grateful we connected. You have an amazing presence on LinkedIn and that's how we initially got connected. We talked a little while ago about planning for this episode. Before we get into talking about career well-being and some tips for people with interviews, I wonder if you can share with us a little bit about what was your mid-career moment, or that moment when you knew your career was pivoting into where you are now.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, for me it was a health situation, and that's part of the reason why I do what I do today. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early November 2019, and that changed everything for me, because at the time, I was burned out and have all sorts of health issues, and that was the moment I knew I had to make a change. I had to figure out a way to find a new career, a new job, a new environment that would be a better fit for me and that led me to where I am today. It wasn't something that happened immediately, but it's something that led me to the path that I am in today.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for sharing all of that. It is amazing how our health can sometimes really drive some big changes for us in our lives and careers. Thank you for sharing that with us. What of your mission and who you help and how you help people is this whole concept you refer to as career well-being. One of you can talk to us a little bit about how that's defined and a little bit about where people might need to be focusing a little bit more on their career well-being?

Speaker 2:

Sure, if you search for the term career well-being, you're likely going to come across something like liking what you do every day. Based on my own experience and my client's experiences, that's more of an exception, not the norm, because you can like your work, but if you are in a toxic environment, if you're drained and overworked and you have health issues, you might be in a healthy workplace, but if you dislike your tasks and you're not learning, you're not growing, then there's job dissatisfaction. You're not satisfied with your job. The idea of liking what you do every day feels unrealistic for most people, especially if you are an individual contributor where people tell you what to do all the time. My definition is you are intentionally choosing to care for your health and well-being as much as you care for your career goals. It's crucial to learn how you can disconnect from work in order to reconnect with yourself and the people you care about. For me, career professionals typically we have been in the workforce for a while now, so we have likely experienced burnout. It might be time to like I don't ever go back to that again. I don't want to ever want to experience that again. It might be time to reassess your career goals Something that was okay for you 10 years ago may not be okay for you now. Your body maybe has changed. Your priorities have changed. It's more that trying to find that work and life balance, or however you want to call it, integration, harmonization, blend Instead of thinking about things like one day I'm going to do this or you're typical when I retire, it's trying to bring more things that bring you joy into your life. You're still going to years to go into your retirement. It's not like you're going to retire tomorrow. Good for you if you can. It's just trying to bring more of that life into your life, meaning more of that, the things that bring you joy, the people, the relationships, being more mindful of those things instead of just leaving them in the back burner.

Speaker 1:

I love how you defined all of that and, just as an aside, I was talking to someone earlier and I was said to them if I hit the powerball, I'm done. I come out, I'm done. Retirement is there. There we go. Right, that would be great. I have to buy a ticket first for that, which that hasn't happened. But anyway, this whole idea about career wellbeing and giving your wellbeing, your health and your wellness the same priority as what you do with your career growth and trajectory what do you often find is the hardest thing for people to make that mindset shift to focusing more on themselves, especially for mid-career professionals who often are very career focused and highly driven?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so you are so used to getting things done right. You're gonna do what it takes. You really wanna continue to grow, but at the same time sometimes you forget to put yourself in your own calendar. So your priorities it's work and you have maybe family and other things that you gotta do, but sometimes you forget to take that time for yourself. And when I say time, I'm saying maybe five minutes for meditation, maybe 10 minutes for a walk, maybe your goal is to drink more water. It's just like the little things sometimes on your day to day that you just kind of forget, just forget about thinking about your own health and wellbeing because you're just helping everybody else around you.

Speaker 1:

What are some of the things you see with your clients that benefit from doing these kinds of things focused on their career wellbeing?

Speaker 2:

So sometimes for some of them, the goal is to leave the current environment and find a positive, healthy environment where they have a little more work and life balance. And for a lot of some of my clients, it's just like it's unbelievable to see how happy they are when they get that new job or the new environment or they start speaking up for themselves, like standing up for themselves at work and really setting boundaries and feeling like, oh, now I have that for myself.

Speaker 1:

I never had that before, so yeah, For our listeners, who may not be following you yet on LinkedIn, tell us a little bit about what your career progression was like before you started working as a coach, sure.

Speaker 2:

So I've been working since I was a teenager, so I had a lot of experience in Brazil and then I came to the United States and I got a corporate job and I went from project management HR to do what I do today. So that was kind of the progression I used to be in HR before I got into career coaching.

Speaker 1:

All right, let's peel back the curtain a little bit. How much did you love working in HR?

Speaker 2:

It was different than I thought it was going to be. I have to be honest and real about it, because you can read, you can get certification, which is my case. I am still a certified professional. But the day to day, dealing with people and the actual problems and the changes that happen in an organization every single day is tough. Hats off to every single HR professional out there, because this is a tough job Dealing with people. It's hard because we have all these laws surrounding HR and it's really hard sometimes to always. You always have to live in that gray area but at the same time you have the laws, which they are a lot of times black and white, so it's really hard to navigate those things.

