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Tricky interview questions and how to answer them

24 Nov 2014 by Sarah Leembruggen.

When a candidate recently reported being asked a very uncomfortable interview question that required shedding light on her private life, it got us thinking. Why, after the rafts of legislation aimed at preventing discrimination are seriously dodgy, inappropriate and occasionally, downright illegal questions still popping up across the interview table?

Working in communications, those doing the hiring (particularly PR and Marcomms agencies) are better than many other industries at knowing how to elicit information without straying on the wrong side of anti-discrimination law. We’d also like to stress that rogue interview questions ARE only being asked by a naughty few. But, as our candidate feedback demonstrates, there remains a significant proportion of interview questions that aren’t so much designed to help a candidate shine at interview as leave them wondering just what they would be if they were biscuit (we kid you not).

In the next few weeks, we’re going to be helping you to handle the most tricky interview questions so that whatever you’re faced with, you’ll be able to show yourselves off in the best light.

First up, interview question offender number 1:

“Do you have, or are you planning to have children in the near future?”

The good news about this potential can-of-worms question is clear: your interviewer is breaching sex discrimination legislation and you are in no way obliged to answer this.

Our suggestion would be to smile, raise an eyebrow, perhaps, and counter by saying, “You’re not allowed to ask me that, are you?” We feel this strikes a balance between cutting off the line of questioning without ruining your rapport.

Job done, right? Well, not necessarily. You see there’s a whole world of difference between those interviewers who are genuinely out-of-step with appropriate interview questions and their legality and those mavericks who ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’: rogue employers who are savvy about discrimination but perhaps not about ethics, so will try to elicit the answer by other means, the scoundrels! We’re talking the wolf in sheep’s clothing of interview tactics. For them, the question may be dressed up as:

“Tell me about your partner / background”, in the hope that you may lead them right up the path to nursery furnishings.

Again, these type of questions are interview no-no’s. There’s no law against finding out what makes an interviewee tick, but steer your interviewer to more neutral territory – and remember, the law is behind you. An interviewer shouldn’t be asking personal questions to try and determine whether you are married, or about your culture and (non-career) history, either. By all means provide information that will demonstrate that you are fit for task, but there’s no imperative to furnish it with insights gained from your personal life.

Click here for further information about discrimination in the recruitment process.  If your interviewer continues to pursue avenues they shouldn’t, then they could be facing an Employment Tribunal, or action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

We find that’s usually enough to quiet even the most persistent interview offenders…

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