How to Dodge 8 Tricky Interview Questions—Including Flat-Out Illegal Ones
Ace your next job interview by properly preparing for the unexpected. Here's how to handle some potentially damaging questions while still putting your best foot forward.
Many of our staff are millennials. Do you think you can work with such a young group of employees?
This question is inappropriate because it focuses on age and encourages the candidate to address this topic—without directly asking them about it. It can be considered a slightly “sneaky” way to get the person to reveal how old he or she is, or make the person uncomfortable. “When asked this question, the person being interviewed should avoid discussing age differences, but rather promote their ability to work with any and all co-workers,” suggest Peggy Caruso is an executive and personal development coach at Life Coaching and Beyond, LLC. “A person must understand that each group has their own approach to life, career and relationships. Once they convey they understand the unique aspects of the millennial generation they will be able to demonstrate how they can effectively work with them.” Watch out for these clear signs you can’t trust your boss.
Sometimes we need employees to work on weekends. Would that affect your religious practice?
This question is unsuitable (and illegal), as companies cannot accept or reject job applicants based on their religious beliefs. Caruso explains, “Avoid talking specifics about your religion and show your willingness to accommodate any reasonable schedule that is necessary to complete the job requirements. Keep your spiritual beliefs separate from the workplace.”
Are you married? Do you plan to have a family one day?
It is illegal for potential employers to ask this questions, but often the interviewer may not be aware of this or simply trying to break the ice with what they erroneously see as “small talk.” Keep it professional. Rex Conner, a talent management expert and author of What if Common Sense Was Common Practice in Business? says, “It is illegal for organizations to discriminate based on your marital status or family situation.” Connor suggests answering this in a forthright manner, such as, “No matter what my personal circumstances may be now and in the future, there are no outside obstacles to performing in this position.” He advises candidates to keep all answers focused on job performance and suggests a reply such as, “I appreciate that you want to know more about me than you might be allowed to ask. Let me just take you to the most important information. I can demonstrate for you that I have all of the skills that are prerequisites for this job.”
Where are you from?
Asking directly about national origin is illegal—and this question is potentially discriminatory. Asking which state someone is from appears benign, but can also lead to assumptions, stereotypes and discrimination. Morag Barrett, CEO of leadership development firm SkyeTeam and author of The Future-Proof Workplace says, “I am asked this all the time because I have an English accent. My answer varies depending on the circumstances. I will either say “Colorado” my home state, “Texas” because my accent obviously is not Texan, or I will explain I am from England. Often this question is asked, not to be discriminatory, but because people are genuinely curious. Being asked this in an interview situation is a red flag, but you will need to assess the context and decide how to answer in the moment.”
When did you graduate from high school?
This is another age-related question, and you may not want to reveal an exact year as the person asking can easily figure out how old you are. Caruso says that candidates should “Re-direct the focus from when you graduated to the skills you have developed and possessed since school. Keep the interviewer on the subject of your talents, abilities, and successes.” Here’s how you can build trust with your future co-workers.
Since you have small children at home, will you be able to handle office responsibilities?
Although a bit unnerving, experts say that this question should be dealt with in a cheerful and upbeat manner. Caruso suggests the importance of staying unflustered. “The candidate should speak positively about their ability to handle the responsibilities of the position. They should communicate that time and stress management techniques, as well as balancing career and family obligations will allow them to perform well in the office and also have a healthy and happy home environment.”
We have a number of women in high level positions here. Will this be a potential problem for you?
This could be a tricky question, so refrain from elaborating about your past relationships with women in the workplace. Caruso says, “Express your ability to perform as part of a team instead of a gender specific role. You can say something like, ‘I think both males and females excel in the corporate world when they exhibit the traits of high self-esteem and confidence. True leaders exhibit these characteristics.'” Having discussions like this with your superiors is one of the easiest ways to build trust with your boss.
I understand you are in the Army reserves. Thank you for your service! How often are you deployed?
Candidates should know that employers are not allowed to prevent Army reservists from serving when called upon. However, by showing your dedication to the armed forces, you demonstrate a solid work ethic. Connor suggests an answer such as, “My unit is very good about following the law as it deals with deployments and employers. I’m sure you are also. I don’t influence those laws.” Caruso adds, “It is acceptable to explain your service obligations up front. Developing that rapport with your superior creates a mutual understanding and respect for your commitment. Continue to direct the conversation to your strengths and abilities that the job demands.” If you have a boss asks questions you don’t like, or creates a work situation you find unnerving, you may need to secretly look for a job while you still have one.