Interview empowerment: why boundaries matter and how to set them

Mar 09, 2023

4 mins

Interview empowerment: why boundaries matter and how to set them
Vivian Nunez

Vivian Nunez is a writer, content creator, and mental health podcast host.

Getting an interview during the job search process feels like winning the lottery, which makes committing to setting boundaries difficult. You may not want to feel pushy or ungrateful for the opportunity to interview for a dream job or a job you really need. Overall, your feelings towards setting boundaries may be easily described by the TikTok trend, “In this economy…”

And while it may feel like a risk or incredibly outside of your comfort zone to set boundaries, it may actually be to your advantage. Even the experts think so. Mariela De La Mora is a Business and Leadership Coach who works to empower clients at every point in their career journey, and setting boundaries is key to each chapter.

Why should you set boundaries with a potential employer?

“I don’t think candidates often consider that the job interview process should feel like a mutual and reciprocal dynamic, not an audition,” explains De La Mora. Instead of seeing boundaries as a reason why a company wouldn’t hire you, you can pivot and turn their respect for your boundaries into why you would want to accept a job at a company.

De La Mora suggests starting small if you struggle with setting boundaries overall—start with yourself. “[Setting boundaries with yourself] means not overextending yourself or volunteering for something that’s not being asked of you,” she explains. “Don’t over-promise [and] pause before agreeing. Starting there makes it easier to set boundaries with others.”

And remember, adds De La Mora, “Boundaries are how you model for others how you wish to be treated. They are for both sides because they are essentially the terms and conditions for personal or professional relationships with you, so in that sense, boundaries are clarity.”

Give yourself templates, especially at first

If you’ve struggled to set boundaries in the past, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to set them in the present. Try honing your boundary-setting muscle by giving yourself templates to turn to the next time someone asks you for something. You will also feel more confident if you dedicate time ahead of an interview to practice potential questions where setting a boundary may pop up.

“Use phrases that state your terms versus leaving it open-ended,” suggests De La Mora. “For instance, if you can only interview on certain days or times, tell them your availability to interview ahead of time instead of waiting for them to suggest times that conflict with your work schedule.”

Decide beforehand what’s off the table

Before the interview, outline what you feel comfortable talking about and what you rather not discuss. A note on your iPhone can do the trick. The goal isn’t for your list to be exhaustive; instead, focus on the quality of your boundaries and labeling your true non-negotiables.

“Although interviewers are not supposed to ask questions about your personal life expressly, candidates can feel the pressure to reveal things they fear can be used against them,” explains De La Mora. “Decide that it’s okay to give general—versus specific—answers to any questions unrelated to the job duties unless you feel comfortable doing so.”

Ahead of your interview, research your state’s salary laws as well. For instance, in some states, it’s illegal for employers to ask candidates to reveal past salaries. On the flip side, in many states, including most recently in New York State, it’s illegal for employers not to provide a salary range for a role.

“But even if it is not unlawful in your State, it’s rarely in a candidate’s best interest to reveal past salary,” shares De La Mora. “I highly advise setting a personal boundary around that and asking the employer to share the salary bracket first, so you don’t accidentally undersell yourself.”

Prioritize your time and notice how they prioritize yours

An interview is an opportunity to learn more about a role and also about the company’s values and culture. This will likely be your only opportunity to get a taste of how much the company respects its employees and the boundaries they set.

“Remember that the way a company respects your time during the interview process, it’s how they will be as an employer,” adds De La Mora. “Calling you without notice, canceling interviews at the last minute, and scattered long drawn out interview processes are probably not a good sign. At the very least, set boundaries around your availability for interviews and the advance notice you’ll need.”

Specific industries also have test projects as a part of their interview process, and you can set boundaries around what you will and will not work. It may initially feel like a “must” to get the job, but you have some wiggle room when approaching the project.

“Test projects should not mimic the scope of a real work project - they need only demonstrate how you think,” explains De La Mora. Candidates are given mock projects that require the level of research, strategy, and delivery of a paid employee. This is unethical because the company can potentially implement and profit from the unpaid labor of multiple candidates. You are not obligated to spend more than a handful of hours interviewing for a company, test projects included.”

The goal of setting boundaries during your interview process is to create a win-win situation for you and your future potential employer. You will show up as the best version of yourself if you feel valued, protected, and comfortable from the start.

Key takeaways: how to set boundaries in a job interview

While you may be eager to show off your motivation and go above and beyond at the interview stage, setting boundaries for yourself will set you up for success if you do get the job. Remember De La Mora’s key points and you’ll be good to go!

  • Setting boundaries during the job interview process is important for creating a mutual and reciprocal dynamic, not just an audition.
  • Starting small by setting boundaries with yourself can help you gain confidence in setting boundaries with others.
  • Give yourself templates for boundary-setting phrases and decide beforehand what topics are off the table.
  • Prioritize your time and notice how the potential employer prioritizes yours, as it can indicate how they will treat you as an employee.
  • Test projects during interviews should not mimic the scope of a real work project, and candidates are not obligated to spend more than a few hours on them.
  • Setting boundaries during the interview process can create a positive situation for both you and your future employer by allowing you to show up as the best version of yourself.

Check out more content related to Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 here.

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