Speaker 1:

So, yeah, Well, and this year has absolutely been, in a lot of ways, the year of the worker, and especially the union worker, what we've seen with the United Auto Workers, the actors and the writers Even at the day of this recording, it was reported that certain Starbucks employees were going to walk out of the office and the employees were going to walk out on the quote, unquote, red cup rebellion and for things like that. So I can only imagine how difficult and trying your work and the work of HR professionals in general is. But one of the things that I've come to learn in my experiences as well, that while HR is there to help employees and absolutely do, they are also there as a primary function of the organization and, in a lot of ways, to keep them out of trouble.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, oh yeah, I used to believe me. I used to have calls with company lawyers and employee relations all the time.

Speaker 1:

So, anna, one of the reasons why I wanted to invite you and have you on the podcast today is to really leverage your HR background and talk with us a little bit about the interview process and, specifically, how job seekers can be more aware about the types of questions they should not be asked during an interview and how to handle that. So Can you share with us a little bit about what typically are the quote-unquote illegal questions job seekers shouldn't be asked?

Speaker 2:

Sure, and I want to emphasize that this is for the United States because that's the laws that I'm aware of and, yeah, because it's very different, because I'm from Brazil and it's very different there. You can ask different questions, but in the US you cannot ask questions about age, like date of birth, anything like comments like oh, you're Gen Z, millennial, anything like that during the interview should not be talked about or asked. Merit of status and family, like anything related to family, should not be asked. Race, ethnicity or religion. You don't talk about those things during the interview. And when it comes to disabilities, it's up to each candidate. If they want let's say they have something busy they want to talk about it, that is up to them. But the Americans with Disabilities Act, or also known as ADA, you can't really ask those kind of questions, like if you are the interviewer during the interview. It's up to the candidate if they want to talk about it, but I would say you know if you do briefly talk about it and that's it. Anything about criminal history there are some states in the US that employers can really not ask anything about criminal history, credit history, unless it's really relevant for the role. They should not ask about your credit. Political affiliation. That's a big one. That's a big one that we should avoid at all costs, especially, you know, especially now, given the current climate. And I want to talk about one thing here. As an immigrant and somebody who you know came here with a visa not anymore, but this is an important one. If you are, you know, an immigrant and you are here with a work visa, there are two questions that you usually ask during your application, but these are questions that people don't usually ask during your interview. The first one is are you authorized to work in the US and if, in the future, you're going to need any sort of sponsorship? These are questions that you usually answer as you apply for the job, but during the interview, people shouldn't be asking this kind of questions or going deep about you know, visa and all these different things. So those are some of the legal questions that, if you hear them, you got to do something about it, and I know we're going to talk about that too.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so I want to thank you for outlining all those different categories because, for people who are listening, we definitely want you to be more aware of your rights in the interview process in terms of what can or cannot be asked. So typically, anna, in your experience, what should a candidate do if they are asked an illegal question during an interview?

Speaker 2:

So first, you're going to have to stay calm and composed because you know you don't want to make a scene, but second, politely, you can redirect. You can say something like I appreciate your interest, but I would like to focus on my qualifications and how they align with the position or the requirements. You can also use that, the redirection, and ask the person something about them that relates to the company, something like what brought you to this company, what makes you, you know, why are you happy about working here? And, you know, seek clarification, like, if they ask something that you're not sure about, maybe ask them to clarify and set boundaries. It's OK for you to say that you appreciate their interest but that you want to focus more on your professional qualifications. So you have the right to say those things.

Speaker 1:

Hey, there, we'll get back to the episode in a moment, but I want to give you something game changing, a golden ticket. That is like having a roadmap to take you from career confusion to clarity in minutes. Introducing the mid career job seekers checklist. It is your secret weapon in your job search and if you feel like navigating your job search right now is like navigating a maze blindfolded, don't worry, my friend, I got your back. This checklist is a powerhouse of organization and preparation, crafted to make you say goodbye to feeling overwhelmed and hello to a career transition made easy. I want you to head on over to JohnNarrellcom to snag your free copy of the mid career job seekers checklist. It's not just a checklist, it is a career compass to help you find that job you're going to love. Now let's dive back into the episode. That's helpful and you gave some really good advice for people to get some language or wording. Do you ever think it's OK for a job seeker to simply say that's an illegal question? I'm not going to ask that. Answer that.

Speaker 2:

You have the right to say that, but that, depending on how it's all it's all about, how you say it right, it's like OK, thank you for you know. But I think you can say that it's not you know, wrong for you to say such thing. And if you encounter like persistent illegal questions, then it's up to you Like do you even want that job? Right, but you can say that, but you cannot. I feel like there's a more polite way to address the interviewer.

