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Job interviews can be challenging, daunting even nerve-wracking experiences without the added stress of trying to diplomatically answer invasive, or inappropriate interview questions.

How to handle inappropriate interview questions

We have Employment law and legislation in place to prevent discrimination here in the UK.  However, it doesn’t mean inappropriate or illegal questions never get asked during an interview.  We still hear stories in the press about discrimination.

Sometimes it’s an inexperienced hiring manager simply wanting to build rapport and get to know you as a person.  Okay, some of you will say it’s no excuse for asking inappropriate questions.  If a good rapport is built and the conversation is flowing, it’s easy to revert to a casual chat.  That can bring with it the risk of asking inappropriate questions.  Some hiring managers can then forget it’s an interview.

Know your rights!  

Understanding your rights is an important start.  What are inappropriate questions?  Inappropriate questions are those generally related to the nine protected characteristics (see below).  Any questions asked that relate to these characteristics are unlawful or illegal.

Even if the manager’s intention is positive, that’s not actually the issue.  The issue is the implication (inference) that such questions are being used to make a decision about the candidate’s suitability.  It maybe those managers simply want to build rapport.

Candidates themselves often talk about their families during an interview.  However hiring managers should be aware this doesn’t give them a license to probe further on a candidate’s personal life.

What are considered inappropriate interview questions? 

Here are the protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Two-way Process

Every good interview should be a two-way process.  The hiring manager is gathering information to assess your fit with the job and company.  You are gathering information about whether the job and company fit with your career aspirations.

A good interviewer will aim to “sell” both the job and company.  They should also let you know the reality of working at the company, the successes and some of the challenges.

It’s an opportunity to get to know each other and make fair, objective and consistent decisions.  Hiring managers need to understand if a candidate is capable of performing well.

When asked inappropriate interview questions – be assertive!

You have the right to challenge any questions you feel are inappropriate.  Some of you may feel uncomfortable at the thought of challenging the interviewer.  That’s why it’s important to think through how you would handle these types of questions in advance.

Ask the interviewer why it’s relevant to the job fit?  Maybe they asked the question on the back of a general conversation.  It’s easily done when you get on with the candidate.  If you feel the interviewer’s intentions were just to build rapport and get to know you then you might let the first inappropriate question go.

It may be a test to observe your ability to tactfully address an issue.  It’s a risky strategy during recruitment in my opinion.  If the role requires someone who isn’t afraid to speak out then this might be one method used.  Ask about their policies around Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and family friendly policies and observe how they react.

Final point on inappropriate interview questions

There could be a number of reasons why these questions were asked.  Lack of training offered to hiring managers.   It could be a newly promoted hiring manager with little or no interviewing experience.  There could be a lack of understanding about equality and diversity.  It could of course be personal bias or direct discrimination.  Then it’s your decision whether you want to continue with the recruitment process or take appropriate action.

During my in-house recruiter career I never asked any inappropriate questions during an interview.  Apart from being unlawful I didn’t think it was relevant to someone’s ability to do the job.

Whether a candidate is married or single, whether they have children or not is really nothing to do with the purpose of an interview.  The purpose of an interview is to determine whether the candidate can do the job and fits with the company values and culture.

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