This is for those whom we have asked, or will ask, some
extremely personal questions. And I don't simply mean
questions like: Are you married?
No. We ask: Are you taking any prescription medications? Are
you on antidepressants? How old are you? And most
embarrassing of all, we ask how tall you are and how much
you weigh. We sometimes even ask how much money you make.
There are several reasons for asking intrusive questions
before putting you through the lengthy application process.
First, you need to pass a thorough medical examination to
obtain an employment visa for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the
United Arab Emirates. Having negative results on TB,
hepatitis, and HIV tests are mandatory. Second, although
there is some flexibility and there are some differences
between hospitals, most hospitals will decline applicants
who are currently on antidepressants, have a history of
serious cardiac disease or cancer, or who have a body mass
index (BMI) of 35+ (as an example, someone who is 5'5" and
weighs 210 lbs). They consider these individuals to be
high-risk from a health
And let's not forget asking about one's criminal record,
particularly because we have found that our client hospitals and the
embassies are becoming more strict on this issue.
Although, from a legal point of view, we are allowed to ask
these questions for international employment, for over 25
years we did not ask these delicate questions. For one, we
felt they were somehow alienating. But more importantly, in
North America, we cannot discriminate on any grounds.
But after we started receiving an increasing number of
completed applications from exceptionally qualified
individuals who had had cardiac surgery, or were obese, or
were "too old" to be issued a work visa, we realized we had
to start asking the potentially deal-breaking questions up
front, during the first conversation with a candidate.
But it doesn't feel good. Personally, when talking to a
candidate, I first answer her or his standard questions and
give out the basic information about the position. I
postpone dropping the cluster bomb of personal questions
until the last possible moment — usually at the very end of
the conversation. I commonly explain that I am legally
allowed to ask the questions, I explain the reasons for the
questions, and I ask permission to pose the questions. I am
grateful to the individuals who say, "I don't mind." But at
the same time, I am anxious that I will find out that this
great and interested candidate will have some physical
circumstance that will disqualify her/him. For those of you
who are single, but looking (or who remember being single,
but looking), it is sort of like having an unexpectedly
mutually absorbing conversation with a great guy/girl at a
party, only to find at the end of the evening that s/he is
in fact married or otherwise unsuitable.
If you think about it, our asking personal information
breaks a lot of taboos:
In North America, when evaluating a job applicant, we are not allowed to discriminate on any basis.
You cannot ask for a picture on a job application (as we do).
In general, it is unacceptable to outright ask people personal questions.
You would never ask someone how much they earn.
Although we speculate if a friend has gained noticeable weight, we accept that it is a sensitive subject, and it would be too hurtful to comment directly on it.
All of our staff find it really hard to ask personal
questions without revealing their embarrassment. My staff
say it is much more natural for someone like me who asks
personal questions of everyone I meet. But, even for me,
questioning a complete stranger on the telephone about such
personal facts is, as our mothers used to say, "Harder on me
than it will be on you."