Navigating Pronouns During Job Interviews

This blog post was originally posted on HRSI.org.

Imagine this: I’m sitting in an interview for a job I really want. I took the afternoon off and I was feeling confident that this would be my next big move. It was my third time at the office and this time, I was meeting a panel of people. “This is a good sign,” I thought as I turned up the music while driving from my apartment to the office.

The person who would be my manager met me at the front desk and walked me into the room to meet two faces I had never seen before. “Hello,” I said with a big smile. “I’m Kat.” As we sat down from our brief introductions and handshaking, I scribbled down the names quickly on my notepad. I didn’t want to get them wrong. This was my moment to impress, after all.

After a series of questions about my work history and experience, the person to the right asked one of those really standard interview questions. This was the time period when creative start-up interview questions were all the rage, so I was expecting it. I was just thankful this one didn’t entail any clock math like so many others did.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” they asked. Now I want to point out that anyone who has lived the last five years should now understand how silly that question is. Anything can happen. See: pandemic. But this was a long time ago where things seemed a lot more typical and I had my perfect answer prepared: “Working for you, Tom.”

I had a big smile. I remembered the name. I was confident. I was cool. Then, I was completely shot down when Tom (or so I thought) said, “that’s not my name.” I was crushed. In my haste to remember and write it down, I wrote Tom instead of Tim. I blew it.

Getting Pronouns Right In Interviews

I didn’t get that job. Really. Was it just because I didn’t remember the name? I don’t think so, but I felt like a real ass getting it wrong. The same way people feel when they get pronouns wrong, too.

But getting them right can be as simple as switching up how you introduce yourself – and making sure you don’t make assumptions. Instead of assuming that you know someone’s pronouns based on their style, haircut, body shape, or voice, just ask.

Here’s how to do it in a way that’s not offensive.

  • Hi, my name is…
  • My pronouns are…
  • How should I refer to you?

You don’t need to comment on specific features and say they made you think this person was one gender or over-explain why you are making mistakes. Start with the correct pronouns and remember to keep asking, especially during the interview process. While someone may not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns in the first interview, they will build trust over time if you remember to keep asking.

No one wants to get someone’s pronouns wrong, the same way we don’t want to get anyone’s names wrong. By incorporating both our names and our pronouns into our introductions, we can normalize sharing our pronouns to ensure others know they’re safe to share – and so you can know exactly what pronouns to call others.

If you want to learn more about pronouns and how you can build a more inclusive candidate experience for LGBT+ candidates, check out this ebook.

Job Search Advice LGBT and Diversity

Kat Kibben View All →

Katrina (Kat) Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive, unbiased job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. I start my interviews with “Hi, I’m Steph. I use the she/her pronouns. What pronouns should we use to refer to you?” and 90 percent of the time people thank me for asking. The other 10 percent kind of squint and look at me funny, but I don’t care. Inclusion is more important than my personal comfort.

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