The presidential candidates may be making headlines, but you'll want to avoid doing the same if asked who you'll be voting for during an interview.
You're in the hot seat—aka the interviewee's seat—but you're not sweating. You're well prepared. You nailed down the interview questions to prepare for. You're ready to share all of your work-related accomplishments, how you're an initiator and go-getter, and how much of a team player you are, which will all add value to the job you're interviewing for. You've done your research on the company and the culture, and you have plenty of questions to ask the interviewer. You're even prepared for how to explain that one year gap in your employment window, as it was for a very good reason, of course.
But then, it happens. You attempt to hide your surprise, and hope that you did, but you can't help but begin to sweat as your mind attempts to make sense of the question you were just asked by the interviewer, which was: "Who are you voting for this election?"
"Wait a minute," you're thinking, "Doesn't he know you should never talk about politics or religion with friends, family, or prospective employees? How could he ask me that? Better yet, why is he asking me that?"
Great questions, as you make a very good point. One of the basic Interviewing 101 lessons—do not ask questions about politics in a job interview. These topics are not considered common job interview questions. Some hiring managers seem to have slept through this lesson, unfortunately.
You want to steer clear of the topic of politics during your job interview, as it can go to the land of fire and fury real fast when you and the person you're speaking to don't see eye to eye. With the primary elections currently taking place and the big election quickly approaching, people can be very passionate about their beliefs and preferred political party and candidate. This could mean a lot of negativity and bashing of the other party, which you don't want to be witness to or the brunt of. It's natural for political banter to occur within the workplace, especially during election years, and though it should not be a topic in your very important job interview, or one of the interview questions to prepare for, there is the chance that an interviewer might venture onto the topic.
So how do you gracefully handle the question, "Who are you voting for?" if it comes your way during a job interview? First, choose not to engage with the interviewer about your viewpoints or perspectives, as you might be digging a hole you can't climb. Instead, be as diplomatic and focused as possible, and consider the following options in responding to such a question.
Use the noncommittal hold out
With this type of response, you're answering the question without answering the question, with hopes the interviewer will be satisfied and move on to a job-related question. For example:
"You know, I like to wait until right before the election before I decide who I'm going to vote for. A lot can happen right up until the end.
"I've been so busy with my family and work, I haven't had the chance to really sit down and do my homework on the candidates, but I will soon."
Acknowledge the interviewer's perspective, but be neutral
If the interviewer goes on and on about the subject, it's good to have some neutral responses ready, such as:
"That's an interesting perspective."
You could also choose to acknowledge the interviewer's perspective while remaining neutral:
"Thank you for sharing. I'm still deciding."
"You seem to be very clear on who you're voting for. I'll decide by the time the election gets here."
Keep it light
You can attempt to deflect from the question by answering with a bit of humor to keep it light:
"I have a rule of thumb, which is not to share my perspective on politics or campaigns, as I want to be able to keep my friends and family around!"
"It's going to take me a few weeks to figure out what's true and what's not with all the propaganda and the candidates attacking each other. Hopefully, at least one of the candidates will still be standing by the time the election comes around!"
Transition back to the interview
If possible, the best approach is to bring the interview back to job-specific topics. You could also use this as an opportunity to dig deeper into the company's culture, leadership team, and so on.
"In speaking about politics, that reminds me, what's your organization's perspective on volunteer time [or whatever comes to mind for you]?"
"I'm not sure who I'll be voting for, but that reminds me of a question I had about the board of directors..."
Again, the best approach is to transition back to the interview, but if the interviewer is hell-bent on talking about politics despite your best efforts to steer clear, then consider the other options outlined above.
A word of caution:
If you begin to feel relaxed about the subject and think it might be OK to engage with the interviewer, think twice, even if you agree with his or her perspective. As reported by Jacquelyn Smith on Business Insider, national workplace expert and author or Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, Lynn Taylor warns, "The hiring manager may appear laid back and open-minded in the beginning of the dreaded conversation, but don't take the bait. Take a backseat. You could be lured into an uncomfortable dialogue and put to the test — taking the proverbial hot seat to a whole new level... The interviewer may continue drilling down to your stance on controversial subjects, evaluating whether you're fully on the same page. It can become a bottomless pit if the interviewer is fervent."
You're not the only one in the hot seat during an interview. An interview is also an opportunity for you to decide if you want to work for the company or hiring manager you're interviewing with. Take note as to whether or not this is an organization you'd want to be a part of if the interviewer takes you down this path without tuning into your preference not to go down it with him or her. It could say a lot about the company culture and interviewer's personality and lack of professionalism.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely been exposed to the media frenzy surrounding this year's election, as have others. It might seem like a natural topic for an interview to some though it is not one of the most common interview questions. Choose not to be sucked into political topics during your job interview, and use the tactics above to move away from the topic if the hiring manager happens to bring it up.
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