The pre interview jitters, clammy hands and nausea, are some of the biggest psychological misgivings in an interview. Although it is important to be calm during an interview, it is not always possible and we always revert to our panic stricken state. This state of mind clouds our thinking and we make mistakes and blunders which may even cost us the job we are interviewing for. It is during this state that we forge tour basic rights and privacy matters, and can make us give away more information than we intend to. This can include sensitive information about the previous projects you might have been working on in your past company, or even personal information you are not privy to give out. Most illegal questions seem quite harmless on the outside, but can have serious repercussions on the job interview. In a tense fight situation none of that matters and you might just blurt out things you don’t intend to say. Spilling out secrets of your previous company may even cost you the job you are interviewing for, as you may come across some one with questionable integrity.
Most of the times, the interviewer will not have any idea that he/ she is asking you an illegal question. It is usually the novice, inexperienced interviewers who ask such questions without their knowledge. All they would be trying to do is behave friendly with you and ease you into the interview.
It is natural for your potential employer to gather as much information about you as possible. Some employers might go a little further in order to gain this knowledge, and may even ask you questions they are not supposed to ask you. It is hence important for the interviewee to recognize these questions and successfully deflect them, and if push comes to shove, confront the employer about them asking you illegal questions.
Some of the topics that are off limits in an interview are your age, race, national origin, religion, gender, marital status and sexual orientation. You do not have to respond to any of the questions regarding these topics in your interview, since your answers can be grounds for discrimination against any of the above mentioned topics. If you suspect this is the case, then you can sue the company in most cases and it will hold good in most state and federal courts. If you are asked inappropriate questions you can chose to decline to answer it. However, certain occupations might require you to state the above mentioned topics, so you need to know which is illegal and which is necessary. Sometimes the employer might lose himself/ herself in the midst of a casual conversation and might ask you a question in genuine certain. If you find something funny about the intentions of the question being asked you can always chose to refuse the answer and you can hold your ground.
Basic strategies to handle illegal job interviews:
1. Prepare beforehand:
Preparing for your interview can be a daunting task indeed, however being prepared to face these questions well before hand will save you from going through a lot of pressure. Make a list of all the questions that might seem illegal to ask, based on the topics of your age, race, national origin, religion, gender, marital status and sexual orientation. Some of the most common questions are easy to guess and make a note of how you might answer them when faced with those questions. The best time to prepare these is when you are not preparing for an impending interview. Doing this in your free time will not only improve the quality of your answers and will let you make better guess than if you were preparing for it just before an interview.
2. Be confident and direct when you answer these questions:
In some cases, these questions might be asked just to throw you off balance. Hence, ensure to answer them with as much confidence as possible. Treat all such questions as the interviewer trying to push your buttons, and you refuse to give in to the satisfaction of the interviewer. Being calm and composed during these times will let the interviewer get the impression of you being a generally calm person, who keeps his/ her cool during hot headed times. Being prepared ahead of times will also help you be in your most serene state. You need to come off as a diplomatic and reasonable person, even when under pressure.
3. You have every right to terminate the interview:
If the questions being asked are blatantly discriminatory, then you have all the rights to terminate the interview and walk out. If you are not comfortable with the interview questions you can notify it to the interviewer, and if he/ she does not change her way throughout the course of the interview you can simply chose to end the interview. Inappropriateness is not to be tolerated in any way or form. You can further complain to the company through e-mail if the person asked you blatant discriminatory questions.
How To Answer Offensive Questions:
There are three possible ways to tackle an illegal question.
1. Answer it if you do not find it too intrusive:
Being offended by certain questions is subjective. Hence, if you do not find the question to be offensive you can go ahead and answer it. This can prevent any sort of brushes during the interview and can keep the interview smooth sailing. But, remember that you do not have to answer a question you are not comfortable with, and make sure that the answer you give them cannot be used against you in the future.
2. Refuse to answer the question outright:
You can call out the recruiter about the question asked and you can refuse to answer that particular question. This is the best possible way to answer if you do not understand the intent behind the question asked. At this point, the recruiter will usually change his ways and rephrase the question in a more appropriate manner. However, some recruiters may not appreciate such a behavior and it may cost you your job altogether, so use this approach only if you find the question to be very offensive. Hence, always be nice when confronting your recruiter. Be polite and ask them for the reason you are being asked this question and communicate with them that you are not very comfortable divulging certain details.
