Let’s examine questions interviewers shouldn’t be asking. Broadly speaking, employers aren’t allowed to ask candidates questions that will reveal personal information and may undermine their chances of being hired for a position. Such questions are discriminatory and, while not technically illegal, can put employers at risk for legal action, depending on their jurisdiction.
Despite the laws in place to protect candidates, inappropriate questions can and do get asked by interviewers, albeit not always intentionally. Questions will sometimes crop-up by accident during interview chit chat and interviewers may not always be aware that they are doing anything illegal.
Here are a selection of the ‘off-limits’ questions you could find yourself facing:
1. How old are you?
2. Do you have any religious beliefs?
3. Do you have any political affiliations?
4. What is your ethnic background?
5. Do you have a disability?
6. Are you married?
7. Do you have children or plan to?
As a job seeker, it is important to know that you aren’t required to answer these, or any personal questions that make you feel uncomfortable. How you choose to deal with the situation will depend on the circumstances and whether you suspect the question carries any ill intent. Either way, you can always decline politely to answer the question or even ask to end the interview right there.
However, declining, being disapproving of the question or walking out may not beneficially affect your chances of an offer. So if you still want the job you need an approach: if asked about your religious beliefs you could ask what the organization’s attitude is towards hiring workers of different faiths and whether this has led to problems in the past. This will alert the interviewer to the fact that what they’re asking inappropriate, if they haven’t realized already.
A more tactical move, however, may be to steer the conversation back to your particular qualifications or suitability for the job and/or give a practical response. For example, when asked about where you live you could point out that your commute, however long, has never impacted your punctuality or ability to perform your duties; likewise questions about children may be an opportunity to emphasize your dedication to your work and the practical arrangements you’ve employed in your previous job.
In an ideal world your employer would be aware of your rights as a job candidate and would fully respect these. Nevertheless, being aware of the questions that are off limits will help you handle any unpleasant surprises and limit the impact on your employment prospects.
Thomas Wharton is President of LIFOCUS, Inc, a human resources consulting firm in Rhode Island, providing Career Coaching, Outplacement, Executive Coaching, Assessments and Leadership Development. Tom can be reached at 401.884.7959 • firstname.lastname@example.org. • www.lifocus.com • @careercoachTW