You might think your tattoos show off your personality and your dreams of travelling the world indicate an open mind, but if you’re going for an interview at a typical corporate job in Singapore, you probably want to keep those nuggets to yourself.
At interviews, I’ve been asked about a bunch of things it would be illegal to ask about in many other countries, such as what my religion was and whether I planned to get married and have kids.
No, your interviewer is not exactly interested in letting you share your personal life with him. Here’s what you should be saying in response.
Are you planning to have kids?
Despite the government’s attempts to encourage family friendly practices, anyone who’s worked for a typical Singapore SME will tell you that most local bosses are far from supportive in practice.
While companies are obliged to allow their employees childcare leave and more have flexible arrangements in place, many employees use them sparingly for fear of getting a bad appraisal or their bosses tacitly accusing them of skiving.
If you’re a young married woman, there’s a good chance your employers are going to ask if you plan to have kids. But don’t be tricked into thinking they want to bond with you over the joys of parenting.
Many employers are loath to hire women who they anticipate will bear children anytime soon, as that means they’ll be forced to find a replacement during her maternity leave. There’s also the perception that women with young kids won’t be as committed at work.
Sure, it doesn’t sound politically correct, but this sort of thing plays out in Singapore workplaces quite often. When asked about whether you plan to pop out a few kids, it’s wise to say you wish to focus on your career for the time being.
What do you do in your free time?
There are two possible reactions when you hear this question. Either you start brimming with enthusiasm, chomping at the bit to tell the interviewer all about your passion for helping starving kids/avant garde theatre/flying kites, or you desperately grasp at straws because you have no freakin’ hobbies.
Answering this question is tricky. If you sound too into your hobbies, your boss is going to think you’re taking up the job just to fund them or you won’t be committed to your work. On the other hand, if you have no hobbies, you sound like a total stick in the mud with no personality.
In addition, some hobbies are just NSFW and should not be mentioned at all costs—shut up about anything of a religious or political nature, or anything that’s at all risqué. Singaporeans are still pretty conservative and unless your boss is some young start-up stalwart, you’re probably going to be judged if you mention your obsession with car modifications or cosplay.
If you’ve achieved some sort of leadership position or certification in your hobby or won competitions, however, you should tell the interviewer about them, as that’ll make you look like a high achiever with leadership potential.
So if you were on the national team for some sport, won a music competition or organised a (non-religious) charity expedition, go ahead and talk about it
What is your biggest weakness?
If you’re talking to a tipsy stranger at a bar, divulging your biggest weakness can actually help you make a new friend. Nobody wants to be friends with Mr or Miss Perfect, but someone who admits he falls asleep at work every day immediately becomes a lot more relatable.
When it comes to an interview however, this is a tricky question to navigate. You don’t want to tell your potential boss that you are prone to being absent minded and making critical mistakes while doing last minute work. But at the same time, saying something like “I’m so detail-oriented that I might miss the big picture sometimes” just smells like a humblebrag baking in the oven.
So what should you do? Sharing with your interviewer some previous weaknesses that you’ve been working on to correct and are still in the process of improving is something that will show them that you are self-aware and working towards improving yourself. For instance, something like you having come up with systems to organise your work because you used to be a little disorganised can show them that they’re hiring someone who they don’t have to spend time working on to get up to speed on doing work.
What other tough questions have you received at job interviews? Share them with us in the comments!