Sidestep Illegal Interview Questions

  | James Innes

However well –prepared for an interview you may be, there is still the chance that you may be asked a question that you don’t want to answer – or shouldn’t. This may be to with your family, health or social life, or alternatively to do with age or religious and political affiliations. If you are asked such a question, your best strategy is either to ignore it altogether or move on to a different topic.  By no means feel obliged to answer it.

In rare cases, a question may be blatantly discriminatory or offensive. In such instances, it is probably best just to end the interview and walk out. Whilst this will almost certainly mean the end of your chances of getting the job, would you really want to work for someone with that attitude anyway?

However, most likely the interviewer who asks such a question does not have any ill-intent. In all probability they are untrained, unaware of the legislation that now surrounds much personal data, and, in an effort to establish a rapport with a candidate, have strayed inadvertently into a “no go” area.

Typically such “illegal” questions fall into the following broad areas.

·       Are you married or have children? Anything that tries to find out a candidate’s family plans – especially in the case of women – is technically illegal, as it falls under pregnancy discrimination. It can also be seen as a way of ascertaining a candidate’s sexual orientation.

·       How old are you? It is illegal to discriminate against a candidate on the basis of age, so any questions of this nature can be ignored. They can probably get an idea of how old you are by reading your $[cv} anyway.

·       When did you graduate? This is just another way of trying to find out your age and should be treated in the same way.

·       Are you in good health? Unless the job specifically requires physical attributes – for example lifting packages or standing on your feet all day – then anything that doesn’t actually relate to your ability to perform a job is personal information that you don’t have to share.

·       What is your religion? It is not appropriate to discuss religion in an interview, or to discriminate against somebody because of their religious beliefs. Questions of this nature should be met with a polite but firm response: ”I prefer not to discuss my religious beliefs”.

·       What is your nationality or ethnic background?  As with questions about religion, employers cannot discriminate against people because of their nationality or ethnic background. There is one proviso, however. If the job requires somebody who is non-native to have a valid work permit, then interviewers can ask about this.

·       Have you ever been arrested? Whilst companies may ask about criminal records during the application process and employers may do background checks into potential employees, an employer cannot ask you about your arrest record.

If you are asked one of these questions and you fell that the interviewer has strayed into a forbidden area, the best approach is to ignore it and try to redirect the interview into more appropriate areas. Alternatively, politely ask the interviewer why this is relevant to the job and your ability to perform it. In all likelihood they will realise their mistake and get the interview back on track.

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