This subject is loaded with landmines for both the job
seeker and employers. The problem is many who
interview do not get training on interviewing. The larger
problem is some of them don't care and will do what
they want to do. These are what some industry experts
call "loose cannons". And we get to deal with them.
(Click to enlarge image) There is enough stress and anxiety walking into any room with people you do not
know but will be talking about your life over the next hour (normally). Understand
that many you meet sat in their first and only HR meeting as a new hire. It is not
fair to you, it is not fair to them but it is what often happens.
So when this person, perhaps a member of management, begins inappropriate
questions for a job interview, what would or can you do? Is this from not having
been appropriately trained or because they are a jerk knowingly asking what he did?
The smart answer is the professional answer. Assume ignorance due to a lack of
training and present a professional response to an unprofessional question. Sounds
good but how do you do that? It's not easy but here are some insights on how.
TIP: It's going to be tough NOT to answer a question. Only an honest person will
"own up" to their often unintended mistakes and fear may prevent this action.
Ask yourself if this company is REALLY for you. At a minimum, the question
you were asked is a lack of training and good judgment. At worst, it is a
"Red Flag" on the company culture. An interview is TWO GROUPS learning
about the other for needed skills and fit; for the company and employee.
Don't terminate an interview prematurely as it may improve and just have
been their nerves or jitters in getting started with a first-time interviewee.
Here are some sample questions from Amy Elisa Jackson in Glassdoor.com which are
good examples especially coming from a woman's perspective.
#1 "Many of our employees are young guys who put in 14 hour days.
Are you up for that kind of challenge?"
This is INAPPROPRIATE. Questions that dig into your age, race, national origin,
gender, religion, marital status and sexual orientation are off-limits per state
and federal recommendations.
Allison Doyle, a job search expert for The Balance says "Hiring managers are
allowed to ask whether you can handle the workload and the schedule. When
responding, you can leave the age part out and discuss how you've worked in
the past, what type of schedule was involved, and explain how you handle the
challenges of this role. Remember, if long hours aren't what you're looking for
you don't have to take the job if you get an offer."
#2 “Congratulations on returning to the workforce. Given your family, do you
need a flexible schedule? Are you planning to have more children?”
This is INAPPROPRIATE. A question about family should be a no-no but, alas,
a naive interviewer, or worse, one that does not value women in the workplace
may still ask them.
"A polite way to respond to questions about children is to answer that you’ll
be able to perform all the duties of the position,” says Doyle. “It’s answering
with a non-answer, but this can be more diplomatic than refusing to answer.
The interviewer may not be aware that they shouldn’t ask, and it’s best to keep
the conversation positive and focused on your qualifications and skills.” While
many parents may be tempted to discuss flexible work schedules in an initial
round of interviews, Doyle cautions against jumping the gun. “It’s better to
stay that you’re available to work the normal schedule for the job than it is to
ask for flexibility this early in the hiring process.”
#3 “When did you graduate from college?”
This is INAPPROPRIATE. This one is a roundabout way that some interviewers
try to hone in on a candidate’s age. Don’t fall for it.
“If you’re asked interview questions about when you graduated or your age, you
have a few options for responding. You could answer the question, even though
it shouldn’t be asked; if you think that your response won’t hinder your chances
of getting a job offer,” advises Doyle. “Another tactic is to deflect the question
and say that when you graduated won’t impact your ability to perform on the
job. A third option is to mention you’d be glad to answer, but you’re not sure
why the interviewer needs to know. That could get you out of giving a direct
response. At the least, you’ll discover why you were asked and can opt to
respond – or not.”
#4 “Where are you from?”
This is INAPPROPRIATE. In addition to this question being uncomfortable and
completely unnecessary, state and federal laws make discrimination based on
citizenship, national origin, arrest and conviction record, and military discharge
“Often, the interviewer doesn’t realize they’re asking something that is illegal and could be perceived as offensive. It’s no excuse, but they may think
they’re just making friendly conversation,” says career coach Angela Copeland.
While some experts would advise job seekers to confront the interviewer,
Copeland offers an alternative. “It’s more important that you note the question
in your mind than exactly how you answer. After the interview, take the time to
think back. Was the hiring manager biased? Would you really want to work for
them? When it comes to responding to a question about where you’re from, try
an answer that’s a bit vague, such as, ‘I’ve lived in a number of different cities,
but I’ve been in San Francisco for five years. It’s great!'”
#5 “How can my company be better at recruiting people of color?”
This is INAPPROPRIATE. While it may be sincere, this question is inappropriate
because of the timing. A job interview is not the time for a hiring manager to get
input on his or her diversity recruitment strategy, and a candidate should not be
obliged to answer simply because they may be an ethnic minority.
“In the moment, it can be best to try to move through this potential pitfall as
gracefully as possible. But, afterward, take the time to reflect on your feelings
and whether or not this is someone you want to work for,” advises Copeland.
“A potential answer to this uncomfortable question might be, ‘You know, I don’t
have much experience in recruiting, since I’m an engineer, but I’m so glad to
hear you value diversity.’ Answer the question quickly so the conversation will
move to something more relevant.”
#6 “Tell me about your disability and how it has shaped you?”
This is INAPPROPRIATE. The Americans with Disabilities act makes it illegal for
employers to discriminate against qualified job applicants and employees based
on their physical or mental disabilities. This includes asking questions about a
“If this happens to you, try something such as, ‘I think what you’re trying to get
at is how well I’ll do in this role. I have to tell you, my past experience in project
management perfectly aligns to what you’re looking for. I’m incredibly
committed, and so excited at the opportunity to help you and the company
move forward with this project,'” says Copeland. “Think of the way politicians on
TV answer questions. Answer the question you wish they’d asked. Turn their
question on its side a little, and explain again why you’d be a great fit. But,
don’t forget to take a mental note.” Whether a question crosses the line is a
personal and subjective decision. “If the hiring manager does ask you something
illegal, just remember, they’re giving you a heads up that they’re probably not
someone you want to work for. It’s much better to know now, than a few
months into a new job.”
#7 “We’re a small company filled with strong, Type-A women. Is that going to be
a problem for you, sir? Have you worked well with women bosses in the past?”
This is INAPPROPRIATE. The question assumes that a man would have a
problem working with women and assumes the worst in the candidate. This is
one that is indicative of a potentially difficult company culture.
“No matter how this question is worded, it’s a tough one. It means that the hiring
manager has put you into a category that’s different than what they were looking
for,” says Copeland frankly. “The best answer when someone asks you about
being different is often, ‘Throughout my career, I’ve worked well with all sorts of
people. I’m a great team player, and very excited about this opportunity to
create value for the company!'”
#8 “We like our employees to look and carry themselves a certain way. Do you
think you will be able to set your financial hardships aside to rise to the
occasion of working here?”
This is INAPPROPRIATE. While it is discussed far less than race or gender in the
workplace, white- and blue-collar workers alike can face socio-economic
“A very difficult part of the interview process is what we can’t see — the way
we’re being judged by appearances. Unfortunately, our culture often has
unspoken class rules that we learn somewhat indirectly growing up. Anytime
you’re interviewing for a job, it’s a great idea to learn all about the company
and the culture,” advises Copeland. “Do your best to dress in a way that the
company and the hiring manager can relate to. If you have the misfortune of
being asked a question like this one, put a positive spin on it. Say something
like, ‘You know, one of the great things about my background is that I have a
track record of success working with diverse groups of people. I’m confident I
will succeed in this role because of my skills and experience.'”