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How to Handle Inappropriate Interview Questions

Interviews are awkward enough without a poor interviewer that doesn’t know what they can, and cannot, say due to laws or common decency. If you’re finding yourself on interviews where the interviewer is asking you inappropriate or uncomfortable questions, we are here to help.

These are the top 5 most inappropriate themes of questions you might encounter, and how to answer them gracefully.

#5: Questions on Family or Pregnancy

“Do you need a flexible schedule because of your family?”, or “Do you plan to have more children in the future?” are both examples of questions some women might run into while interviewing for jobs, especially if they have a recent gap in their resume from childcare or raising a family. These questions are inappropriate, but don’t always come from a rude place – sometimes the interviewer really is just that dumb.

The best way to respond is that you have no problems performing all of the duties listed in the job description and that you are capable of handling the position. Don’t address an issue with your children or your family, and don’t bring up flexible schedules unless you absolutely have to. Asking for a ‘break’ this early in the process could knock you out of consideration.

#4: Questions About Your Origin

“Where are you from?”, or “That is such a lovely accent, where did you grow up?” sound very innocent, but employers are actually prohibited by law from discriminating against you based on where you are from.

A lot of times, your interviewer isn’t even going to realize their question is inappropriate. If you feel comfortable answering, you can probably chalk it up to their inexperience and move on. However, you certainly don’t have to! If they ask where you are from, some as generic as “I’ve lived all over, but I have been settled in X area for Y amount of years and I love it here” is totally acceptable!

#3: Questions About Your Age

This is so illegal, and you will be hard pressed to justify the question as something the interviewer doesn’t know they can’t ask. Simply put, no interviewer should be asking you your age. A clever way they try to get around it is to ask when you graduated from college, to do to the math.

If the question is phrased in the way, ‘Our 24-year-old developers work 12 hours a day, can you keep up?’, reiterate your ability to perform your job duties. If they ask when you graduated school, ‘A few years ago’ is a perfectly acceptable statement. If you feel like your interviewer is being too direct, don’t be afraid to call them out on it. They know what they can, and cannot, ask you.

#2: Questions on Religion

This is another big one, and you should never let a hiring manager bully you into answering these sorts of questions. If your interviewer is asking questions like “Do you go to church on Sunday mornings”, or “What is your availability during Ramadan”, a quick response back could be “What are you work requirements during that time” (Do you need me to be here Sunday mornings?), “What is the schedule like for this position”, or “I’m confident I will be able to fulfill the duties of this position”.

Again, if you feel the interviewer is being unprofessional, call them out. A simple, “How does this relate to the position we are discussing?” will cut them down quick, and make it clear you know what they are doing.

#1: Questions About Your Gender

Questions like “As a woman, do you think you can handle this position?”, “This is a woman-dominated office with strong personalities, do you feel you can stand up to them?” and others are all unacceptable questions that interviewers might ask.

The best way to handle these questions is to ignore the gender issue altogether. If you are asked how to best manage a group of women under you, talk about management strategies and experience you have with management – nothing about the fact that the people working for you are women. Don’t acknowledge it unless pressed, in which you should make it clear that ultimately they are people, more than just their gender.

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