The question irked her, Suzanne Santora says, and she resented it.

"I know if my husband was sitting there applying for a job he would not be asked that question," she says. That question is still getting asked despite all the court rulings and all the revised personnel manuals, and not by any means by men only.

It has been termed The Sexist Question and it was a young woman who asked it of Suzanne Santora. The woman managed a recreation department park and Santora, mother of five, was applying for the job of assistant park manager.

What. Santora was asked, did she plan to do with her children while she worked?

"Maybe," Santora suggests now, "she was just being kind."

The young woman knew Santora had five children. But employers know whether male job applicants have children, Santora points out. "Most of the time you're asked how many dependents you have. When my husbands puts down five, it's obvious he doesn't have five wives."

But he doesn't get asked The Question. William Morin, who runs a career consultant agency in New York City, in a lecture to several hundred women in Washington on how to apply for jobs told them that they would confront the sexist question and that sometimes it would come from other women.

He said there are two answers a woman can. "You can say, 'Look, What you're asking is discriminatory and illegal and I'm going to bring a class-action suit and you're going to get nailed." You won't get the job, but you'll have that warm feeling of integrity as you march on the next job interview.

The other answer, Morin suggested, is to smile (everyone at the conference groaned with that), give some sort of general answer indicating the ladybug's children won't burn, get into a position of power within the company and "fire the guy." Applause.

The question is, indeed, discriminatory, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if it is asked only of women applicants.

"People don't purposely ask the question" to be offensive, says Morin. "They're really asking you, are you free to do this job or are there hindrances. What you're really asking the woman is, do you have the time work full-time, maybe do a little overtime, and take on all the other responsibilities that go with the job."

"I think the best way to go is for a woman to talk up front about how she has her home life organized and is able to go to work. Many interviewers have said if a woman would just say that she could avoid being asked all those embarrasing question by some dummy."

The question has traditionally been asked of women - the parent who has traditionally been responsible for the children - but Census Bureay statistics suggest that, if the question must ne asked at all, it ought to be asked of men job applicants as well. The workforce is changing: the percentage of women in it has risen from 33.4 percent in 1960 to 41 percent in 1977. As more women leave home to work, presumably they are asking their husbands to share in child care responsibilities. Suzanne Santora did.

Her children ar 4 to 16 years old, involved in Campfire girls and 4-H activities, "as involved in outdoor things as I am." Santora, who quit college after freshman year and got married, is studying for a degree in education and recreation at Charles County Community College and the University of Maryland.

She really wanted the job as assistant park manager - "what I really like to do is work with young children outdoors." So she answered The Question.

"I said to my husband and I have talked it over and he knew there would be mornings when I'd have to leave at 6:30 (to open the park to fishermen). Four out of five children are picked up by school bus.We felt he could get everything ready, breakfasts (which the children make for themselves "as they come through") and lunches, by 8:30." The 4-year-old is 'delivered to preschool by Santora's husband, a high school teacher.

"When my children are here, I'm here - or my husband is. My children aren't running around loose in the streets," Santora says. "Obviously I had a plan to take care them, or I wouldn't have applied for the job in the first place."

She did not get the job initially - for reasons she doesn't know - but there were personnel changes at the park and Santora finally got the job she wanted. And she is still studying and raising her children and taking care of her five- bedroom home on one acre in Charles County and somehow it all seems to be working out.

Several years ago, when Santora returned to school and was on the road a lot, she started leaving word with the public schools attended by her older children that if they cannot reach her in an emergency they should call her husband. "But they call my sister anyway. It never occurs to them to call the father. The mother could be president of the company and they'll call her. But you shouldn't bother the man at work."