How to Handle Inappropriate Interview Questions

interviewYou would think by now that most hiring managers would know that asking interview questions about race, age, and marital status is illegal. But I still frequently hear stories from job seekers about inappropriate or illegal questions that they are asked during an interview. And I can understand why these questions would frustrate job seekers.

But often hiring managers ask questions that are "just plain wrong" because of their agenda...because of a concern they have about your candidacy or a fear of finding something problematic about you after they have hired you. In many cases, the inappropriate question is asked without even realizing it is inappropriate or even illegal. So before you get defensive about a certain question, try to examine the hiring manager's motive behind asking it. Below are a few inappropriate interview questions along with the potential motive for asking them and suggested responses.

Are you married? Clearly this is an inappropriate question and martial status has nothing to do with your success in the position. But the motive behind asking the question may be the fear that if you are married you may be planning on starting a family soon, which could mean an extended leave or even a decision to quit. Rather than getting defensive about the question, try answering it by acknowledging the motive. Respond by saying something like "If you are concerned that my marital status could effect my long term plans at the company, I can assure you that is not the case."

Do you have children? Absolutely politically incorrect and illegal? Sure. But some managers ask this question because they are concerned that if you have kids, you are more likely to come in late or leave early, need more time off, or need a more flexible work schedule. Rather than getting defensive and saying that they are asking an illegal question, again try to assuage their fears by understanding their motive and say something like "If you are concerned that my parental status will effect my ability to carry out all my work duties and be present at all work-related functions on a regular basis, I can assure you that my commitments to the company would not be compromised."

You have an interesting name. Where are you from? Does this question reek of discrimination? Possibly. Or, the employer may be asking this question because they are not sure if you are authorized to work in the U.S. and they cannot offer you a work Visa. You can respond by saying "If you are concerned about my authorization to work in the U.S. I would be happy to provide you with proof of citizenship (or a green card)."

How old are you? Yes, I've actually had clients who were asked this question during an interview. Offensive? Absolutely. But again, try to examine the underlying motive. Perhaps the hiring manager is concerned that your skills are not current or that they will not be able to afford someone with your level of experience. Rather than getting defensive say something like "I can assure you that my age has no bearing on my ability to do the job. My skills are up to date and my salary requirements are flexible."

Interviewing is about building a relationship and establishing rapport. Getting defensive never works well in an interview situation. If you later decide that the hiring manager is an absolute Neanderthal for asking you inappropriate or illegal interview questions, you can always decide not to pursue the position. But it's a sounder interview strategy to address the motives behind the questions head on than calling the interviewer on the carpet and damaging the relationship and any chance of landing the job.

Next: How to Have a Rock Star Resume and Ace the Interview >>

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