CAREER EXPERT feat Chris Mead | Issue 39 of HEADHUNT

Inappropriate Interview Questions

Dear Hays Job Doctor,

Thank you for your articles, my friends and I always read them – I wonder if you may be able to help me though, I attended an interview recently and the interviewer asked me some questions which I was uncomfortable with. What is the protocol in regards to what can be asked and what should not?

Thanks again Hays Job Doc!

Hello Jasmine,

Thank you for your letter and I agree sometimes questions asked in interviews can be “delicate”. Below is some advice which I hope is of assistance.

Chris Mead

You're in the midst of an interview for a manager job or director job and everything is running smoothly. Your answers are fluent and succinct and you begin to feel confident in your abilities and capacity to fit the job requirements. Then, out of the blue your potential employer knocks you down like a ton of bricks with one simple question. Harmless as it might seem, this question is asked with a broad smile and inquiring eyes. So, how could you handle inappropriate questions at interviews?

Innocent or indecent?

You want to answer it. In fact, you feel so relaxed that you could blurt out your life story. But really, 'am I married and considering starting a family?' - is this really any of his or her business? What has it got to do with my strength and ability? How should I answer? Oh, maybe he or she`s just being friendly?

The question may seem innocent, and most of the time, it is truly asked in innocence. For example, an interviewer may ask a personal question such as, 'Do you have a boyfriend?', 'Are you planning to get married?' or 'Are you and your girlfriend living together?'. While not technically illegal, such questions are certainly inappropriate, and may cause you to feel uncomfortable, or even angry.

Whilst you must quickly decide whether to answer or tactfully decline, your primary aim should remain at the forefront of your mind - you are here to get the job. A tactful approach should therefore be adopted. In most genuine cases, the interviewer will register the fact that the has gone 'out of bounds' and quietly back off. For instance, you might reply, 'I try not to get into personal issues during interviews.'

You may think that you are sitting opposite a nosey or inexperienced interviewer, but if you make him or her feel ashamed of his words and actions, you might find yourself in a compromising situation. Giving the company the benefit of the doubt for the duration of the interview, and then deciding later whether it's a place where you'd want to work may be the best option.

Handling inappropriate questions

So, how do you handle a situation in which an insensitive or discriminatory question is asked relating to sex, race, or disability? Your response will be affected by many variables, including whether the candidate immediately recognises that the question is illegal.

Here are some examples of how to answer 'on-the-spot' inappropriate questions, such as 'Do you plan to get married and have children?' or 'Where were you born?'

• Politely say that you do not wish to answer such an inappropriate or illegal question
• Answer the question by saying, 'I'm sorry, I believe I missed the point, I do not understand the relevance of this question to my working career.'
• Respond to the question without any reference to its appropriateness
• Ignore the improper question, and turn the focus around to the concern that lies behind the question. For example, you might say 'I think what you are asking is...', and then select the answer you wish the interviewer to know
• It is important to understand that although you would be justified in refusing to answer an inappropriate question, doing so might cost you the job. Therefore, the only question that remains is 'Do I want to work in an environment that might subject me to such practices or assault my dignity?'

Be in control

Knowing your rights and how to handle improper questions in interviews is of paramount importance. Going to the court of law might be extreme, but it has been known to happen. Remember, be tactful and you will be in control. Answer in brief and move on to a new topic area, or ignore the question altogether and redirect the discussion toward a different subject.

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