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Handling Unexpected Interview Questions


Imagine you’ve spent weeks applying to new jobs, doing research, and preparing for interviews.  You’re ready for potential questions about the position and have an impressive list of questions to show your interest.  Interview day comes, and it’s going great.  You’ve established rapport and have confidently answered questions.  Then the interviewer asks you if you have children. You think they’re just trying to continue to build the relationship, but when you answer ‘yes’, the conversation turns.  The interviewer expresses that he doesn’t think that you will be a good fit for the role because the long hours required by the job just aren’t compatible with children.

What do you do?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a scenario. And the candidate wasn’t sure how to react to the situation. She didn’t want to lose out on the job opportunity, but she also knew that what he did was wrong – intentional or not.

Influencing Employment Decisions

Federal law prohibits employers from making hiring decisions based on race, sex, national origin, age, veteran status, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, and more.  Likewise, state and local laws may also apply based on your location.

Interviewing on your own

If you are conducting your job search on your own, you could face situations like this more often than you’d think.  It can be hard to know how to react to a situation where you are in an interviewee position; trying to sell yourself as the right fit with all the necessary qualifications.

While uncomfortable or embarrassing, you have several options to advocate for yourself.

  • Refuse to Answer: While potentially awkward, you can refuse to answer a question. Explain that the question isn’t relevant to your expertise as it pertains to the position.
  • End the Interview: If there is a pattern of these types of questions, politely choose to end the interview. Thank the interviewer for their time and explain that it may not be the right fit for you.
  • Say Something: If no one has ever challenged the interviewer’s questions, they may not think twice about asking potentially inappropriate questions.
  • Report the Situation: If you feel that the questions go beyond inadvertent discrimination or display a pattern of behavior, you have every right to report the situation. Contact the HR department, the interviewer’s supervisor, or the US EEOC. Be aware that you may need to prove that a negative hiring decision was made based on an answer to a question about a protected class.
  • Deflect: Do they want to know if your current (or future) kids will keep you from working late? Instead, ask what their expectations are regarding time demands or reassure them that you are prepared to meet necessary work schedules no matter your family situation.

Staffing Agencies: Your Biggest Advocate

Staffing services go beyond helping you find a job. In fact, in the situation the candidate faced above, Talener took the reins on the issue to advocate on behalf of the candidate.  This direct line of communication with the organization took the candidate out of an awkward situation. It allowed us to educate them about why the question was inappropriate and potentially illegal; particularly since they confirmed that they would make a hiring decision based on the answer. Likewise, we coached them on how they could formulate questions in the future if they are concerned about employee availability.

Be honest with your recruiter. If something happened during an interview that you are uncomfortable with, let them know. Take advantage of their experience and allow them to insert themselves into these types of situations.  Intentional or not, interviewers who ask these types of questions will continue to do so if no one speaks up.

Connect with your local Talener office today