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How to Respond to Insensitive Interview Questions

38 Illegal, Sensitive, and Stupid Interview Questions...and How to Respond

By Ronald L. Krannich Ph.D.
Courtesy of Impact Publications
Friday, April 11, 2003; 3:38 PM


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Despite warnings to the contrary, many employers still ask illegal questions or ones that border on being illegal. Many of these questions deal with age, family responsibilities, and lifestyle. If you encounter such questions, you need to be prepared to respond. Some interviewees may be shocked or feel insulted and respond negatively. Others deal with the questions with a combination of humor and honesty. You have to decide how best to respond to such questions. Some interviewees actually volunteer information that would be considered illegal to acquire through questions. They often do this when asked the ice-breaker question, "Tell me about yourself." They may start by saying they are 29 years old, happily married, two children, a church-going Catholic, and a liberal Democrat. Having said that, there's not much more the interviewer can ask that's considered illegal! Assuming you will not volunteer such information, you need to be prepared to handle these sensitive questions. Do not be afraid to inject humor into your replies; it can sometimes relax the formality of the situation. Also, don't be afraid of a little confrontation, especially when you know you are correct. You might respond: "That's a (great) (strange) (different) question. No one has ever asked me that before. Why did you?" You are attempting to determine why the interviewer is asking such a question. If you know why, then you can reply with an appropriate answer. Most often the interviewer will let it drop and move on to a reasonable question. Here are some of the many potentially illegal and sensitive questions you might encounter:

  1. Are you able to work overtime, evenings and weekends?
  2. How do you feel about attending conferences with (men) (women) ?
  3. What child care arrangements have you made?
  4. What type of position does your spouse have?
  5. Do you think that you can supervise (men) (women), and how do you think they will react?
  6. This job has always been handled by a (female) (male). Do you think you can handle it?
  7. Are you willing to put career interests before self-interests?
  8. What are your computer skills? Would you be interested in doing some word processing?
  9. How do you feel about women's liberation?
  10. By the way, would you mind telling me: "Just how old are you?"
  11. How do you respond to authority?
  12. How do you define sexual harassment?
  13. Where were you born?
  14. What's your nationality?
  15. Are you married, divorced, separated, or single?
  16. Are you living with anyone?
  17. What holidays do you celebrate?
  18. Do you have any disabilities that affect your work?
  19. What is your health situation like?
  20. Have you ever been arrested?
  21. Are you on any medications?
  22. Do you ever abuse alcohol or drugs?
  23. How many children do you have?
  24. What church do you attend?
  25. How do you think my older employees would react if I hired you?
  26. Do you have many debts?
  27. Do you own or rent your home?
  28. How much insurance do you have?
  29. How much do you weigh?
  30. Do you plan to have any more children?
  31. What does your spouse think about your career?
  32. Have you ever brought a law suit against an employer?
  33. Have you ever filed for workers' comp?
  34. Where do you usually go on vacation?
  35. What do you think about romance in the office?
  36. Have you ever been sexually harassed?
  37. Do you have plans to get married?
  38. Tell me about your family.


© 2003 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive