Issues Related to Men
Although this topic is seldom discussed, men also face certain biases because of their gender. Men are expected to have steady employment and not take time off for raising a family or caring for older parents. Those who do not aspire to higher status can be quickly branded "losers." You will also find few males in occupations dominated by women, such as grade school teacher, clerical worker, and nurse. Although some would argue that this condition is a result of these jobs paying poorly and having low status, it is clearly not always the case. Just as with women (but in different ways), men are expected to behave in certain ways, take on certain responsibilities, and quietly accept the limitations imposed on them.
In the recent past, many men have been frustrated in their inability to move up in pay and stature. Some big reasons for this are the large number of male baby boomers who are competing for the limited number of management jobs and the greater number of educated and qualified women in the workforce who want the same things. Higher percentages of women are graduating from high schools and from colleges now than men, and some experts predict that this change will result in long-term reductions in earnings of men compared to women. As a result, the competition for jobs has become tough.
Even so, there are few situations where being a man will work against you, particularly if you have a good work history. For example, how many men get questions about their plans to have or care for children or the possibility that they will make a move from the area because their wife takes a more prestigious job in another city? I know that I've never been asked about these issues in past employment interviews.
Sexual preference is an issue for some employers, and unmarried men and women may create suspicion as to their sexual preference in some interviewers' minds. Employers' fears are twofold. First, employers do not want their workplace to become a stage for airing social concerns to the detriment of producing products or services. The Society for Human Resource Management reveals that its respondents said, "We have not encountered any pressures from gay/lesbian groups directly. However, employees continue to voice their concerns about having to work with these groups and the potential riskreal or perceivedthat they pose," and "In our traditional, conservative culture, managers have deeply ingrained biases and fears of gay and lesbian employees."
Another concern has to do with money. Rapidly increasing health-care costs are a serious problem for most organizations. Some employers are concerned about being forced to insure domestic partners because this could substantially increase their health-care costs. And, let's face it, some employers don't want to hire someone with a higher potential for HIV-related costs or simply do not want gay people on their staff.
Although I have advocated directly attacking stereotypes in other categories, I advise gay people to adopt the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy related to this issue. The risks of divulging such personal information are too great to bring up in an interview, and your sexuality is not something you should have to discuss in a job interview anyway.
Racial or Ethnic Minorities
The largest minority groups in this country are African-American and Hispanic, although there are many smaller groups of recent immigrants, Native Americans, and others. The issue here is discrimination. The good news is that most employers fairly consider hiring a person based on his or her qualifications. Many employers go out of their way to give minorities fair consideration and actively recruit minorities.
The problem is that some employers are less likely to hire a qualified minority based on negative stereotypes. Unfortunately you are not likely to know which employers are being fair and which are not. Wondering why you are not getting a job offer will drive you nuts, so my best advice is the following:
Assume that the interviewer is being fair and will consider hiring you based on your skills and abilities.
In the interview, be yourself and focus on the skills you have to do the job. I give this same advice to everyone because following this procedure is important.
Consider what stereotypes an employer might have and make sure you present details about your situation that would disprove them.
Limited English proficiency is a problem for many employers, and you will need to address this issue if it applies to you. Suggest that you are a good worker and are learning English rapidly, and consider how your language skills would allow you to help the employer provide better service to those who speak your native language.
Biases against those with disabilities are common enough that the government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act to prevent unfair discrimination. But negative assumptions about people with disabilities are the true barrier you are up against in the interview, no matter how many government agencies exist to back up your eligibility.
According to a Society for Human Resource Management survey, many respondents indicated that accommodating employees with disabilities presents difficulties for their organizations. Here are some specific comments:
"We are a small organization, and accommodation of physical requirements for disabled workers and time off for illness and medical treatment cause disruption to work and schedules."
"Some disabled workers are looked upon with disdain by their managers and peers. We have to overcome these attitudes."
I assume you will not seek a job that you can't or should not do. That, of course, would be foolish. So that means you are seeking a job that you are capable of doing, right? That being the case, you don't have a disability related to doing a particular job at all. The employer will still use his or her judgment in hiring the best person for the job, and that means people with disabilities have to compete for jobs along with everyone else. That is fair, so you need to present a convincing argument to employers for why they should hire you over someone else.
Most importantly, don't assume that the person chatting with you understands the technical details of your handicap. I see nothing wrong in casually mentioning how you have worked around your disability in other positions. Just remember to remain matter-of-fact in your explanation. If you avoid a defensive tone at all costs, you will not only put the interviewer at ease but also assure him or her that your future colleagues will admire your abilities and attitude, too.
Technology has provided opportunities to overcome disabilities in the workplace that you should become aware of. For example, speech-recognition software allows those who find keyboarding challenging (such as those with arthritis or other conditions that affect hand and wrist activity) to enter information into a computer, and magnification features in operating systems such as Windows allow those with visual challenges to more easily read text on a computer screen. You can use these low-cost options to overcome potential challenges to your disability on the job.
Tip: For more help on overcoming your disability in your job search, see the book Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities by Daniel J. Ryan, Ph.D. (JIST Publishing).