Some interviews turn out to be the stuff of nightmares- from spilling coffee all over yourself (or your interviewer) to bumbling and stumbling through answers, to even more unthinkable things happening. But what happens when your interview turns from just a nightmare into the beginning of a #MeToo story?
While we all hope that advice on handling sexual harassment in an interview never needs to be used, unfortunately, given the environment in which we all live, for many persons, it is a frightening reality that has to be addressed and managed. For some people, and especially depending on the level of harassment that occurred, not taking any course of action is the safest and best way to handle the situation. For those who wish to take the alternate route of seeking action if this occurs, there are a few ways that it can be handled in a professional, but actionable, manner.
While in the interview
If the harassment is verbal, you should always redirect the conversation away from the comments being made, keep on topic and transition back into the interview with a phrase such as “I’m not sure what you mean by X, but back on the topic of my job history/skills/experience”. If the verbal harassment continues after you gently call it out and attempt to deflect, it’s time to end the interview and state: “I don’t feel comfortable with the comments you’re making, and they are not appropriate- this interview is over.”
If the harassment is physical, immediately putting space between you and them is the first and foremost piece of action you must take. Making sure that it is known that you do not approve of the contact by physically removing their touch and adding space between you while also telling them to stop the behavior is not only a way to (hopefully) shut down any further action, but to also protect yourself from them attempting to tell others that you either initiated it, enjoyed it, or never told them to stop. Just as if the harassment was verbal only, calling out the behavior and leaving the interview if It continues is important to protecting yourself and staying out of more harm’s way.
After the interview
Once you have left the interview and collected your bearings (remember, breathe in and out, they’re no longer around, you’re physically safe) you must write down everything that happened, or, use a video recorder to get it all out now, so that you don’t have to worry about memorizing every single detail when you need to recount it later. Include in your recap: what happened, the time/date/place, who the person was, exactly what they did and your reaction, and any other pertinent details. Within 24 hours of the interview (so long as you are mentally and emotionally able to handle a conversation about it) call the HR department back and request to speak with a manager or someone in charge of talent acquisition- to avoid being put on the phone with the person who interviewed you or someone who can’t do much of anything about what occurred, let them know “I interviewed with NAME at TIME yesterday, a situation occurred during the interview that I need to urgently discuss with someone- can you please direct me to a leader who I can provide this information to?”
After being directed to the appropriate person, as calmly as you can, recount the exact facts about what happened, and advise them that you’d also like to provide a written recount so that when they handle the situation, they have the exact facts about what occurred in front of them. Once you’ve provided all of your information about the incident, unless legal action is your next step, the handling of what occurred is entirely in the hands of the company and whom you reported it to. Following-up after one week of the original reporting is the best way to check in on the status, but remember, when it comes to confidential and sensitive topics such as this, you more than likely will not get a detailed report of what occurred or much of any information outside of “we have handled the situation as appropriate”.
The most important piece to remember when dealing with the aftermath of harassment is that none of it, not even a speck of responsibility, is on you. You were never asking for it or allowing it to occur, and, regardless of how you chose to react to it in order to make yourself feel safe and protected, and regardless of how the company reacted if you chose to report it, all responsibility of any past, present, or future incidents relies on the harasser.