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Do You Interview Men and Women Differently?

April 22, 2021

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

A recent study, conducted by Savanta and, of 2,000 adults in the U.S. about the worst interview questions they’ve ever been asked found that that men and women may have significantly different experiences when interviewing. The study explored everything from tough questions that candidates dread to downright illegal ones — and uncovered notable differences in the nature of the questions that men and women often field.

Although many of the questions that women are more likely to be asked seem fairly standard, digging deeper, they tend to discriminate.  Compared to men, women are more frequently quizzed about their greatest strengths (44% vs. 34%), weaknesses (37% vs. 27%), and failures (26% vs. 20%). Women are also more likely to be questioned about why they should be hired (45% vs. 37%), why they want the job (44% vs. 37%), and whether they’re team players (37% vs. 31%).

What do these questions have in common?  It’s the value of the applicant, or their worth to the organization.  It leads to a question of why women are viewed differently than men during the hiring process.

Interestingly, the survey found that women are only marginally more likely than men to be asked about gaps in their resume (19% vs. 18%).   Although asking about future family plans is an illegal question, it appears that women are more likely asked where do you see yourself in five years then men (43% vs. 34%).  It appears to be a way to gauge potential commitment to the organization, but it may be subtle discrimination.  When asking women that question, it may be a way of asking, especially for younger women, whether they plan to start a family.

“Employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work,’’ Michelle Budig, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts says. “They have a family to provide for, so they’re less likely to be flaky. That is the opposite of how parenthood by women is interpreted by employers. The conventional story is they work less, and they’re more distractible when on the job.’’  This scenario is likely a societal issue, where women may be seen less stable and more unreliable than men in the same situation.

Men are more likely to be asked about criminal activity, if any.   Some 31% of men surveyed say they’ve been asked questions like “Have you ever been arrested?” and “Have you ever been questioned or detained by the police?” compared to just 21% of women. Men are also more frequently quizzed about drug use (27% vs. 21%) and asked to gauge how honest they are (22% vs. 14%).

One in five men (22%) say they’ve been asked questions relating to their religious beliefs, holidays, and religious services, where only 13% of women say the same. Men were also more likely to be asked about sexual orientation, age, disabilities, and political beliefs – none of which are appropriate in an interview setting. Men also get asked a lot more brainteasers than women (23% vs. 11%), from “How many lightbulbs are there in this building?” to “How many gas stations are there in America?”  What these questions have to do with the hiring process is anyone’s guess.

It is recommended that employers take a more scientific approach to interviewing.  Identify questions beforehand as well as ideal answers.  It will result in less subjectivity and bias by the interviewer.  If a scoring system is used, it is an assessment, and therefore should be validated before using.  With hiring being a sellers’ market again, it would be worth the investment to tighten the interviewing process to reduce the points of liability.  The new administration will be aggressive in rooting out discriminatory behavior.

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