Keep Politics Out of the Interview

John Krautzel
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Politics are a big conversation topic in endless social situations, but one place in which they don't belong is a job interview. Although interviewers can't legally ask you about your political stance, many are unaware of this and bring up the topic anyway. This can put you in an awkward situation. Before stepping into your next job interview, learn everything you need to know in case your interviewer starts talking politics.

When Politics Invade the Conversation

Politics can enter the interview in a number of ways. Interviewers rarely ask about politics as part of the job interview itself, instead using the subject as an icebreaker for some light conversation with direct questions such as "Who are you voting for?" At other times, an interviewer might use an indirect approach, bringing up political issues that may affect the company or industry to better understand your political stance. Some interviewers may even try baiting, using some controversial or emotionally charged statement to try to get a reaction from you.

How to Respond

When the interviewer starts talking politics, the most important thing is to keep your cool, with your body language, volume and reactions as neutral as possible. Use nonpartisan reactions such as "That's interesting" or "I never thought of it that way" to any political statements. Next, with a friendly smile, start shifting to a more relevant topic. One option is to use something the interviewer says to transition to another topic. For instance, if he is trying to start a discussion about a presidential candidate, start talking about what attributes you think make a good leader. Another option is to make a nonpartisan joke to lightheartedly signal you're ready to move on with the job interview.

If the interviewer seems unwilling to give up the subject, stand firm. Politely state you believe politics aren't an appropriate job interview topic, you'd like to move on, or you don't believe you should be having such a discussion as it isn't legal.

Honesty Is Still the Best Policy

Whether it's saying you don't have an opinion about a political topic or choosing to agree with whatever the interviewer says, think twice before giving a dishonest response. You should never be so intimidated by an interviewer that you feel the need to lie to stay on his good side. On the other hand, you should also avoid being drawn into a political dialogue even if you genuinely agree with interviewer's stance. Instead, work on steering the conversation toward more appropriate interview topics.

Political discussions in the interview room can catch you off guard, so don't go in unprepared. When politics come up in a job interview, react politely but firmly, reminding the interviewer what you really came to discuss: your qualifications for the job.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @michael m that's a great way to get around the question. If pushed, simply state again, that politics does not belong in the workplace. @John what if you and your boss are on polar opposites when it comes to politics? Would that keep you from working for them? Their beliefs are their own and it doesn't have to affect anything in your work relationship. This election has been the most charged and ridiculous election I have ever witnessed and the outcome stunning. This election it was probably tough to keep politics out of the workplace. But you can be on opposite ends of the spectrum and still work together.

  • John J.
    John J.

    I agree with Michael M., However, if they bring it up, it could be your one and only opportunity to find out what those you may be reporting to believe. Remember you are interviewing them as well! do you really feel you will be successful when working for a person or company where you are at polar opposites when it comes to basic moral issues? Use the opportunity to learn what they think, you can always use the I'm not that political to shield your views.

  • michael mcclernon
    michael mcclernon

    I have a different position on this. Potential employees have to be agreeable. Saying "I prefer not to discuss this" sounds legalistic and a little confrontational. A better answer, in my opinion, is something like "I'm really not all that political", or "I learned a long time ago not to discuss politics at work", delivered in a light and friendly way. In this charged atmosphere, defer and deflect, IMO.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Keith thanks for your comment. That's the best way to respond - whether in the workplace or during an interview. Your political opinions are your own and they don't have a place in the office. The question may not have anything to do with your competencies or abilities but it could reveal a lot about your character. Still, yours is the best way to respond - politely but firmly - with "I prefer not discuss this."

  • Keith Enste
    Keith Enste

    Just because a particular question might be illegal does not meant that one will not be asked about such. A polite yet firm; I don't know; or I prefer not to say should remedy such. When markets are "tight" as they are right now; you don't want to put anything "out there" during this "process" that might get you inappropriately disqualified. I think the simple: yet firm: "I would prefer not to reveal or discuss this." should be adequate; what does such questioning truly reveal about my competencies or abilities anyway?

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