What job interview questions do I not have to answer?
Job interviews are an opportunity for employers to find out a bit more about you, but there are some questions they can't ask.
Job interviews can be stressful enough, especially if you are inexperienced with them, but being asked illegal interview questions can make things quite intolerable.
Luckily, the law is on your side and you need have no fear should you not be willing to answer questions which you feel are discriminatory in some way.
Be reasonable, but firm
There are many laws covering discrimination and any large organisation will be unlikely to leave themselves open to legal action. They have their reputation to protect and have the proper HR people to interview you.
If you are asked any question about age, background or marital status you can always seek clarification from the employer on why you are being asked something.
If it has no direct bearing on the job then you may politely refuse to answer and the interviewer cannot make you.
Some of the most common discriminatory questions include:
- Place of Birth, Ethnicity and Religion - Whilst employers are legally entitled to ask you at a job interview if you have the correct paperwork to legally work in the UK and to ask you to provide evidence of that, they’re not entitled to probe into your personal history surrounding your specific place of birth.
- Marital Status, Children and Sexual Preference - Interviewers should not make any reference to your marital status. Such questions might be deemed discriminatory in the sense that a married person may be perceived to be more reliable than a divorced person. It goes without saying that questions about your sexual preferences are well and truly off the agenda.
Other questions you needn’t answer include:
- Personal lifestyle choices – your personal life is up to you to share if you want to.
- Disability and illness – asking you to explain a significant amount of time off work sick on your CV may be acceptable, but not about a disability.
- Membership or affiliations – once again you needn’t share any such information unless it is relevant or you want to.
- Physical information – questions about height, weight or physical well-being can only be asked in respect to the job.
Rephrasing of discriminatory questions
Sometimes, whether you like it or not you will be asked questions which sound non-discriminatory but never the less are.
For example, "Have you got a girlfriend?" Is this really necessary or is it seeking out your sexual orientation?
Other seemingly innocent questions include:
- "With whom do you live?"
- "Is English your first language?"
- "How many children do you have?"
Such questions can be fine on a social level but at an interview can be potentially discriminatory questions that may count against you in terms of a job offer.
What to do after your interview
As we have said, there is room for mistakes in job interviews and you should always seek clarification if you are unhappy why a question has been asked of you.
However, if once you have had your interview and believe you have been unfairly questioned, you should seek advice from the Equal Opportunities Commission. As with most things, use your common sense or seek the advice of people you trust first.