Monday, November 22, 2010

Time Off

I expected that interviewing for jobs while heavily pregnant would be an odd experience. Pregnancy is one of those protected classifications that isn't allowed to be factored into hiring decisions. I've been on the other side of interviews for several companies, and all of these companies had policies that prohibited us from discussing any of those protected classifications. You can't ask somebody about their family, or whether they're married or have kids, just like you can't ask them about their religion or comment on their gender. And if the job candidate volunteered some bit of information that we weren't supposed to discuss, we were instructed to ignore it and immediately change the subject.

Pregnancy is an odd case, though, because it does have a large (albeit short-term) impact on job performance, and it's such a giant obvious elephant in the room. The interviewer is looking at someone who quite clearly will need some extended time off from work in the near future, but isn't allowed to mention it. And the pregnant woman can't bring it up herself, because an ethical interviewer would stop her before she could say anything meaningful about it. Several people advised me that I should bring it up during my interview, so that I could reassure my potential future manager that I do plan to work after the baby is born, but I remember from my training that my potential future manager would then be put in the awkward situation of needing to stop me from talking about it. So I decided best not to bring it up, so that I wouldn't force him into a situation that he didn't want to be in.

Thus, while interviewing for jobs over the last several weeks, I expected to have lots of pseudo-conversations where people fished for information and I tried to reassure them without either of us saying anything explicit. Which is fine with me, even if it feels odd. You do what you have to do.

What I did not expect was that nobody would notice that I'm pregnant.

S thinks they noticed but didn't say anything. But in the last month, I've been interviewed by more than two dozen different people, and I can count on one hand the number of them that glanced knowingly at my stomach or gave some other indication that they figured it out. I simply don't believe that the rest of them are good enough actors to hide that they had noticed. On the other hand, I had variations on this conversation with more than half of the interviewers:

Interviewer: So, you're planning to graduate in January?
Me: Yes, that's right.
Interviewer: But you don't want to start working until June?
Me, looking pointedly down at my pregnant stomach: Um, yes, June.
Interviewer: Time off sounds like a great reward for finishing grad school! Are you planning to just relax? Travel? When I finished my PhD, I went to Paris.
Me, rubbing my stomach a bit: Um, no, no travel. I have, uh, family obligations to take care of.
Interviewer: Time with family can be fun, too! It's nice to be able to chill out like that for a while. Are you sure I can't get you some coffee?

Um. Really? You can't figure out on your own that I'm not flying to Europe in the near future? You can't fathom what I will be doing with my time off? I know that my field is known for a high level of socially clueless behavior, but still -- 7+ months pregnant!?! Open your eyes, people!

One interviewer (just one!) asked me more specifically what I was doing with my time off, and I mentioned that I was pregnant. And I only told her because I've known her for 10 years and I work with her husband and I was tired of playing games. And she acted startled and looked at my stomach and said, "Oh! Wow!" and was clearly surprised. (She then later asked me if I was finding it difficult to work out child care arrangements, which was her roundabout way of asking me if I was sure that I wanted to work after the baby was born. And I assured her that we had daycare all lined up, which was my roundabout way of saying yes, I'll definitely be going back to work.)

It was all very very odd. I'm still waiting to hear back about whether I get any job offers out of the experience, but I'm certainly glad that the interviewing is over for now! 33 weeks and counting....


Jen said...

Wow. Just wow.

ABDMama said...

That is just...amazing.

Granted most people just thought I had gained weight until I really popped at about 8 months (I carried really low). Maybe you are just carrying really well?

Rachel said...

I am so impressed by your description of your field. In mine people explicitly and deliberately ignore all such "legal rules" and ask about children, spousal employment, etc. I have complained more than once about entirely inappropriate questions in interviews without any sort of official intervention, and just recently my husband mentioned my career and pregnancy in an interview where there was no chance of them even knowing that he has a partner (he never wears a wedding ring) (I was pissed, he thought it was only fair because it would affect the timeline there).

HereWeGoAJen said...

Hehe. Sometimes people can be really clueless.