Although there are federal and state laws limiting what prospective employers can ask applicants during an interview, many employers find ways to walk the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate; legal and illegal. One of the reasons they continue to do this is because far too many employees are not aware of their rights regarding job interviews. To help you identify and deflect inappropriate job interview questions, read the following tips.
Inappropriate Job Interview Questions: Know the Law
Although there is a difference between an illegal interview question and one that is simply inappropriate, you should be well-versed on the laws in your state or city. Visit your local library or hop on the Internet to look up applicable laws. In most states, it is illegal for an interviewer to ask you about your age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, political persuasion and other civil matters. Know those laws before you ever step foot into an interview room, and if you are asked an illegal question, make sure that the employer knows you know.
Inappropriate Job Interview Questions: Biased or Ignorant?
Some employers will ask inappropriate questions because they don’t realize that it’s inappropriate, while others know exactly what they’re doing and are hoping you’re naive. Either way, you don’t have to answer the question, but you should be discriminating in what you say. For example, if you are convinced that the employer’s question was asked out of ignorance, you shouldn’t respond with anger or sarcasm if you still want the job. However, if you think that the employer’s bias spawned the inappropriate question, then you might want to reconsider whether or not the job is right for you.
Inappropriate Job Interview Questions: Legal Implications
As mentioned above, there is a difference between an inappropriate question an an illegal one; however, you could still have grounds for legal recourse if the question was overly inappropriate. For example, let’s say that the employer asks about your marrital status, but does it in a roundabout way. He could say, “Oh, I see you graduated from Harvard. That’s where I met my wife. Did your husband go there, as well?” He hasn’t directly inquired about your marital status, so his question wasn’t illegal, but it was inappropriate because your answer would tell him whether or not you were married. On those grounds, you could pursue a lawsuit.
Inappropriate Job Interview Questions: How to Respond
How you respond to an inappropriate interview question will depend on the desired outcome. If you are still interested in pursuing the position for which you are interviewing, a sarcastic or nasty response might effectively jeopardize your chances of getting hired. Even if you are have decided not to continue pursuing employment, however, you should be careful how you respond. There are essentially three ways that you can answer an inappropriate question.
First, you can choose to answer the question honestly, even though it’s inappropriate. While this isn’t necessarily advised, it is entirely your decision. If you later regret it, answering the question does not negate a potential lawsuit and does not diminish the interviewer’s liability.
Your second option is to casually deflect the question. For example, you could respond to the question about where you met your husband by replying, “I’d really rather not get into personal details, but I’d be happy to tell you about how my classes at Harvard prepared me for the business world.” You weren’t rude and you didn’t address the inappropriateness of the question, but you still maintained your right not to answer the question directly.
And finally, you can respond by telling the interviewer that his question is inappropriate and that you are upholding your right not to answer. In response to the marriage question, you would be well within your rights to say, “Questions about marital status are illegal in [Texas] and I don’t appreciate the indirect way you posed the question. I’m happy to talk about my qualifications for the job, but please don’t ask questions that violate my rights.” In this instance, the interviewer has clearly understood your position, though the job probably won’t remain up for the taking.