Sex: a taboo subject during job interviews?

If you ever wondered if being interviewed for a job in a foreign country would be different, then wonder no more.  It’s the same and then it’s not, especially if you have to talk about sex during the interview.

I had the good fortune to assist a partner organization interviewing for a new member for its “facilitation” team.  The position was for a community animator who would be leading workshops and group discussions with various community groups on topics related to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

First off, like anywhere else in the world, preparation is key. Although the job posting clearly stated that this position had to do with STDs – primarily HIV-AIDS – the majority of the candidates failed to prepare.  Only a couple knew what HIV and AIDS stood for; the same went for the difference between the two.  Most could only name the 2 most common STDs in this area – gonorrhoea and syphilis – but no others.

All of that is understandable.  Sex is a taboo subject here, so even knowing that much was a plus.  Once on the job, there is plenty of time to learn all the ins and outs of the business.  Less stellar again was that none of the five candidates had made a point of learning anything about the two partner organizations that were doing the hiring.  Oops.  But no worries, we forgave that too.

Of course, nerves are universal.  When you are looking for a job, the stakes feel pretty high.  So it was no wonder that some of the candidates looked scared beyond words.  They tried to fake knowledge sometimes. We asked a few trick questions meant to see how they would react to information they couldn’t possibly know – such as what “la CCC” stood for (FYI – that’s “communication pour le changement de comportement” the French equivalent of “behaviour change communication” which happens to be one of Greg’s areas of expertise).  Surprisingly, one of the candidates got it right!  The others just made up names.  Nice try.

We were tough, but we were also kind.  We gave extra points for those candidates unafraid to say they didn’t know something, or who showed they would have the energy to be in front of a group of people who wouldn’t necessarily be 100% receptive to their message.  That is, after all, what they would face in their role.

On a personal level, however, the most interesting part of the interview for me revolved around the questions of HIV prevention and transmission.  Since these candidates were not experts (yet), it was a great way to get a sense of how informed people might be in general.

“What are the ways HIV can be transmitted?”, we asked.  They all knew the basics: sexual relations.  A few stated mother-to-child transmission for which I desperately wanted to give them bonus points.  One candidate stood out, mentioning blood transfusions and un-sterilized injection needles.  I was proud.  Then one also mentioned “unclean objects”.  Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to ask for a list of such objects to see the level of information vs misinformation on that topic.  That will have to wait for another time.

When asked how to prevent HIV transmission, each and every one of them recited: fidelity, abstinence and – then for those who cannot, for whatever reason, abide by the first two – condoms.  Not one word about how to prevent transmission from say injecting drugs, but OK.  Can’t be too harsh.  This is the refrain they have been hearing left and right, so let’s run with it.

It was the dance on the use of condoms that most intrigued me.  The job they were applying for essentially requires the promotion of condom use.  It fascinated me to listen to the discourse on how abstinence before marriage was essential and real, as if everyone practices this religiously here.  Yet with my experience in the last few weeks of meeting so many unmarried HIV+ clients, it seemed surreal.  I suppose there are just a lot more people who “just cannot help themselves” who should be using protection than our candidates seem to realize.

Much work to be done.

One of the five we met will be chosen, trained, and brought up to speed about all the specifics.  Then they will see for themselves too that there is much they can do to educate the community about STDs, especially HIV-AIDS.  One of these five will be one new drop in the ocean – one tiny part of the solution: access to information.

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~ by Caroline Spira on April 12, 2010.

2 Responses to “Sex: a taboo subject during job interviews?”

  1. I’m assuming that the candidate who knew what ccc was is the most likely hire, but I may be wrong. Do let us know who got it – inquiring minds want to know.

    • As it happens… the candidate who did know that CCC was selected! She was very excited to get the position and I am looking forward to seeing her in action!

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