Speaker 1:

Right, and it's important for us to acknowledge as well that if you're in that interviewee seat and you want the job and depending on your circumstances, it is understandable that you don't want to offend, upset or come across as argumentative or combative. We also want to make sure that we're protecting our rights in that process as well, and so it brings up this question about how well companies actually train their employees on interviewing. I'm curious from your perspective and your experience, what should companies be doing as far as training employees on how to be great interviewers?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, depending on the company, they will give managers some training when it comes to interviewing, but other people who sit for the interview, like people on the team, they may not get the same training. So you may show up for an interview and they might start asking you wait, did you get this? You know, I don't know suit and then start talking about fashion instead of talking about your qualifications for the job and, next thing you know, 15 minutes go by and you're not talking about the things that actually matter. So companies should train not only managers, but everybody who is supposed to sit for an interview and interview candidates.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I will. I will share what I can only describe as a horror story in the interview process it was. It was an interview in an organization I had previously worked and somebody was called in to replace another interviewer at the last minute, so I was supposed to interview along with somebody else. I get this person and it was their first time interviewing and I had about five minutes to go through some things really quickly show them the candidates resume, outline how we're going and, in what I can only describe as this person's best intentions, because I truly believe they meant no harm in it they looked at the candidate about 10 minutes into the interview and said so I'm just curious, are you married?

Speaker 2:

Wow.

Speaker 1:

So you can't see the video and his face and got asked. I got really really big and I just I went stop, you don't have to answer that question. Do not answer that question. My colleague looked at me and like all the color just rushed into it was like cheeks got really ready. I could tell they were really embarrassed and I said you didn't know, it was an honest mistake. We will talk about this afterward and it really brought up a lot of conversations around who is trained to interview and I will say that the candidate did a phenomenal job of just handling the situation and everything in that regard, because it was clearly uncomfortable in that regard. But you know, for a job seeker who wants to do well, they want to put their best foot forward. What are some of the things, or do you have some phrasing that job candidates can use that may may help shift the focus back to, say, their talents or expertise or qualities that they want to highlight, if they themselves feel as if the interview is getting off track and they're losing. The interview team, if you will, is losing focus.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it goes back to something I said earlier. Like you can always thank them and be polite and just redirect the conversation by asking a question about them that relates to the company or job, instead of I'm not going to answer that question. This is an illegal question because sometimes they can come off as harsh and you never know what the person is thinking, because you talk about something that happened to you and this sometimes can happen between one-on-one interviews, where the person interviewing and the next thing you know, they ask an illegal question. Nobody knows about it.

Speaker 1:

But you as a candidate, now you know right, Exactly.

Speaker 2:

I would say just thank them and then maybe redirect the conversation and just say thank you for interest. But I would. I would you know, I want to talk about this and that. And then, because the thing is sometimes candidates, they think they have to wait until the last minute in the interview to ask questions. But no, it's a conversation, so you can always ask a follow up question or a different question as you're interviewing if you don't want to answer that particular question.

Speaker 1:

Great advice there, thank you. So, anna, I'm wondering if we can talk a little bit about ageism and how that gets addressed in an interview. So obviously, you've shared earlier that they cannot ask specifically how old you are or make any kind of hints or assumptions explicitly about age. But specifically for mid-career professionals, we know that they really are sandwiched in between. They're not. They're not in their 20s, they're not in their 50s or 60s even, and so ageism may start to creep in a little bit in terms of the hiring process or jobs that they're specifically targeting for. For someone who is still looking, let's say, at a 20 year runway, if not longer, for work because we see people working longer, more into their 60s and 70s what advice do you have for them to handle any potential objection around their age, even though it's never brought up in an interview?

Speaker 2:

Sure, I would say, refer back to your skills and qualifications for that particular job. You can always say that you know, talk about your experience and instead of thinking about the age, because you know, I feel like it starts with you. Yes, this is real, this happens, but there's something that you can do about it. Talk about your qualifications, talk about how you have done this job before some of the tasks before.

Speaker 1:

Is there ever a time you believe or think when a candidate should offer up certain information that they choose to be it around their marriage, family, sexual orientation, immigration status, anything like that?

Speaker 2:

If it's something that might impact the job, or maybe it's a requirement for the job or something and you want to disclose, go ahead and do it, because you know the whole thing about interviews is like the bias right, you don't want to create bias or anything like that, but if it's, let's say, you need to be home every day at six o'clock because you have children and that's something that you really want to talk about during the interview, go ahead and do it, because if the end it's also your, you know you can also choose if you want to work for the company or not. At the end, you know if they don't choose you, if they choose you, it's up to you. If that's one of the requirements, up to you to say yes or no to it.

