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How to Deal With Difficult Interview Questions

Updated on August 2, 2016

Books that might help you with interviews.

Questionable Questions

In a recent report, UK consumer group Which? said that employers are still asking inappropriate questions at interview instead of focusing on a person’s knowledge and skills. So how do you manage questionable questions – those which seem unsuitable or may actually be illegal - confidently and professionally without jeopardising your chances of a job offer?

In the US, the laws around what's ok and not ok to ask at interview may vary in different States, but this article looks at the UK, with some advice for interviewers and interviewees of all nationalities.

Let’s look first at questions you can be quite clear are not legal in a job interview. Some are illegal because they can be used in discrimination of the candidate and while it’s important to realise that interviewers don’t usually know their question is illegal, that doesn’t make it right, it merely puts the point into perspective.

· How old are you? (Age discrimination.)

· What religion are you? (Religious discrimination.)

· Do you have any health problems? (Disability discrimination.)

· Are you married? Do you have children? Do you intend to have children? What’s your childcare situation? (Gender/pregnancy discrimination)

· Where do you come from? If you have a non-British accent this question could be interpreted as national origin discrimination. However an employer can ask if you are legally entitled to work in this country.

· Are you gay?

· Are you a member of a trade union?

· What political party do you support?

· Any questions relating a candidate’s consumption of alcohol, tobacco or recreational drugs. An employer may have rules regarding these in work hours, however what an employee does out of working hours is not the concern of the employer, so these questions can’t be asked at interview.

· Because of the nature of their work with vulnerable individuals, some jobs will have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check done prior to interview or employment. But the findings or questions about possible findings must not form part of the interview.

· Questions about height and weight are also discriminatory unless the job is exempt because it is acceptable to have a certain minimum height requirement.

Dodging Dodgy Questions

Some interview questions can just seem strange or even outrageous. Examples from human resources consulting firm DDI and job website Monster’s joint survey on job selection quotes the following:

“Is that your natural hair colour?”

“Who’s your favourite Beatle?”

“What would you do if I gave you and elephant?”

You could argue that certain questions might be relevant for a role involving creativity but perhaps not for most, so a candidate shouldn’t feel uncomfortable in politely declining to answer.

There is a simple way to field illegal or odd questions such as these and that’s to simply smile and ask the interviewer how the question relates to the job. Perhaps she has phrased the question wrongly (for example “Where do you come from?” Rather than “Are you legally entitled to work in this country?”), so you have given her the chance to rethink.

However if you have problems with some interview questions and think you have been unfairly treated, you can get advice from the Equal Opportunities Commission to determine whether or not a employer’s interview techniques have been unlawful. See

As an interviewer, be sure to study the actual position, which questions are relevant and have a list for each candidate.

Examine the intent behind your questions and ask them carefully so that they are not open to misinterpretation. If in doubt, get your list checked by a solicitor or recognised recruitment agency.

And don’t be caught out - the Which? report advises that employers who contravene anti-discrimination legislation risk employment tribunals where they can face unlimited fines.


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