Handling intrusive job interview questions

More tips on handling inappropriate questions from potential employers.

By Kate Southam

I’ve been shocked by some of the questions potential employers are asking during job interviews.

More than one Ask Kate reader has been asked "her" age – yes, all the complaints were from women and they were aged from late 30s to 40s. During a telephone interview one reader was asked whether she had any children. Another was asked to submit a photo with a written application for a receptionist role.

Recent Newspoll research commissioned by CareerOne revealed 75 per cent of those surveyed had been asked intrusive questions at a job interview. In contrast to Ask Kate readers, the Newspoll research revealed those aged 18-34 were more likely to be asked their age.  An HR expert told me men get inappropriate questions too – about sporting teams they back and non-work related memberships.

The reason such questions are dangerous is because the answers can be used to discriminate against the candidate for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job.

Companies who want to attract quality candidates in an ever-dwindling labour pool should polish their interview technique. Recent research released by Drake International forecast permanent labour shortages across a range of categories in five short years.

The Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission have compiled a guide for employers to help them avoid questions that could land them in hot water and it’s free. Go to http://www.humanrights.gov.au/employers for more information. You can also contact the Equal Opportunity Commissioner in your state or territory.

If it is a recruitment company who has asked the inappropriate questions you should report them to the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association – www.rcsa.com.au Not all recruitment companies are members but the reputable ones are and the RCSA is doing a lot of work to try and raise the standard of service offered by recruiters. You can also make a complaint either to the HREOC or the Equal Opportunity Commissioner in your state or territory.

So what should you do if asked an inappropriate question? Remain pleasant and ask what the relevance of the information is to the job role. For those employers acting out of ignorance of the law, it might just get them to skip along with the rest of the interview with no harm done to you.

Pointing out that a question is "illegal" or retorting with – "you can’t ask me that" will only put the interviewer on the defensive.

If it is an especially offensive question, then you should think carefully about wanting to join the organisation at all.

In a candidate short market, the power has shifted to the job seeker so there is no need to settle for an employer who bases their hiring decisions on anything other than a candidate’s skills and ability to do the job.


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