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Crossing the Line - How to Handle Illegal Interview Questions


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Answering interview questions can be a tricky business at the best of times, but how should you react if the question is not only tricky, but technically illegal?

In order to protect jobseekers from a variety of types of discrimination, employers are not permitted to make enquiries about the personal lives of candidates which have no bearing on the position that they are interviewing for. This includes questions such as those concerning:

· Your age

· Your race

· Your religion

· Your sexual orientation

· Your height and/or weight

· Your marital or relationship status

· Whether you have children, how many, their ages and so on

· Your political beliefs and affiliations

· Any affiliations to non-professional clubs, societies or organizations

· Your country of origin

· Whether you have US citizenship

· Whether you own or rent your home

· Any question related to pregnancy, including your medical history during pregnancy and your plans for having more children

· Health-related questions – although something like ‘Do you need any special accommodations to perform the job that you are applying for?’ would be lawful because it relates specifically to the job

· Questions concerning a partner or spouse, such as those relating to their employment, salary, child care arrangements or dependents

· Type or condition of military discharge or any request for discharge papers

· Arrests

Just because these areas are out of bounds, however, does not mean that such questions will never arise and it is important to be prepared…just in case.

For many people, being faced with an inappropriate question tends to put them on the defensive. They assume that the interviewer has knowingly and deliberately crossed the line and that his motivation for doing so lies in prejudice. While in a few instances this may be true, most times it lies more in ignorance however. Many recruiters are never trained in the legal aspects of recruitment and are simply unaware that their question is either illegal or improper. How you respond to the question, therefore, will largely depend upon what you perceive his motivation to be. Does he intend to use the information to discriminate against you, or is he just making ‘innocent’ small talk?

Whichever is the case, tact on the part of the interviewee is vital. A job interview is, after all, a job interview, and if your response is one which causes embarrassment or shame to the employer, you may be ruining your own chances of being offered the job. A response such as, ‘Actually, I prefer not to discuss personal issues during interviews’ is not only polite, but serves as a gentle reminder that the question is straying into dodgy territory and is normally enough to dissuade the interviewer from continuing down this route.

Handling illegal or improper interview questions does, at the end of the day, require a judgment call on the part of the interviewee. You may prefer to avoid any such enquiry or, you may feel that answering the question would do nothing to damage your chances and so consider it more prudent to answer. It has to be said, however, that if your gut tells you that the line of questioning was intentional and your responses intended to be used in a discriminatory manner, you might want to ask yourself whether this is the type of employer you want to work for. If he is prepared to flout the law at this stage, what rules is he going to want to bend, or expect you to bend, in the future?

Have you ever been faced with an illegal or inappropriate interview question? What tactics did you use to handle it? Drop me a line and let me know.

About the Author

I am committed to providing people quick access to job search and career information. Over 20 years of experience in the HR and Career Coaching field has given me a vast amount of information and resources to share with you. My natural curiosity and desire to be on the leading edge of EVERYTHING, brings value to you as a blog participant because I will keep you informed of updates, changes and innovations that will assist you in finding the job.

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-06-25 20:38:54 in Employee Articles

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