Job Interviews – answering “questionable” questions

Photo by Marlon Lara

During job interviews employers have the chance to learn more about the applicant. However, there are some questions that they are not allowed to ask. The law is there to protect you and if you feel that you are being discriminated against, you are protected and are in no way obliged to answer such questions.

The job interview process is rather stressful especially if this is relatively virgin territory for you. Interview questions that put you on the spot because they discriminate against you or are in any way illegal, are the last thing that you need. Fortunately, you are protected by the law and can refuse to answer any questions that you feel are being discriminatory.

Discrimination is covered and protected by a number of legislations, and larger companies will make sure that they abide by these legislations to protect themselves from any potential legal action. Their interviewers will be well trained to ensure that they abide by all such legislation as, ultimately, they have their company’s status and reputation to safeguard.

Any questions about how old you are, your racial or marital situation and background are questionable, and you are entitled to ask the employer why such questions are being asked. If these questions are not directly related to the job you are being interviewed for, you can respectfully excuse yourself from answering such questions.

The following questions may be deemed as discriminatory:

  • Racial background, religious beliefs, place of birth:  employers may confirm that you are legally eligible to work in the UK but are not entitled to question you about your background.
  • Marital and familial situation, and sexual preferences.

There are a variety of other questions that may be deemed as inacceptable or borderline:

  • Questions about your private life: it is up to you whether you want to share such personal lifestyle choices.
  • Questions regarding sickness vs disability: if your CV showed a substantial amount of time off work due to sickness you may be asked about it, but an employer is not entitled to ask if this time off was due to disability.
  • Involvement in associations: once again you are not obliged to give information about any such relationships and affiliations unless you wish to, if this is not relevant to the job.
  • Physical facts: information about your physical makeup such as height, weight, health etc may only be asked if these are relevant to the job.

Sometimes discriminatory questions may be disguised as lifestyle questions. For example, if the interviewer asks you whether you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, the question may be asked to understand your sexual alignment.

Other questions that may seem innocent but may be loaded are the following:

  • Do you have children?
  • With whom do you live?
  • What is your first language?

These questions are acceptable socially but during an interview may be regarded as creating discrimination.
During a job interview there is always the possibility of mistakes being made. If you are not happy with any question that is asked, you should ask the interviewer for an explanation.