Interviewing while pregnant can be difficult to navigate. Here’s what you need to know to put your best (swollen) foot forward!
A pregnancy is a big personal milestone and a significant event. It's also the ultimate hot potato of job hunting. Candidates are often uncertain about how and whether to bring it up (especially if the interview takes place when the pregnancy isn't obvious). On the flip side, employers are terrified of asking the wrong questions, offending the candidate, and facing a discrimination lawsuit. All too often, neither side has the language or the comfort level to discuss misgivings and hesitations, which can result in a solid candidacy being dismissed for the wrong reasons.
If you are in this situation, you probably have lots of questions. Should you disclose your pregnancy or keep it to yourself? What questions should you be prepared to answer? How can you demonstrate your commitment to your career, even with the upcoming addition to your family?
This is a complex issue, so let's begin with the firm ground of the law before we move into the more nuanced real-life applications.
Your rights as a pregnant candidate
The legal basics of interviewing while pregnant are pretty simple.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against you based on your pregnancy. Theoretically, pregnancy shouldn't be a factor in a hiring decision, unless it will obviously prevent the candidate from being able to do the work. You aren't legally obligated to tell your prospective employer that you are expecting, and your employer isn't allowed to ask about it. There is one exception though, which is for employers with fewer than 15 employees — they are exempt from the Act due to their small size.
So, the legal groundwork is straightforward. But as one might expect, real life is more complex than legal theory. That explains why experts disagree on the right course of action for those who find themselves in these waters.
Some say that you shouldn't bring up your pregnancy in an interview, especially if you aren't showing. Their position makes sense. After all, pregnancy is a temporary condition that isn't relevant to your professional qualifications. The job should simply go to the best candidate, pregnant or not.
Others believe it's best to be upfront and provide full disclosure during the interview process. In addition to getting all the details of your situation, your prospective employer also gets an opportunity to observe how you handle a tough conversation, which could actually improve your odds of getting an offer. And, should the employer be unwilling to hire a professional that has (or will soon have) a child, you may reconsider wanting to work there in the first place.
Finally, there are some who advocate for the middle ground. Don't volunteer the pregnancy disclosure during the interview process, but do bring it up before accepting the offer. This path gives you the added advantage of having an opportunity to review the benefits package and better understand what flex time, time off, maternity leave, and subsidized child-care options you will have if you choose to accept the position.
Pregnant and interviewing: real-life applications
Having clarified the legal aspects of the situation, let's dive into real-life applications and decision blueprints. Predictably, there is no one right answer for everyone. Here's what you should consider:
In practical terms, your pregnancy and upcoming birth will, without question, temporarily affect your employer. The degree of that impact will depend on your position, the size of the company, your and your baby's health as you go through the pregnancy and delivery, and the timing of your maternity leave.
For example, a company with thousands of employees is likely to have procedures, workflows, and backups in place to cover your absence during prenatal medical appointments and family leave. On the other hand, a company with only 10 employees may have a harder time managing without you because you effectively represent 10 percent of its workforce. Consider also whether the demands of the position are affected by seasonality (holiday season in retail, tax season in an accounting firm, and so on).
Your comfort level with discussing your pregnancy is a major factor in the decision, as well. Some women who are interviewing during the early months of the pregnancy may not be thrilled with the idea of disclosing their status before they've safely made it to the second trimester. You may need more time to figure out the logistics of what your work life will look like after the baby. Remember that you have no more legal obligation to disclose your pregnancy than to volunteer the rest of your medical history, so don't let anyone pressure you into a conversation you aren't ready for.
Interviewing a pregnant candidate: an employer's perspective
When looking at the situation from the employer's point of view, concerns can typically be grouped into two categories.
First, how will everyone manage your absences due to prenatal appointments, the possibility of bedrest in late-term pregnancy, and maternity leave? Second, what are the chances that you won't return to work after your maternity leave?
The challenge is that employers are limited in what questions they are allowed to ask. Conversations about pregnancy and maternity leave in the context of prospective employment are notoriously fraught with legal liability risks. The good news is that you aren't likely to be asked illegal questions. What's not so great is that the employer's unvoiced concerns may impact the decision before you have had a chance to make your case.
So, if your pregnancy is obvious (or if you have made the choice to disclose a less visible, earlier-term pregnancy), be prepared to address the employer's underlying concerns, whether they are voiced or not. You don't have to go into the specifics of how you will structure child care or what you would do in the event that the child gets sick. Instead, come prepared with a plan for minimizing the impact of your absences through planning ahead, documenting project status, cross-training team members, working remotely, etc. This is your opportunity to shine a light on your resourcefulness, commitment, and flexibility. Then, turn the conversation back to your experience, skills, and qualifications.
Finally, check in with yourself
Any candidate would be well served to remember that interviewing goes both ways. Sure, the prospective employer is evaluating your fit for the position, professional potential, and technical qualifications. However, you are also in a position of strength through collecting impressions and preparing to make a choice that's best for you.
So, pay attention to signs that the company might not be a great place for you. Be honest with yourself about what accommodations you will need during and after the pregnancy. Do the math on the cost of child care. Consider the option of working a portion of the week from home. Would a part-time arrangement be a good fit for a few months, and would you be able to manage the partial loss of benefits like healthcare?
Be sure to carefully read the benefits package, including the conditions around taking paid time off and maternity leave. Some companies have length-of-service conditions on certain benefits. Keep in mind that smaller companies of fewer than 50 employers fall outside the FMLA, which means that your position isn't protected by the law once you are out on maternity leave. This doesn't mean that it's impossible to negotiate maternity leave with a smaller company, or that you won't be able to benefit from maternity leave because you've been with a company for less than one year. Both are possible, but you will have to rely on your relationship with the decision makers and the trust you will have built in the first few months at your new job.
Finally, remember that the right time to disclose the pregnancy is when you feel comfortable doing so. Be confident! Turn off the voice in the back of your head that tells you to feel guilty. Pregnancy is a natural (and beautiful) part of life. Unlike a catastrophic illness or an accident, both you and your employer get several months' notice about what's coming. Focus on your commitment, your value as a member of the team, and your potential to affect change. The right companies will see your potential and work with you.
Pregnant or not, interviews are always difficult. Check out our interview-coaching services today!