Inappropriate interview questions
There are some questions in a job interview that you don't have to answer. For example, you don't have to answer questions that you feel are too personal or could be used to discriminate against you.
Examples of inappropriate questions
Some questions are inappropriate even if they don't immediately set alarm bells ringing in your head.
The person interviewing you shouldn't ask you about anything that isn't specifically related to the job you're applying for, or your ability to do that job.
They shouldn't ask you what political or sporting clubs you support or what non-work-related groups you are a member of. They shouldn't ask you if you have any children.
And of course, any question about your age, marital status, religion or sexual preference is a question you don't have to answer.
These sorts of questions might seem friendly, but the interviewers could use your answers against you. For example, the reason you didn't get the job might not be because you didn't have the right skills or experience, but because you and the interviewer voted for different political parties at the last election.
The golden rule is, if you can't see how something directly relates to the job or the workplace environment, you don't have to talk about it in an interview.
Talking about previous employers
You are under no obligation to answer questions about your previous employers if the answers would reveal confidential information. In fact, it's not only unprofessional, it's unethical for you to talk about any confidential business details or personal details relating to people you have worked with.
Being asked an inappropriate question in an interview can sometimes be an issue of equal opportunity or discrimination.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (new window) has some guidelines about things that you don't have to talk about in a job interview.
If you have a disability, it's up to you to decide what you say about it at a job interview. You have rights and responsibilities in this situation and the interviewers should respect this. You can find out more about this at Choosing your Path - Disclosure it's a Personal Decision (new window).
How to get around an inappropriate question
It's hard to know what to say when you're asked about something you'd rather not talk about. Try and be polite and steer the conversation back to more appropriate topics.
Here's a couple of examples of how to answer inappropriate questions:
- "I don't think we need to talk about this. I'd prefer to talk about things that are relevant to the job and your organisation."
- "I don't see why that question is relevant to the job, or my ability to do that job. Could you explain why you think it's important? I'll try to answer in a way that's relevant to the job"
Things to remember
Job interviews are hard enough without having to deal with questions that make you uncomfortable or that trick you into revealing private things about yourself.
Just remember that even though you're just doing a job interview, you have rights all the same.
Knowing those rights and knowing how to stand up for them - or knowing who can help you to protect those rights - is an important part of the job application process.