Ask An Adult: What Stuff’s Not Ok To Be Asked In A Job Interview?

You might be busy worrying about how not to be a complete knob in that job interview - but what if the person asking the questions is the problem? Illustration by Daniel Clarke


by Georgina Lawton |

So you’ve navigated your way to a job interview with part of your sanity still intact – congratulations! Your minimal use of the first-person and modest description of yourself (‘Some would say my greatest flaw is working too hard’) seems to have persuaded the company that you’re not a complete megalomaniac.

You’ve mentally accepted the job in your head, and already know that you’ll eat in that Lebanese place on Wednesdays and that you could just about afford to rent a single room in zone 4 with the salary. Woo-hoooo! An actual company might just let you sit with them.

You’re getting your A-game/B-game on for the interview and worrying about how to talk about yourself without sounding like a massive dickhead.

But wait – what if the person interviewing you is a dickhead? What if the questions you’re asked highlight a bit of a dick-ish work culture? What if these questions aren’t just dickish but ILLEGAL?

Remember that interviews aren’t just one way – you’re sussing out the company as much as they are interviewing you, and if they make you feel uncomfortable, would you really want to work there?

We’ve swotted up on interview etiquette and spoken to a careers expert about the most taboo questions, so you know your rights before going into that big, scary first-meet.

‘Interesting name… were you born here?’

While you have to declare that you have the right to work in the UK on your job application, interviewers can’t probe into your race or place of birth.

‘What about when I’m asked to declare my religion and ethnicity on application forms?’ I hear you cry in anguish. Well that’s government monitoring to check workplace diversity and will be stored under the Data Protection Act – it can’t be used to decide whether you get the job or not.

Jon Christie, senior careers advisor at Falmouth University told us: ‘You would never ask where someone was born originally – it’s a taboo subject and it could be discriminatory. Normally, in any interview situation, interviewers will have a list of questions that they have thought of beforehand and there is a code of conduct that every single person will be asked the same question.’

‘You look young, how old are you if you don’t mind me asking’

No matter how anyone dresses it up, it’s illegal for employers to ask your age or date of birth in an interview, as employers should really be going by what is in front of them, meaning they can GUESS your age, but they should be judging you on your aptitude and skillset as outlined in your CV.

Alarm bells should also start ringing if they ask you about your ‘long-term plans’ or if they demand that you whip out your driving licence. Lots of new laws preventing ageism have recently come into play to stop this type of discrimination, so let’s hope it isn’t really happening at all right now.

‘Erm, so do you have a boyfriend?’

ERM this is absolutely, obviously none of anyone’s business. Ever. Not only do questions like this detract from your merits as a serious candidate since they are illegal, it’s also downright sleazy.

But when a seriously inappropriate question like this arises what should you do? Walk out? Slam your fist on the table like you’re in a courtroom and shout ‘I OBJECT!’? (we’ve always wanted to do this in a serious environment). You could well make a scene, but as our mother used to say, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’ and you don’t want to be blacklisted within the industry that you’re applying to.

‘In smaller regional areas everyone knows each other within smaller industries, so you do have to be quite careful,’ Jon warns.

But what about JUSTICE? Jon advises contacting the HR department after the interview to make a formal complaint, or even terminating the interview after the illegal question.

‘You could say, “I don’t feel that’s an appropriate question”, if you feel uncomfortable, or you could tell the interviewer, “I don’t want to answer that”. Reporting the organisation is also an option.’ Yeah! Sock it to the man!

‘So, do you party much?’

OK, so maybe it’s important for an employer to see if you’d fit into the culture of the company (are you a mojitos-on-Monday kinda gal or a lager lady, etc), but employers aren’t actually allowed to ask candidates about their lifestyle choices and that means boozing habits, drug use, smoking, sexperiments or whether they top up their income as a cam girl. None of that info would affect your ability to do the job, and is therefore totally irrelevant.

‘You certainly woudn’t ask if anybody was a drug user,’ says John. ‘However, drug screening tests are part of some job applications. Logistics companies, for example, might use this, but in an interview those questions won’t be asked.’

‘Have you been bad (as in, in jail)?’

Criminal conviction chat in an interview is also a no-go. ‘Potential employer’s can’t ask about criminal convictions,’ says Jon. ‘Working in a school will mean you will have to disclose any convictions, even if they are spent, but in most roles you don’t have to disclose that information in an interview’.

However once you are taken on, it is reasonable for the company to ask you to sign a code of behaviour, or ask you to adhere to a certain ethos. Just remember to read the small print…

‘You look around the right age for having children. Are you planning to?’

Alluding to your broodiness, asking about your plans to have kids, or quizzing you on your top five baby names is so off limits, but employers can ask about whether you have any responsibilities that may interfere with your ability to work, and whether you may have to leave early on any day for whatever reason.

So now you’re armed to the teeth with interview information, go forth upon the battlefield of the job hunt and accept a position with a company that will respect you for you (we sound like a self-help book but you get the gist). Overall, most employers are cool so you shouldn’t panic unnecessarily.

‘Normally in any interview situation, interviewers will have a list of questions that they have thought of, and there is a scoring mechanism associated with those job description questions,’ says Jon. ‘What employers are looking for is nice examples to score you against the job description and they all have a duty to monitor the diversity of their employers.’

OK, so go and get that job!

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Illustration by Daniel Clarke

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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