Interview questions you don’t have to answer

In the US in recent years, it is not unheard of for employers to ask job candidates for their Facebook passwords. Thankfully, with the Information Commissioner taking a dim view of this practice, it is  unlikely to catch on over here. But beware – some UK recruiters will still try to pry into areas of a candidate’s life that really don’t concern them.

Discrimination?

The typical job interview is already stressful and challenging enough without having to respond to intrusive and irrelevant questions or requests. UK employment law aims to achieve equality in the workplace – including any part of the recruitment process – by protecting workers against discrimination on the grounds of age, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief, disability, membership of a trade union, pregnancy or maternity, and gender reassignment.

Any questions around these issues are off-limits. In larger organisations with established HR processes, recruiters will usually get strict guidelines about what they can and can’t ask. But if any interviewer decides to play fast and loose or simply doesn’t know what’s legal and acceptable, here are some examples of questions you might be surprised to learn you don’t have to answer.

Surprisingly inappropriate?

How old are you? When did you graduate? What’s your date of birth? How long until you retire? It doesn’t matter how directly or indirectly a would-be employer tries to find out your age, it’s unlikely to be relevant (unless it is to confirm that you are legally old enough to do the job). Taken as evidence of your suitability for a role, it is discriminatory.

Are you married? Any sensible employer knows not to ask this question, or anything relating to relationship status or family plans. Discrimination law is hot on preventing employers from treating mothers or female applicants unfavourably, in particular allowing candidate selection to be influenced by perceptions of whether a woman is likely to take time off to have children in the future.

It is acceptable, though, to be asked whether you have any existing responsibilities during the hours you will be required to work – for example, child care arrangements.

What country are you from? If you are mixed race, have dual nationality or a non-British accent, it has no bearing on your application – it is your skills and experience alone which determine your employability. An employer might legitimately ask you to confirm your eligibility to work in the UK, although this would usually be stated on your application form.

General questions about your sexuality or religious views are likewise potentially discriminatory, and irrelevant at best.  

How many sick days did you take in your last job? Although an employer can make agreed enquiries about your health after offering you a job to confirm that you can carry out your role, they cannot ask or use any health or disability questions to determine your fitness to do a role at the interview stage.

How do you feel about supervising a team of women? (Or men?) Or any other question that makes sweeping assumptions based on perceived differences between male and female candidates, or attitudes to the opposite sex. (You might refuse to give an answer, or instead describe your experience of managing teams in general).

Of course, it is up to you if you choose to answer any of these questions, should you be asked them. And in many contexts, some of them may be innocent enough or just small talk.  

But as a general policy, try to be alert to any questions that feel unnecessarily intrusive or seem irrelevant to how well you could do the job. And regardless of how keen you are to impress, don’t hesitate to politely decline to answer anything you’re not comfortable with. It is your right.  

Links

See workSMART’s discrimination section for more useful information about your rights to fair and equal treatment in all aspects of your working life. 

For common interview questions employers will expect an answer to, read our blog How would you unload a planeload of jelly beans?