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What might be the reasons for an employer to ask an interviewee about the status of his social life. Especially when the interviewee is applying for an IT job, more specifically a programmer of a sort? So the question is, what are good ways to answer to that kind of question?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jan Doggen, Michael Grubey, Garrison Neely, yochannah, IDrinkandIKnowThings Jan 27 '15 at 16:10

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    They are asking you what's the status of your social life? That's a really vague question. You need to ask for a clarification next time they ask. Are they trying to determine whether you are a sociable individual? That what you might not have time available to work for them after hours or weekends? I'd say to them "I want to answer your question but I'd like to know what your concern behind your question is, so that my answer is on target". – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 25 '15 at 12:02
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    Your question, as stated by you as of this moment, is way too broad, and I'd ordinarily vote to close. The only reason that I am not voting to immediately close is that you say that an interviewer asked you the question. I'll wait and see how others react to the question the interviewer asked you. I believe that the only way to react effectively to it is for you to narrow the scope of their question by you asking the interviewer what is the concern behind their question. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 25 '15 at 12:09
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    What was the exact question? I think we need to know that before we can recommend an answer. – keshlam Jan 25 '15 at 16:47
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Usually your personal life is non of your employers business and you can answer as generally as you wish without giving much detail.

There are many reasons to ask these questions, but typically it's because the company wants to have a strong social bond between the people, engage in social interactions such as picnics, Friday beer-fests etc. And most other times - the interviewer is just inexperienced and bad at taking interviews.

It's totally understandable if you feel that your privacy is being invaded with such questions, but you also don't want to spoil the relationship between you and the employer, so just give an answer that you would be comfortable with:

  • "I tend to spend free time with my family"
  • "I enjoy riding a bike in good weather"
  • "I like spending time with my friends every now and then"

These good non-answers that are usual and general enough.

As a personal advice - make sure to tell if you're not comfortable in sharing too much of your personal data to the employer. People are afraid to not get a job, not get a promotion etc., but then, think if that kind of company is good for you? You'll be spending there 6-9h almost every day, that's most of your time, so make sure that the company you join is not making you want to quit every day.

On the other hand, let's think if you're actually do want to spend time with your colleagues - most of the IT people like computer games, drinking together, playing board-games is very common. It may be a great way to find a group to play MTG or DnD with or talk about micro-controllers.

In the end, treat this question like any other interview question and if uncomfortable - try to steer the conversation into talking about your skill and experience over your looks, hobbies etc.

  • I must say, that is a really good and broad answer. I will accept it, thank you very much. – ziGi Jan 25 '15 at 11:08
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Your social or private life might be of interest for a lot of reasons. Recruiters try to estimate some of your abilities and future behavior based on certain criteria. Some of it may not even be legal in different countries and I do not think this is a good question to ask, but I have heard recruiters talk about it. It's their job, I will only repeat what they said. Again, it's not my personal opinion:

  • If you have a wife and kids, you have a stable base and you will be loyal, easy to handle and not very jumpy

  • If you have a long-distance relationship, it does not take a genius to know that it's a 50% chance that the future employee will move to his or her partner, quitting the job. As an employer, you cannot compete with "love".

  • If you engage in certain kinds of sport, you risk injuries and will statistically be more often away from work on sick leave

  • If you are newly weds, you may get children soon and depending on how you handle it, you will be taking days, months or maybe even years off.

  • People may talk about various things freely: their marriage status, their religion, sexual orientation or whatever else it is the recruiter wants to know but is no allowed to ask.