Speaker 1:

Right. So it brings back that whole point that, as the candidate, you have the ultimate control in terms of whatever you choose to disclose during the interview.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. That's what I empower people to do, because you know that's exactly. You also are in charge of where you want to take your skills, experience and expertise.

Speaker 1:

So, anna, here is a question you and I get asked a lot and we're going to have an opportunity to answer this right here on the mic. What are your best tips for a candidate to do and follow up after the interview that you believe makes them stand out or be more memorable in the interview process?

Speaker 2:

So first I would say, if you're using a template, please, please, please, don't write exactly what you're seeing there, like you need to add things that you actually talked about. Remember the things that you talked about during the interview and be specific. If you interview with three different people, think about something specific that you talked about with the three of them and then reiterate your interest and enthuse the asm for the role and why you would be a good candidate.

Speaker 1:

What are your thoughts on writing a handwritten note?

Speaker 2:

I mean, I think that's great, but the thing with that is, you know, maybe that note is only going to get in their hands I don't know a couple of days from now. So I would say, go with email, because I always tell people 24 hours, 48 hours max. You're sending that. Thank you, note you don't want to wait. So the handwritten? It's beautiful, right, like it's awesome to get a handwritten note these days, but that takes way longer and you want to be like, show your enthusiasm and interest as soon as possible.

Speaker 1:

I appreciate that and I agree with you on that, that in this day and age, the email within that 24, 48 hour timeframe is absolutely appropriate, and especially where we don't always know where people are working, especially if they're working from home. No one's giving you their home address. Yep, exactly, it's not going to do it. But it is one of those things, especially depending on how people were raised or traditions within their family, that handwritten thank you note may be the go to. It's just not necessarily appropriate in situations like this.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I would. I would avoid it. I just go with email because it's easy. It's much easier. And then there's, you know, the likelihood that they're going to read it, Especially these days that we'd never know who is. Who is in the office, who's not. You know the people who actually handle mail. Are they in the office? We don't know.

Speaker 1:

Right, I mean this. This is another one of those, those anecdotes I'll share with you really quickly. But you know, back in the days before email or when email was first starting and candidates were trying to be memorable, I worked somewhere where the prospective job seeker attached their resume to this incredible fruit basket and sent it to the board office and was like, hey, I'd love to interview for this job. And the look on everybody's space was just like, oh my gosh, and like you got to send it back. They can't accept the gift, kind of a thing. Right, and the whole thing about how do we be memorable? And to your point, and I appreciate what you said about how, if you're using a template as a followup after the interview, make sure you customize it. Put things in that express your interest and enthusiasm about the job, what you appreciate about them in the interview. That is absolutely how you will stand out and be memorable and save you money on a fruit basket too.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. That's going to be expensive.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely Right, and we're going to start wrapping up here, but I want to thank you again for all your excellent tips and advice today. I know you're giving everyone a lot to think about, but as we start wrapping up, what advice do you have for my listeners to help them build their mid-career GPS?

Speaker 2:

Well, I would say one thing that I actually say to everybody, not just mid-career professionals, that I feel like it took forever for me to understand and actually put into practice, is advocate for yourself. You are your chief career officer, as I like to say, because no one at work is looking out for you. You can have friends and allies at work, but you are responsible for where you want to take your career, what other people? Your career is not in the hands of other people.

Speaker 1:

I would not agree with that more so well said. Well, anna, if people want to connect with you, find you, learn more about you. I want to turn the mic over to you right now and please share us all the wonderful details where people can connect.

Speaker 2:

Sure, I'm on LinkedIn. Find me on LinkedIn at you know, InnaGainer. I also have my website, innagainercom, and Instagram and YouTube. Connect with me. Subscribe to my channel, yes absolutely All those wonderful things.

Speaker 1:

I will make sure all of those links are in the show notes. Friends, if we are connected on LinkedIn, you will easily see that Anna and I are connected as well, and you can connect with her too there. Anna Gainer, thank you so much for being a wonderful guest on the Mid-Career GPS podcast. I look forward to having you back.

Speaker 2:

Thank you.

Speaker 1:

All right, friends, if there's a couple of takeaways from today's episode, it is about advocating for you and your career, whether it's about your career, well-being and finding that healthy or fit and environment where you get to put yourself first as you create that greater work-life balance, but also advocating for yourself in your interview On this podcast. We have talked so much about showing up from a place of value and service, and so, while that's great and that's wonderful, you, as a job candidate, need to know the kinds of questions you should not and cannot be asked during the interview, and Anna walked us through so many of those examples today that really flag an illegal question, and she gave you some great advice on how to transition that conversation and handle those situations if they arise. So until next time, my friends, remember this you will build your mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how you show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple podcasts. Visit JohnNarrowcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you and your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event. And don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at JohnNarrowCoaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.

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Navigating Illegal Interview Questions