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What to Do if Your Interviewer Asks About Politics

What do you do if your interviewer wants to know which candidate you plan to vote for or which political party you support?

As our election cycle heats up, our candidates will hit the road and engage in one speaking tour after another, and we’ll be listening…and commenting. In a healthy democracy, it’s important to share our thoughts and feelings about the candidates who are working hard to win our votes, and heated chatter is essential to the strength of our self-governing nation.

Dinner tables, parties, road trips, and family reunions should be a roar of political conversation right now. But there’s one venue where the topic is entirely off limits: job interviews. Your interviewer should never ask you which party or candidate you support. In fact, this isn’t just awkward– it’s illegal. But unfortunately, some interviewers don’t know this…and some don’t care.

If your interviewer asks you to share your political affiliations, what should you do? Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind.

Recognize what’s happening.

Your interviewer may not directly ask you which side you’re on (“So…you’re a Republican, right?” or “We’re mostly Democrats here. We assume you are, too?”). Chances are, the subject will come up organically and will appear to link naturally to the topic at hand. You and your interviewer may be chattering away about policies or controversial issues that impact your industry, when you get the sense that he or she is trying to pin down your political leanings. If this happens, shift gears. Backpedal out of the subject, whatever it may be (healthcare laws, trade regulations, airport screening, whatever), and ask your interviewer for his or her next job-related question.

Don’t be baited.

Sometimes interviewers skirt the no-question rule by saying something inflammatory and hoping you’ll rise to the bait. For example (“I’m moving to Canada if Hillary is elected!” or “Did you watch that crazy Trump interview last night? What a loon! Right?”) Don’t be drawn in. Just nod politely and wait for your interviewer to finish ranting and get back to business.

Take control.

If your interviewer enjoys dancing with this off-limits topic and can’t seem to let it go, say something. Speak up. For example, just say: “I don’t think this is an appropriate topic for an interview.” Or “I can see you have strong feelings! But we both know you aren’t allowed to ask me about this.” Or simply, “Let’s move on to a better subject.”

Make a joke.

If you have the comedic chops for it, a friendly joke can fix almost anything. Of course, you’ll need to make sure your lighthearted remark is A) genuinely funny, and B) non-partisan. If you can pull this off, good for you! Not many people can.

Use your Mona Lisa smile.

During the job search—and also in the workplace—an easy, neutral smile can be the most valuable item you own. It can stop uncomfortable conversations, table arguments, end stale mates, protect professional friendships, and allow others to bow out of an untenable position without losing face. Best of all, it protects your privacy without frost or unfriendliness. It says, “My inner thoughts and feelings are not your business. But we’re still on good terms! Let’s move on.”

Don’t lie.

Before you say something like, “I haven’t decided yet”, or “They’re both exactly the same to me”, or “I don’t care about politics”, ask yourself if you’re being honest. If your words aren’t true, why say them? You shouldn’t be scared of your interviewer, and you shouldn’t so desperate for approval that you’re willing to lie or misrepresent yourself. If this is happening, ask yourself why. If you’d rather not share your political affiliations, don’t. There’s no need to pretend you have no opinion at all. Remember that the law is on your side.

For more on how to stay in control and dodge sticky, uncomfortable, or illegal questions during your interview, turn to the guidelines and resources available at LiveCareer.