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    So, to summarize, the question is fishing for information that they aren't legally (in the US at least) allowed to ask for directly. There are very good reasons why companies aren't allowed to ask for and why a candidate shouldn't volunteer that information. – ColleenV Jan 25 '15 at 12:42
  • Yes. And as I said, I do not like it, nor do I personally ask such questions. But it's reality out there. – nvoigt Jan 25 '15 at 14:00
  • I wasn't criticizing, just summarizing. It is a reality and a trap that candidates should be careful to avoid. – ColleenV Jan 25 '15 at 14:11
  • In any case, your advice is good, I appreciate for making the time to give an explanations. – ziGi Jan 25 '15 at 15:20
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There is one legitimate question that might be interpreted as "asking about social life" but is actually on-topic for an IT interview: asking if you code (or play with hardware such as Raspberry Pi) for fun. Interviewers are often strongly attracted to candidates who code for fun, play with hardware, attend user group meetings, and in general do activities related to their work whenever they can, on their own time.

With this in mind, a question like "What do you do for fun?" might not be an invitation to discuss salsa dancing, hot yoga, or 17th century war re-enactments, but a prompt to talk about your personal github repo.

Since the question doesn't include a direct quote I can't know if this was the actual intent of the interviewer. However, it wouldn't hurt to pretend it was, whether it was or not. If you are one of those nerdy-geeky-hobby people (like me) then an answer like:

I love keeping up with the latest releases even if they're just not ready to use in a work environment. I have a server rack at home running about 25 vms and I'll install those CTPs and other pre-releases the day they come out. I love to see what I'll be working with in a year or two when it's stable enough for real use. I've done some play projects with Arduino too and I'll talk your ear off about those over a coffee any time.

can serve everyone's purposes just fine. Alternatively, if you don't do that kind of stuff after work, try:

I love building software and solving customer's problems and I really throw myself into it at work 100%. I know some people do the same sort of thing evenings and weekends but for me I do better recharging myself with entirely different activities that aren't work-related at all. Monday mornings I'm dying to get back to whatever I was working on when I left Friday.

In the quite rare case where an interviewer is nervy enough to push further and ask specifically what those activities are, you need to insert a Real. Long. Pause. into the conversation. Not a "holy crap I need to think fast and make something up" pause but an eyes-locked, did-you-really-just-ask-me-that-you-didn't-did-you pause. Then try:

I look forward to joining this team and chitchatting about my weekend just like everybody else. Even though my hobbies are entirely harmless and normal, I'm pretty sure we're not supposed to discuss them in the interview, right?

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As far as reasons there are two major concerns: Liability and Team Fit.

Anything from dangerous behaviors to social obligations that may interfere with your job performance and/or availability. Part of this overlaps with Team Fit.

There are plenty of instances where people indicate an employee was technically strong but didn't get along with the team. Sometimes it's personality deficiencies (argumentative, unwilling to accept criticism, defensive, aggressive, etc.) or you just don't fit in. Your interests may not be in line with those of most of the company/team. They may like to go out after hours and find that those who they presume do not to fit.

It takes a lot of effort for management to make sure the company/team is accepting of people who are not like them, so they take the easy way out and just look for people that are just like them. It's sad that they are unwilling to adapt and in many locations risk discrimination in hiring. Very difficult to catch.

How to answer? If you really want the job, you better do your homework and find out what people are like at this company. Check for LinkedIn and Facebook. Do your own recon and sit in their parking lot to see when people leave. It's a little creepy/stalking, but you may even follow them to the local pub and see how they behave.

I think you should be yourself and look for companies that are willing to accept you the way you are. Much less stressful. I think you'll be happier in the long run, but that's easy to say if there are other opportunities.

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This the sort of question I think it's fair to ask back "Why do you want to know?" - provided of course you don't take a defensive tone (or what they might think is a defensive or litigious tone) and provided you've built up some rapport with the interviewer by this point. And chances are you will have done: this feels more like a closing-the-deal question rather than an early-stage-filter question, so they're likely positive about you at this point. If you don't want to jump straight back at them then maybe volunteer a little information first, ask why they want to know, and then fill in any gaps in your first answer tailored to their reasons.

In my case they were trying to gauge how comfortable I'd be working on client sites in other cities, away from home for weeks at a time.

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