I am a mother of three children under four years old and I am currently searching for a job. I just got home from an interview for a corporate job with a company I’d love to work for, and the woman screening me asked me several times about how many kids I have, how old they are, what my feelings are about leaving them with a caregiver all day, and so on.

I did not volunteer this information, it came up because she asked why I left my old job (my last company folded just as I was leaving for maternity leave). I found it hard to tell whether she was asking this information because she was unsure about my ability to do the job, or whether she just wanted to talk about her own maternity leave and desire for more kids.

If I pass the personality screening test I wrote today, I will have an interview with the chairman. My question is, how do I address questions about my family size/future reproductive plans without saying, “That question is illegal” or “That’s none of your business”? Please advise!


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8 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Its an illegal question so you can lie.

    I think one of the most effective lies in this situation is to say your mother or mother-in-law takes care of the kids. Say that it’s a great setup because she’s always dreamed of taking care of grandchildren and you always knew you’d want to work.

    The point is to make it sound like the kids are a total non-issue when you’re at work. Say it like you’re the luckiest mom in the world, and you’re thrilled with the setup, and you’re so happy to be going back to work.


  2. Violeta
    Violeta says:

    I agree with you, Penelope, that this is an illegal question. And, if asked by a screener, I certainly would not appreciate that question either.
    However, it is a very good question which this mother must be able to answer truthfully to herself. If this mother of 3 under 4 applying for a corporate job does not have a lot of money for a lot of paid help and if she does not have a very supportive husband, then lying her way into the job would not be a good strategy at all.

  3. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    That might be true. But women do not need everyone to be their psychologist. When a woman interviews, she decided she wants to work. She is an adult. The world does not need to treat her like an incompetent imbecile who did not think of the ramifications of work before she interviewed.

    Do you think that interviewer asks men who is taking care of their kids? And if that interviewer did ask men that question, the men would think the interviewer is nuts. Which is what women should think: that the interviewer is nuts.


  4. BrendaPatimkin
    BrendaPatimkin says:

    I have/had a similar situation when people ask about my MA. Often I get “That’s expensive, how did you do that?”. The question may not be illegal, but it is rude, nosy and has nothing to do with my ability to do a job well. I usually say, “Well, my hard work in undergrad, great recommendations and admissions essay paid off. I was awarded a very large scholarship that covered the cost.” They don’t need details. They just need to know that it wasn’t, and isn’t, an issue.

  5. Laurie Bluestone
    Laurie Bluestone says:

    Legal or not, this is a real question that I have been asked during the interview process of more than one firm. It’s been asked directly or indirectly so if you have kids be prepared to be asked this in some variation.

    The president of a 7000 employee company once asked me “You’re a young woman, what are your family plans?” I looked him in the eye and said in my best level steel-magnolia voice “XXX if I did not believe I could add signifiant value and do it for a long time I wouldn’t have wasted your time and mine to fly here today to meet you.” He looked relieved and we moved on to other topics.

    Don’t let the question throw off what could be a great job. I ended up working for XXX for six years and learned a great deal about executive leadership watching him in action. Years later I asked him about the question. He laughed “I remember that. Your face said you’ve had it covered and I really didn’t need to know anything else.”

    Relay that you have it covered. Short and sweet. They don’t need to know who is providing your child care. It doesn’t matter if the care givers are in-laws, day-care providers, au pairs, a stay-at-home spouse or house trained kangaroos. They just need confirmation you have a system in place.

    We all have home lives, not just business lives so have your line or two down before you interview. I agree with what others have posted, they don’t need details they just need to know it’s not an issue….and good luck!

    PS Penelope, do you know many men volunteer this info during the interview process?

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