Interviewing for a job can be a stressful process and in the aim of finding out all the information that they need to find the right candidate, sometimes employers may overstep the line in questioning. This may go from inappropriate, to downright illegal. Even before you’ve signed an employment agreement, you, as a candidate, have certain rights and provisions under the law.
Knowing the questions you shouldn’t be asked, and finding ways to answer them professionally and respectfully can help you to turn an uncomfortable interview into a successful one with more favorable chances of landing the role, and an advancement of your career.
Your Legal Rights at a Job Interview
Most of your legal coverage in a job interview comes from laws relating to discrimination. For example, it’s illegal for employers to discriminate on age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, and disability. The few areas where employees can discriminate is when you are legally or physically unable to complete the work being advertised,
Of course, you have the right to refuse to answer questions you deem inappropriate, or where you question the legality of them, but outright refusing to answer may interrupt the flow of the interview, and may be detrimental to your chances of employment.
We’ve put together a list of the key questions that you should never be asked, along with creative ways to answer them that will help to steer the interview on without uncomfortable gaps or confrontation.
Questions Relating to Culture or Ethnicity
Interviewers may not discriminate based on race or culture, but some questions may lead towards this area. Questions to ascertain your place of birth or mother tongue are inappropriate and could be misinterpreted as relating to discrimination.
Inform the interviewer that you speak English fluently, and you will have no problems communicating with clients, colleagues, and supervisors in your role.
What is Your Marital Status?
Questions regarding your status, plans for a family, or home situation are inappropriate, and may be a concealed way to identify sexuality. Interviewers sometimes also use questions related to this to identify outside influences that could distract you from work.
Try approach these questions with responses that highlight your ability to separate personal and work life, and reassure the interviewer that you would have no conflicting situations to impact on your performance.
Questions Relating To Your Health
Employers generally can’t discriminate based on disabilities or medical conditions
Approach these questions by referring to the job you are applying for. Let the interviewer know that you are fit and capable to perform the role that you’re applying for.
No interviewer should request details of your criminal history, but this doesn’t stop all from doing so. You have no obligation to answer questions relating to past convictions, but it’s in your interest to answer the question professionally.
Position yourself by saying that there are no problems that would interfere with your eligibility for the job.
Asking your age may seem trivial, and may slip in during conversation, but it’s not a question you’re obligated to answer. If you’re uncomfortable about revealing your age, let the interviewer know that you’re of legal age to be employed. Employers may not discriminate on age, and you have legal protection in this area.
Tips for answering inappropriate questions
Not every question is strictly illegal, but some may be inappropriate in the context of the interview, or the role being applied for. In any case where you are uncomfortable answering a question, or when a question infringes on your legal rights, try to steer the conversation away with a polite, broad answer.
If a question offends you, it can be okay to let the interviewer know this. In some cases, they may have poorly worded their question, and will end up more uncomfortable than you.
For example, an interviewer may ask what you do in your social time, or if you drink alcohol. You’re not obliged to answer these questions directly, but dismissing them may harm your prospects.
In this case, use a broad answer such as, “I enjoy socialising with friends and family, but I like to keep my work and social life private and take care to make sure my leisure activities don’t negatively impact on my job performance”.
It’s not every day that you are interviewed for a job, so it’s inevitable that some questions will break your comfort zone. It’s important to know what questions are not allowed, and how you should respond to them without breaking the flow of the interview, or coming across as uncooperative or dismissive of the interviewer.