3. Do not answer to the question:
Grasp the intent behind the question and answer to that. This is a very diplomatic way to answer such questions. You can provide them answers they need, without having to divulge sensitive information you do not want to give out. If you are not sure about the intent behind the question, you can rephrase it to let them know exactly what you are comfortable letting them know about. For example, if they ask you which year you finished high school, you can instead ask them if this intention is to know if you are over 18 or not. It will subtly let them know you are not comfortable answering certain questions that reveal your age and will keep themselves in check. It is important to figure out exactly what information the interviewer is looking for from you.
- “What is your nationality?” can be an offensive question. It can be a basis for racial discrimination and should be treated as such. Your nationality should not mater in your job as long as you are capable enough to do the job properly. However, there are a few restrictions regarding certain nationals who can be allowed to work in some countries. Although this is the simplest way to know about your nationality, it can also be a way to discriminate you. However, “Are you authorized to work in this country?” is a question that can be asked. This lets the interviewer know about only relevant information without revealing your national identity. This will give no grounds for the interviewer not to hire you on racial grounds.
- Any questions which will divulge your age is a huge no no. Many companies do not want to hire people who are too old for the fear of them having to retire soon. This is one of the main reasons why companies prefer to hire younger professionals over older people. Therefore, if the interviewer asks you how old you are, you are entitled not to give them any information regarding it. The only age related question they are allowed to ask you is if you are over eighteen. Age discrimination not only affects older employees but can also affect younger employees as well. Age discrimination happens in work places all the time, but a few strict laws have reduced this number by a long margin.
- Your marital status, children and pregnancy are off limits when it comes to job interviews as well. Women make up almost half the work population, and discriminating them on the basis of marriage and children is highly unacceptable. The only thing that should matter in a work place is if the employee is making good headway and if he/ she is competent enough. Any question that outright asks you about your marital status, your accommodation, children and pregnancy should be treated with caution. One of the things they can ask you is if you are willing to relocate for your job, or if you will be able to handle any transfers/ frequent travels while in your job. They can also ask you if they expect you to have any long absences, or how you might travel to the work place etc. However, they are not entitled to ask you about your spouse, his/ her work position and salary, or your child’s situation in life as well. Although you might be tempted to regale stories of your toddlers in the presence of a friendly interviewer, it is best to stay away from any such discussions until after you have got the job. This will prevent them from using that as an excuse to deny your job. This discrimination is not exclusive for women , questions regarding these topics cannot be asked to men also.
- Questions about your financial status also cannot be asked legally. However, depending on the nature of the job, some companies might have the powers to look into your credit history. This exception is for people who work in banking sectors/ ones who are applying for a job where one is expected to handle a lot of money regularly. So, this might seem offensive based on the nature of the job, so proceed accordingly.
- Questions about criminal records is only valid if the accuse/ conviction directly relates to the job you are interviewing for. For example, if you are interviewing for a position of a driver, then the employer is entitled to ask you about any accidents/ DUI’s in the past. However, if the question of the criminal record has nothing to do with the job you are applying for then you need not have to answer it. Depending on the employer, they may be able to get a detailed history of your records, legally.
- Any questions about your physical/ mental disability which does not directly pertain to the job position you are interviewing for is illegal. They can however ask you if you are capable of performing certain tasks- and even that, only if it directly affects your job position, otherwise you can let them know you are confident that you will be capable of doing the job perfectly well.
- Any question about your gender is not to be entertained. This is not much of problem during face to face interviews, but a discrimination based on gender bias is a huge taboo. The employers are not legally entitled to ask you your gender in any form, and you can refuse to answer, unless it relates to the qualification of the job.
- If you are a military veteran then no employer is entitled to ask you about your discharge. They can ask you about your rank, your regiment and which branch of the armed forces you served in, but not about your discharge or military records or any foreign missions you might have taken up during your stint in the military. They can however ask you about any educational qualifications you attained during your services in the armed forces.
- Religion is another murky area employers are not supposed to tread on. Religion will not have any repercussions on any job position and no employer is entitled to ask you about it. If they do ask you about your faith you may chose to skip the question and move on to other things. It is illegal to ask you which holidays you serve and which places of worship you attend as well, since they give away information about your religious beliefs.
If you do mess up your interview by providing information you did not intent to give out, you can always try to convince them that you are well suited for the job and will be able to handle the responsibilities irrespectively. You will have to use your convincing and persuasion skills to make the issue seem inconsequential. Providing them examples of how well you did in your previous jobs or in similar situations, which calls for the qualities, required to perform well in your studies will help you convince them.