Special to the Washingtonpost
Thursday, July 8, 2010; 12:00 AM
When in the interview process is it necessary to disclose that I'm pregnant? I'm in the phone interview stage with a company, and they have asked me to come into the office to meet folks. I'm 7 1/2 months pregnant, so they will obviously know this about me when we meet. Do I need to tell them this before the meeting? If I wait, how do I handle it when they seem surprised to see my stomach when we meet in person? How do I address any fears they have about my work ethic?
I often hear from women agonizing over when and how they should tell a current or prospective employer about an early pregnancy that can be concealed. But I have never before been asked the equally important question of when and how a visible pregnancy should be disclosed after progressing past the phone interview stage.
From personal experience, I can tell you that this is a case in which the element of surprise can operate in your favor. During my second pregnancy, I was self-employed and found myself often having initial prospective client meetings on the phone, followed my more substantive in-person discussions. In the later months of my pregnancy, I wondered to myself whether I should somehow be breaking the news to my would-be clients before they saw me. I decided against that for two important reasons.
Foremost, I could not think of a natural introduction to the subject. I rehearsed different ways in which I could blithely let people know on the phone what they should expect to encounter at the restaurant, coffee shop, or office building lobby where we planned to meet. "All right, then. I will see you at Clyde's on Tuesday at noon. I will be the pregnant woman in the suit." Somehow, it did not feel right to divulge this very personal bit about my health and appearance in a phone conversation with a business acquaintance. Would I have told them if I were very overweight or thin, if I walked with a limp, if I wore bifocal glasses? In my non-pregnant life, I had simply identified myself by hair color and length.
It also seemed obvious to me, as it does to you, that a job applicant's pregnancy raises many questions -- ranging from completely legitimate to wholly inappropriate -- in the mind of a hiring manager. Your interviewer might wonder if you have pregnancy-related health issues that would prevent you from being productive, how much maternity leave you will try to negotiate, whether you will eventually leave for a more family-friendly organization. Although I was a consultant and not an applicant for employment, I still worried that companies would hesitate to talk further about engaging my services if they felt that I might not be available for as many hours or with the same intensity or dedication as a non-pregnant competitor.
Of course, pregnancy is entirely irrelevant to a woman's professional qualifications, which is what should form the basis of any sensible (and legal) hiring decision. However, if you reveal on the phone that you are expecting, there is nothing to prevent a prospective employer who has had a bad prior experience with an unreliable or opportunistic pregnant worker to find an excuse for cancelling your on-site interview. You might be on the ready with intelligent and thoughtful responses to concerns the employer has not even thought of, but that does you little good if you never get the opportunity to present your credentials in person.
My best advice is to buy a great looking maternity business suit, prepare thoroughly for your job interview, and march in with a confident attitude. When the interviewer's eyes bulge at the sight of your pregnant belly, laugh self-assuredly and say something like, "Surprise!" (Believe me when I say that no better icebreaker has ever been invented.) Then state, while maintaining the same easy and professional air, that you expect them to have questions about your availability and commitment, and that you are prepared with answers that are sure to put them at ease. Offer to address the issue up front or wait until later in the interview when your potential start date and availability are up for discussion.
What you convey through this approach is that, in your view, your pregnancy has no bearing on your qualifications for the job. It is simply a temporary condition on the path of a highly successful and productive career that can be managed in a fairly routine fashion. If you truly believe this and you believe in your ability to excel despite the fact that you are in the third trimester of your pregnancy, then the hiring manager will soon believe it, too.
Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.