Parental status should be of no interest to job

Question: During my interviews for a sales position, I am often asked whether I have children.

When I say that I have four, the managers typically respond that they also have children and must juggle a lot of responsibilities.

The question usually comes up in a casual chat, while we’re driving to a field office or eating lunch.

This seems like friendly conversation, but since I have received no job offers, I can’t help wondering if it’s really discrimination.

Can this question legally be asked in an informal setting? And how do I respond without looking resistant?

Answer: Managers frequently forget that every interaction with an applicant is part of the interview process.

If they drop their guard during coffee breaks and lunch, they can inadvertently wander into unwise areas of questioning. So your interviewers may simply be making ill-advised small talk.

Even if this is a devious screening tactic, ducking the question would be difficult.

If you point out the inappropriateness of the inquiry, you appear confrontational and possibly litigious. Refusing to answer would seem downright odd.

To minimize the problem, keep your response brief and positive. Don’t be seduced into a mutual gripe session about the challenges of work-life balance.

Make it clear that parenthood has not hampered your success at work.

As soon as possible, change the subject to a more businesslike topic.

Technically speaking, the question is inappropriate, but not actually illegal. Legally, the issue is whether this information is used in the hiring decision. But since you can’t use information that you don’t have, smart interviewers avoid asking such incriminating questions.

QUESTION: A woman in my department is retiring after 30 years. The department head is hosting a party for her at an outside facility.

The guest list includes important clients, executives from other companies, department managers, and a few select colleagues.

Our group has about 50 employees, and a lot of us were not invited. I find this to be rude and unprofessional. Am I being overly sensitive?

ANSWER: In such a large department, many co-workers may hardly know one another.

Inviting the whole gang to a formal retirement party might be nice, but it certainly wouldn’t be expected. And it would probably double the cost.

From your description, the attendees appear to be VIPs and people close to the guest of honor.

Unless you had a special relationship with her, you would not logically be on this list. So try to let go of your hurt feelings.

However, after 30 years of loyal service, your colleague certainly deserves a chance to say goodbye to even casual acquaintances.

Ask your manager if the department can host an informal cake-and-punch reception on her last day so that everyone can wish her well.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at