Tim Truzy is a rehabilitation counselor, educator, and former dispatcher from North Carolina.
Inappropriate Topics for an Interview
People may sit anxiously waiting for a phone call from an employer, excited about the potential of an interview. Although employers are aware that they can ask about work history, educational experience, professional values, and decision making, they may still unintentionally ask inappropriate questions during the interview. Interviews are conducted by people, and human beings can make mistakes. However, below are strategies that you can use to help you during those times when the interview question seems to cross into the unacceptable areas.
As a rehabilitation counselor, I worked with my clients on how to address those times when the interviewer performs poorly. Below are some techniques I aided clients with before the interview occurred. I informed my clients that a rule of thumb for interviews happens to be: any topic relevant to the job being applied for is appropriate for discussion. In addition, employers must not engage in discriminatory practices as a result of queries at interviews. Essentially, if the question is not pertaining to job functions, then it is probably not to be asked. Below are some categories of questions interviewers must legally avoid in the United States.
Categories of Illegal Questions
- Marital status, pregnancy, or family
- Gender identification and age-related inquiries
- Race, ethnicity, color, etc., and religion
- Country of origin and status of disability
Seven Strategies for Dealing With Inappropriate Interview Questions
Since people conduct interviews, missteps may occur in the way information is asked and/or provided. Some mistakes may be unintentional. Others may be deliberate and unethical. It is up to you to determine the importance of the potential job in deciding how to address out-of-bound inquiries. These are not the only strategies that could be used to approach difficult missteps by interviewers, but these are starting ideas for you to think about before your meeting with your potential employer. Remember: In answering everything correctly, you still may not be hired by the firm.
1. You Could Ignore the Fact the Query Is Illegal
You may say something such as: “I usually don’t discuss that topic. Can we proceed to the next question?”
2. You May Decide to Answer the Question as It Is Presented to You
However, you have the right to decline to respond to illegal questions.
3. You May Indicate That the Question Being Asked Is Prohibited by Law
Although this may be embarrassing to an employer, you can explain that you would still like to proceed with the interview. In this scenario, you may say: “Although that is an issue which should not be discussed legally at an interview, I still would like to continue with the process without talking about that topic.”
4. Ask for Clarification
If an interviewer asks an inappropriate question, you may seek clarification using an open-ended question. For example, an interviewer may inappropriately inquire about age by saying: “The tech field is full of hotshot young folk. How are you going to fit in here because most of our employees are straight from college?” You may respond: “Did you mean the rapid pace of tech innovation may be exhausting? I have successfully helped launch several technology start-ups in this area and working long hours is not a problem for me when the job must be completed.” In this example, the interviewee sidestepped the issue of age and focused on the job requirements to keep the interview moving forward.
5. Stop for a Second and Think About What Is Being Asked
Pausing before answering a question can give you time to respond professionally to inappropriate questions. For instance, an interviewer may say: “My son really enjoys watching football. Do your children participate in sports?” You may answer: “When I’m working on a job, I treat it with care and show determination to get it right. My job becomes an important part of my life, like any family I may have. I will always be on time and complete my work tasks. As you can see, I have a strong reference from Company XYZ where I was a project manager. They complimented my skills at multitasking and taking the initiative for getting projects completed in a timely manner.” Again, the interviewee returned the focus to the job for which he/she was being interviewed for n this scenario.
6. Request for the Interview to Be Rescheduled
This is a drastic step. But constantly receiving questions that are inappropriate may be a signal that the interviewer was not prepared. This strategy works occasionally, but you are competing against others for the job. The employer may not want to interview you again. You may say: “I understand your schedule is overwhelming. Would you like to reschedule this interview?”
7. Terminate the Interview
If the interview continues to focus on inappropriate topics, you have the right to simply end the interview. However, this may have the consequence of you not being able to find work at the employer. Yet, if you must decide to end an interview, you have made the decision that the business or organization wasn’t the right fit for you.
Getting Prepared for Your Interview
There are a few things you can do to help prepare for your interview. Indeed, the interviewer may make mistakes. Therefore, you should be ready to deal with those instances. The best method is for you to have done your “homework” on the employer. Be sure to have practiced responses ready which reflect who you are as a person while providing the employer with adequate information.
- Practice an introduction: Write a few paragraphs about your skills, interests, abilities, and knowledge relevant to the position you want to be interviewed for eventually. Verbally practice this introduction aloud, trimming it down, or adding more facts as needed. Remember: you want to keep it brief.
- Get valuable feedback: Include a trusted family member or friend to help you. Let them pretend to be the interviewer. Engage in a mock interview with the person.
- Try addressing inappropriate questions with your ally: Before initiating these mock interviews, ask your friend/family member to bring up unacceptable topics. Together gauge your response after the mock interview. With your ally, examine your overall strengths and weaknesses after several practices.
- Observe interviews on the Internet: Watching and listening to others in interviews will give you some basis of how to interact with a potential employer (check out one of the links in the references section).
