Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.
DEAR CARRIE: I am a career coach. A client told me about an unusual interview her 23-year-old daughter had recently. An interviewer asked her, "What's one thing you don't want me to know about you?" It seems like an inappropriate question. Is it even legal? I've also heard of people being asked, "What was one question you were hoping I wouldn't ask today?" Just wondering what your take is on these kinds of queries.
DEAR QUESTIONABLE: Before I offer my thoughts on the queries, I asked the letter writer if she wanted to weigh in as a career coach. For the first question about revealing something the interviewee didn't want the interviewer to know, the coach suggested the interviewee try answering with something completely irrelevant to work, such as, "I'm afraid of heights."
"If the interviewer presses for a different answer," the coach said, "I would say, 'I'm not sure what you're asking in terms of my candidacy for this position.' "
Then she said the interviewee should wait for a response.
"Listen to your gut," she said. "If you feel the interviewer is deliberately trying to make you uncomfortable, you might consider getting up and reaching out to shake hands as you say, 'I don't think this is going to be a good fit for me. Thanks for your time.' "
As for the second query, "What was one question you were hoping I wouldn't ask today?" the coach said the interviewee should offer up a response that incorporates some free-association, such as hoping the interviewer wouldn't ask, "If you were an animal, which one would you be?"
Answer the question in a way that showcases your skills, she said.
"Name the animal and the qualities of that animal that are tied to job performance," the coach said. "My favorite answer is horse: They are strong and function well independently or as part of a team."
The interviewer probably thought he or she was being edgy with such questions. But instead the company representative was dancing around a precipice. Questions like that are risky because the interviewer could break the law if he or she presses the job candidate to reveal things like his or her marital status, or in the case of an older job candidate, the person's age.
Anyone asked such ill-suited questions should play along but keep his or her answers simple to avoid getting mired in such a strange line of inquiry. To the question, "What's one thing you don't want me to know about you?" I would answer, "I like putting hot sauce on scrambled eggs." For the other question, I would answer, "I was hoping you wouldn't ask me if I could start tomorrow."
DEAR CARRIE: I work for a major supermarket on Long Island. I am one of three union managers. I feel our weekend scheduling is unfair. I am constantly working late on the weekends while the other managers are working early. I think it should be on a rotating basis. I went to the boss to complain, and he said that I should just follow the schedule. I went to the union, and the rep said the manager can determine how to run the store. What can I do to make my workplace more fair and more comfortable for me?
DEAR SOUR: If your union contract doesn't address the issue, the rep is right. Absent a contract, the store manager is free to schedule people as he sees fit. While the situation is unfair, it sounds legal. Since the store manager was unhelpful, and presumably he is primarily interested in coverage, I would try to work out something with the other managers so that you get an early leave once in a while. For the long-term though, you may have to leave to find a workplace that is more responsive to its workers.
For information on interview questions prohibited by state human-rights law, go to http://bit.ly/Xno1nZ.