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Interview left her with a sour taste

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Interview left her with a sour taste Clara Pereira, 37, was extremely upset. She had given up a high-flying banking career to raise her two young children. Now that her sons are in primary school and do not require so much of her time, she was ready to take on the challenge and return to the corporate world. However, she was in for a big shock.

Of the more than 60 job applications Clara had sent, she was shortlisted for only one. During the interview with the bank, she felt that the employer was hinting at a preference for job applicants who were younger, single and without family commitments. When she explained that she was willing to put in the extra hours, the interviewer seemed to dismiss her, sarcastically.

Clara left the interview, disappointed. She contacted us and wanted TAFEP to take punitive measures against the bank. After getting details and her consent to approach the bank, we contacted the bank’s HR department to find out more about their hiring and selection process. We raised her concern of discrimination in hiring practices due to her marital status and family responsibilities. We explained that this was not in line with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

The HR manager assured us that there was a rigorous selection process in place. However, she told us that she would speak to the interviewer about the allegations. After a few days, the HR Manager informed us that the interviewer had merely shared with Clara the expectations and challenges of the sales role during the interview. He explained that there was no intent to be discriminatory. He explained that as a Relationship Manager, she would have to meet a monthly sales target which was tracked daily at the branch. If the manager was not able to meet the target, they would be expected to put in the extra hours to meet it. This could mean working late into the night on weekdays or on weekends, at the bank’s road-shows at shopping malls.

When asked about the number of married staff, the bank clarified that it had many successful sales staff who were married with children and maintained that it did not have a preference for unmarried staff. However, they were of the view that Clara was not a suitable candidate as she might not be able to keep up with the punishing pace at the bank.

The bank agreed that it could have been more careful and sensitive when communicating the job requirements. It is important for interviewers to explain to candidates the reason for asking questions which may be perceived as discriminatory, to prevent any misunderstandings. In addition, when such questions are asked, employers should review if they had made assumptions and might miss finding the most qualified candidate. TAFEP encourages employers to hire on merit by focusing on relevant criteria, and to guard against recruitment decisions being influenced by stereotypes or unconscious biases.

The bank accepted our invitation to sign the Employers’ Pledge of Fair Employment Practices. To improve their chances of finding the candidate with the best fit, the bank also signed up for TAFEP’s Fair Recruitment & Selection Workshop.

When informed of TAFEP’s conclusion, Clara was disappointed that she did not get the outcome she wanted but thanked us for our effort. Job seekers should not be quick to assume that employers are discriminatory if they do not get the job. It is important for them to remain positive and continue with their job search. They can make use of the services of job matching agencies such as Caliberlink or e2i, to find the right job fit.