Sabotage Job Search

How To Sabotage Your Job Search (Inadvertently)


Could you be sabotaging your job search?

Several decades ago, clear employment laws were put in place in the U.S. to ensure employers would make hiring decisions based only upon information directly related to the requirements of the job. But, despite these laws, many excellent job seekers sometimes still get passed over based on personal information the hiring managers should never have known in the first place.

If we assume most employers abide by these laws, how do they get this information? It’s actually very easy. For the most part, it is given directly to them by candidates themselves. Ironically, candidates will (albeit unknowingly) cause their own demises by providing various details about their personal lives–without anyone ever asking them for a single detail.

How To Sabotage Your Job Search (Inadvertently)

How can employers use personal information to make hiring decisions? Legally, they can’t. Unfortunately, while most employers tend to follow the law when it comes to what they can ask candidates, many find it difficult to overlook personal information that is voluntarily provided to them by the candidate.

Most often, this information isn’t related to race, religion, nationality, or any of these larger protected classes. It’s actually related to smaller scale details most people don’t think twice about when mentioning it to a potential employer.

While most HR professionals try to educate managers who practice this behavior and have likely even swayed some to act otherwise, the facts still remain – once candidates have left the building, and as long as nothing was said directly to them, who knows what type of discussions go on behind closed doors or even within someone’s own thoughts?

Part of the reason these type of hiring practices exist is because of various beliefs and assumptions that hiring managers might hold or make. But it is also partly because while job seekers can voluntarily share personal details about their life, managers still cannot ask questions about this information even if they really want to know more information.

Ironically, if the personal information provided would have been expanded upon a bit further, it may not have even had the same result. Without having all the information, hiring managers are left to draw their own conclusions to answer their own questions. As would be expected, their own conclusions almost always err on the “safe” side–the company’s side.

So, that begs the question, what types of details are job seekers revealing that cause hiring managers to turn them away? Below are some examples of details that commonly get disclosed:

Scenario #1

Random disclosure: “I am a single parent so I have learned…”

Hiring Manager’s thoughts: “A single parent? I wonder how old the kids are? The fall and winter are our busiest time periods. I bet she’ll miss a lot of work when the kids get sick and we can’t really afford to have this person out so much.”

Scenario #2

Random disclosure: “I only have a 3-year-old son so I am free to…”

Hiring Manager’s thoughts: “She only has one son, but she looks pretty young. I am sure she will have more kids soon as this one is already three. This is such a key position though, I would hate for whoever we hire to go out on maternity leave because we wouldn’t have anyone to fill that role. We should keep looking.”

Scenario #3

Random disclosure: “I recently went through a divorce…”

Hiring Manager’s thoughts: “I wonder how long ago that divorce was? He could really be going through a rough time right now. We should probably find someone who we know for sure can fully commit to the job without distractions.”

Scenario #4

Random disclosure: “My spouse/other family member (or even worse, him/herself) was having all sorts of medical problems back then.”

Hiring Manager’s thoughts: “I wonder how long ago that was? I wonder what the problems were and if they are over and if it will affect his work.“ And this one, mostly applicable to smaller businesses, “Can you imagine what that could do to our health insurance premium?”

All of these random disclosures are typically revealed in an innocent way and for the most part, do remain that way and are not acted upon in a negative manner. But unfortunately, since employers can’t ask for further details, sometimes the ramifications can be far more than one would ever imagine. And sadly, the job seeker will never find out that it was a disclosure like this that caused the opportunity to slip away.

How Do Job Seekers Avoid This Demise?

There is good news on that front! Since most employers do follow the letter of the law and do not ask questions about personal topics, job seekers can easily prevent themselves from falling into a situation like this by not revealing any personal details about their life. It’s that simple.

Never list any personal information on a resume either. It is very important to either be intentional about not disclosing any personal details or if a disclosure has to come up to explain a circumstance, it needs to be detailed enough to explain away any future concerns.

Although much less common, it is also important to keep in mind that some disclosures could even cause prejudices to arise. We all know that some people do have very extreme opinions toward certain issues (divorce, single parenting, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political views, age, etc).

It should go without saying that some of these people might be in a capacity to make hiring decisions and could very quietly discriminate against those who disclose anything that goes against their personal, moral, or religious views despite the fact it is not legal to do so. Since no person can ever really predict what other people might think or believe, it is best to not provide that information in the first place.

Lastly (and as always), job seekers should always do a Google review of their online content to assure that personal life details and circumstances are not viewable to the general public. Online content can easily prevent a job seeker from even getting an interview in the first place, so this is definitely a step that should never be overlooked.