- Visit a company’s website: Checking out the businesses website can give you more details about the products and/or services the company provides. Also, reading about the business or organization will help you better prepare answers to questions in the interview.
- Use your resources: Many states in America have county and state-based organizations dedicated to helping individuals locate work. These organizations may also provide training with handling interview questions. There are also nonprofits devoted to the same objective. A search on the internet should give you their locations and contact information. Other countries may have similar agencies and groups.
- Have your resume and references ready: This means having your resume written in order to give to your interviewer for them to review your work history and experience for the job. Also, speak with people you may have worked with in the past. Some may be willing to provide you with a good reference.
Expanding your Awareness of Interviews
Knowing how to prepare for interviews gives us insight into how to deal with inappropriate questions. Today, many interviews occur in non-traditional settings, such as on the floor of a warehouse, in restaurants, or even in agricultural environments, like the one in the photo. It depends on the work, the company, and the product/service provided by the business or organization as to how the interview will be conducted. Having some understanding of how to address illegal topics can better prepare you regardless of where the interview occurs. Inevitably, you must make the decision as to how you want to approach questions that are not acceptable. (For more about preparing for interviews and inappropriate conversations at work, visit the links to my articles in the references section below.)
- 7 Types of Conversations to Avoid in the Workplace | ToughNickel. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from: https://toughnickel.com
- Job Interview...good example – YouTube. Retrieved march 29, 2018, from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SieNfciN274
- Job Interviews: Advice and Tips | ToughNickel. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from: https://toughnickel.com
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on April 10, 2018:
Thanks, Jo. I appreciate your feedback and kind comment. The more we can help each other, the better off we are as a society.
Jo Miller from Tennessee on April 09, 2018:
Great information here, Tim. I don't expect to be applying to any jobs soon, but can pass this on to others.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on April 03, 2018:
One of the important aspects of the laws passed by the U.S. Congress was to create a “level playing” field for all job applicants. Because of historical factors, certain groups have been unable to gain permanent and steady access to sections of the job market. These groups include: women, people of color, immigrants, etc. For example, in the southern U.S., (and other areas of the country may have something similar) there is such a thing as the “good old boy network.” This means that White males tended to hire and protect the interests of White males in employment and all corridors of life, closing the door of opportunity to others.
The laws passed by Congress seek to open the door, letting skills, abilities, and education play more of a role in hiring decisions. To be certain members from all groups worked together to make these laws possible. It is in the best interest of the country, a nation which stands for the idea that all men are created equal, to have such measures. It’s in part because of these legislative achievements, we were able to have a president of color for the first time in our country’s history.
It takes people to carry out the spirit and letter of the laws which are in themselves, imperfect. But I think when freedom is reserved for only selected groups in a society, then freedom has been restrained for all. People must have the opportunity to fail and succeed on their own accomplishments, abilities, education, and work. Likewise, we as a nation must come to grasp with our history of intolerance, discrimination, bigotry, and hate. Unfortunately, we are at that point again in our history. More exposure to different groups by every American has been a powerful solution, starting at work and in school, where Americans from all walks of life meet. I know many friends share such values in the EU and other parts of our globe.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on April 02, 2018:
As always, an excellent observation, brother:
"Lots of useful tips. They will try to trick you anyway and especially if there are others on the short list."
How true! In America, a recent study has found more employment occurs based on "who" a person knows versus "what" a person knows. Inasmuch, if the employer has a hidden bias, it can become evident in the interview. Wise, wise, observation.
We had a friend who is transgender who was fired simply because she recognized her true identity. I think having the employers having more leeway to ask questions could prevent some problems, but I wonder would it impede people like our friend from being able to find a job equal to her skills. She is a brilliant electrician. Historically in America that has been a "boys' club." At least, she found a position where she doesn't have to worry about that as much.
Thank you for your comment. You always provide food for thought.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on April 02, 2018:
Thank you, Sean. I really enjoy trying to help people achieve their goals. It's never an easy task, as you know, but it brings me peace.
I appreciate your thoughtful comment, but wealth is useless unless it is shared -a golden heart is your possession as well.
manatita44 from london on April 01, 2018:
Lots of useful tips. They will try to trick you anyway and especially if there are others on the short list. I have been excellent at interviews all my life and my first refusal came when I was in my fifties. They told the Agency to ask for my age and my sexual orientation. Then I never heard again.
Some employers are empathetic, though. So if one is straight and asking for a job where bi-sexuals are, some may feel a genuine concern as to whether the individual will fit in. By an large, most interviewers are there to represent the company for whom they work; to the best of their ability.
I'm just throwing this out here, but perhaps it can be useful to ask, how would one feel about working with X, Y, or Z. If they are thinking it, it is sometimes better to clear the air. Not always, but bear in mind that the HR part of the interviewers, generally know the problems they are having or have had and may be seeking to prevent a repeat. A very informative Hub.
Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on April 01, 2018:
Well done my dear Brother, well done. A helpful article on a topic that almost everyone needs help. I am glad always to see your will to help people! Here in Greece, we call people like you "golden heart."
God Bless you, my Brother.