There are a number of questions that are clearly off-limits in a job interview. It always astonishes me when I learn that people have been asked inappropriate or even illegal questions and I thought it might be useful to re-iterate some of the questions you shouldn’t answer in your job interview.

The purpose of the job interview is to establish whether you are right for the job and company, and whether the company is right for you. Any questions you might get shouldn’t go beyond the professional assessment of your skills, enthusiasm and fit.

However, it can be very easy for interviewers to cross the line and ask questions that are inappropriate, and in many cases even illegal. I believe that asking those questions is in most cases not done on purpose, but because of a lack of training and awareness, or even to break the ice and create a more friendly atmosphere.

Here are some commonly asked interview questions that are inappropriate and in fact illegal in many parts of the world:

·         Have you got children?

·         What is your age?

·         What is your citizen status?

·         What is your weight?

·         What is your financial status or credit rating?

·         Have you got any debts?

·         What is your family status?

·         Do you believe in God?

·         Where do you go to church?

·         Do you drink alcohol?

·         What do you do at the weekends?

·         What religious holidays do you observe?

·         What is your race?

·         Have you ever been arrested?

The tricky thing is how to handle these questions. Always remember that you don’t have to answer any questions in a job interview that are not related to your job and you don’t have to answer question about race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, family status, type of military discharge or your financial position. You can even terminate the interview and leave.

However, refusing to answer questions can create a very awkward atmosphere and often jeopardize any chance of securing the job. If you are happy to reveal the answers, you can simply answer the questions, but remember, it is your right not to. I actually prefer a more personal interview that breaks the ice.

Sometimes, when you feel the interviewer is starting to overstep the mark, you might want to answer with with a caveat like:

Yes, I have three children. But I make sure personal circumstances don't impact my ability to perform this job ...

This usually does the trick and will hopefully stop any further questions of that kind. The interviewer should get that you are feeling uncomfortable.

If the questions continue and make you really uncomfortable and you prefer not to answer them, then you might just say (and live with the consequences):

I don't believe the question is relevant to assess my suitability for this job. Also, I trust this type of question is actually illegal to ask in job interviews and you might want to consider withdrawing it so that the interview stays on track...

It is always wise to remember that in most circumstances there is no sinister reason behind those questions and the interviewer just wants to innocently assess whether you are right for the job. Therefore, the overall best way to deal with inappropriate or illegal interview questions is to look beyond the question and ask yourself: what is the motive for asking the question?

This often allows you to provide an answer that will satisfy the interviewer but avoid the details you might not want to share. For example, if your interviewer asks whether you are a U.S. citizen, you can simply answer: If you are asking whether I am legally allowed to work in this country, then the answer is yes.

Always remember that if an interviewer makes you really uncomfortable and asked inappropriate questions then this might be a strong hint that this is not a company you want to work for. The interview is as much for you to figure out whether the company is right for as as it is the other way around.

Hope this is useful? And good luck with any interviews in the future! You might also be interested in my other recent posts on the topic:

·         The Toughest Interview Question Of All ...And How to Answer It

·         Job Interview: Why Only 3 Questions Really Matter

As always, I’d love to hear your views on this issue. Have you ever been in a situation where an interviewer overstepped the mark or asked inappropriate or illegal questions? Any other tips of how to handle those questions? Please share your views…


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