Mojzes Igor—iStock
By Alison Green
June 17, 2015

Q: My interviewer was trying to figure out my age. What should I have done?

This week during an interview at a well-known, privately held biopharma company, the hiring manager asked me, “When did you graduate from college?”

I thought this was odd and could indicate he was trying to find out my age (I’m in my 50s but look much younger). I danced around the question without actually answering it. But he would not let it go and kept asking it more directly (“How long and where did you work after college?” and “In what year did you graduate?”). My resume indicates only the last 10 years of experience which is directly related to this job.

What is the best way to avoid answering a potentially illegal question around age, race, sexual orientation, whatever? Should you call them on it or dance around it? Thirty minutes into the interview (shortly after asking me the loaded college questions), he abruptly ended the interview saying he didn’t want to waste my time. I’m not sorry because I would not have taken this job given the hiring manager’s interview tactics.

A: I would have asked this guy directly, “Why do you ask?” You want to say it in a friendly way, not adversarially, but being direct about it might have gotten him off that line of questioning (or not, depending on how shameless he was). In other cases where you’re being asked about things like age, marital status, parenthood, religion, or so forth, sometimes you can figure out what they’re really getting at and answer that instead of the direct question. (For instance, if you think they’re concerned that parenthood will get in the way of your job performance, you could say something like, “There’s nothing that would interfere with my ability to work the hours needed and get the job done.”)

By the way, despite widespread belief to the contrary, asking the question itself isn’t illegal — but basing a hiring decision on your answer would be, which is why smart employers don’t ask this kind of thing.

Q: I’m scared to resign because my boss will explode. Should I take the new job?

I have been at my current job for almost four years. When I started at this company, the boss I am working for owned the company and asked that I give her six months notice. I was shocked then, but I had no plans on leaving so I agreed. About a year ago the company changed ownership, but my boss still stayed and not much really changed except she was no longer signing my checks.

Now it is time for me to leave as I have no more growth potential (and haven’t had any for the past 3+ years) and I am ready for a change. PLUS she has been over managing me and demeaning me for years and I have finally hit my limit. Good news is that I have a pending new offer with growth potential, a raise, and better benefits but I am scared she will go ballistic on me. When I have seen previous employees leave and give their two weeks she called them “unprofessional” amongst other rude names and is horribly mean to them. To top all of this off, she will be on vacation in a few weeks and my two weeks notice may run into that vacation (she is gone for three weeks) as well. This complicates things even more as I manage her bills/home/life while she is out.

I am trying to do what is best for me without burning any bridges. Should I turn down this offer because I am scared? The new company may be flexible enough to give me an extra week but that wouldn’t be much help as she will already be on vacation.

A: Take the offer. Six months notice is absolutely unrealistic in most fields, and frankly anything more than two weeks is unrealistic with a boss who behaves like this one does. You know she’s going to react badly, so just brace yourself for it and let her explode. If she crosses any lines you’re not comfortable with, say this: “I very much want to work these final two weeks and leave things in good shape, but I’m not willing to be talked to this way. We either need to work together civilly, or today will need to be my last day.”

It’s really not your problem that she’s on vacation for part of your notice period. Give two weeks notice and don’t be talked into giving more.

Under no circumstances should you turn down this offer simply because you’re scared! Being scared that your boss will explode at a completely normal part of doing business is all the more reason to get the hell out of there.

These questions are adapted from ones that originally appeared on Ask a Manager. Some questions have been edited for length.

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