Related Posts

4 Tips To Help You Shorten Your Job Search
6 Job Search Tips For New Graduates
8 Tips For Conducting An Effective Job Search


Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Jessica Simko

Jessica Simko is a senior-level HR Consultant and job search/career strategist. Please feel free to download her FREE report on "The Job Interview Game."


  1. If we think in terms of the article’s opening paragraph, then consider that an interview is subject to legal constraints, and that you are , in a way, giving testimony. A skilled interviewer, like a skilled lawyer, is trying to get you to reveal as much as possible during the interview. You, as a witness, should be answering ONLY the questions asked, and in as short a version as possibly (without simple, and terse yes’s and no’s of course.)

    Just like the courtroom drama, the interviewer is looking for that “AHA!” moment that either qualifies or disqualifies a candidate.
    Get an offer on the table before you discuss any particular personal needs, if you must discuss them at all!

  2. There’s a balance in finding those who will keep personal stuff at home (right) and the non-existent candidates with perfect histories. I think the latter emphasis is part human nature – not all good – and part fear. Heaven forbid you’re the one who brings aboard that “risky” candidate, like someone with a disability that sooner or later will reveal itself.

    Nothing is simple there; “disclosure” is eternally debated in that growing “diversity” community. I’d love to read the OP’s take.

    My own is that while most worker bees won’t care (they have enough on their own plate), you owe it to your everyday supervisor to disclose, in private, face-to-face. Find out who they are before the interview, and make sure they’ll be there and not out of town, only to return to find what HR or some unlucky subordinate dragged in.

  3. I was asked in an interview from the General Manager at a Staffing Agency, and this was for a position with the agency as a Staffing Coordinator; if I used Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin; she said the person who had the position that she was looking to replace was all about social media and checking out potential employees. I told her that I had all, but that I never used Twitter. She told me that she was not social media savvy, but that it would be nice to have someone in that position who was.

    At the conclusion of my interview, she told me that I would be contacted for a second interview with one other person on Monday, since we met on a Thursday and I completed my assessments which were passed.

    Anyway, I checked my Linkedin Account, and she and another staff person from the company (it had only three employees in the actual office)had checked my profile. So apparently, she had told me an untruth for that whole little spiel; not that their is anything inappropriate on any of my profiles, there isn’t. Just that some people truly are not honest. Perhaps she did not like approve of some of my friend’s posts or whatever, who knows; but one must be extremely cautious nowadays as to what one volunteers.

    What would have been the correct thing to do in that instance as obviously somehow that is what was used to rule me out as I was the ideal candidate?

    • Just because she looked at your LinkedIn profile does not mean she was lying about not being social media savvy. As a manager of a placement agency, I would expect her to have a LinkedIn profile, which someone could have set up for her.

      The only thing she did wrong here was to tell you that you would be contacted for a second interview. Unless you were the last candidate she spoke with, she wouldn’t know if a better qualified candidate would come along and she would decide not to call you.

  4. It has been my experience that it is best to keep your answers to the personal goals question as high-level and general as possible.

    For example: My personal goals are to help others, to inspire others through my (writing, coaching, training, volunteering, etc.), to master or excel at (golf, swimming, tennis, etc.).

    It is suggested to steer clear of mentioning anything that would identify your religion, race, politics, sexual orientation, etc. and can be used against the candidate in the recruiting process.

    The tricky part is how to handle the situation when you have an ethnic-sounding first and last name? Some employers make stereotypical assessments based on the origin/heritage of one’s name.
    Besides changing your name (which is often not an option), what other alternatives are there?

  5. I have a question related to this. I was recently asked on an interview what my goals were for the next five years (but here is the catch) both professionally and personally. The professional goals were easy to list, but I didn’t know what to specify for personal goals to be personal enough but not too personal. What types of information is an employer looking for with this question?

    • I believe the interviewer is trying to find out if you are a planner by nature and also hoping you will divulge personal information without them asking. If I were in that interview, I would start by saying that I feel goal setting is very important and that I take it very seriously. After listing my detailed professional goals, I would say that I have also set financial and physical (health) goals for myself. I would leave it broad enough that it is clear this is on my radar but that I don’t want to give away too much personal info.

    • When coaching hiring managers, I would not normally recommend asking this question because it opens the door to all types of information that can lead to a potential discrimination claim if that applicant is not selected. However, as an applicant you cannot say – “you should not be asking this question”. So in your shoes I would recommend something like ” I’ve always wanted to visit Italy and so I have been saving up and working towards that goal” or ” I want to run a marathon and I have been training”. In other words, pick something that is goal oriented but has nothing to do with family, religion, national origin, medical issues, etc. Good luck!

  6. What a great article — working with job seekers, I intend to give them top-notch advice, and this definitely qualifies – thanks!

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