Handling ‘illegal’ interview questions with aplomb

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Illegal questions

By Sabina Trench, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers

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While the days of politically incorrect interview questions may largely be a thing of the past, don’t be surprised if they come up in an interview. While they may not be intentional, they could throw you, writes Sabina Trench, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

What are illegal questions?

Questions that refer to age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, country of national origin, religion, disability, marital status or membership of the Travelling community are all examples of illegal topics. So, ‘how old are you?’, ‘do you have children?’ or ‘are you an Irish citizen?’ are questions pushing your interview into the illegal questioning line.

How to handle the accidental illegal question?

Illegal questionsIf you really feel that the question was innocent rather than intentional, you may be a bit more forgiving. It may just be a clumsy question from an inexperienced interviewer. Sometimes their efforts to show an interest in you will outweigh their knowledge of what is and what is not appropriate to ask.

You have a couple of choices when this happens. You can just answer the question as best you can, or my preferred strategy is to bring the answer back to the job. For example, if you are asked ‘where are you from?’; simply respond by saying ‘if you are wondering whether I am entitled to work in Ireland, then the answer is yes’ and leave it at that.

These things happen and as long as there isn’t a pattern of illegal questions developing in your interview, keep going.

How to handle intentional illegal questions?

If the interviewer starts asking probing questions such as ‘do you have children?’ with a follow-up of ‘are you planning to have children?’, then you may be in dodgy territory. What do you do? Stop and think is my advice. You need to ask yourself, ‘why are they asking this question?’

For example, there may be a lot of travel involved in the job, and they want to know if you can work longer hours and overnights, for example? If you think this is the case, then bring it back to the fact that you have all of the necessary arrangements in place that allow you to work the hours needed.

If you really feel that the line of questioning is inappropriate, you may have to say that and take your chances. Do you want to work for a company where your personal choices or lifestyle may impact on a) whether or not you are hired and b) your success within the organisation if you are offered the job?

These are hard questions to answer, but I am a great believer in following your gut instinct. In most cases it won’t lead you astray.

For employers

If there is particular information you need, there are ways of asking questions while still staying on the right side of legal.

So, while you can’t ask about religion, for example, you can ask ‘are you available to work Sundays?’ Also, ‘have you ever been arrested?’ is illegal; but ‘have you ever been convicted of a crime?’ is fine.

If you would like to read more on this topic, the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1998/act/21/enacted/en/html) contains detailed information about discrimination against prospective employees, which includes recruitment.

If you would like to make a booking with any of our career coaches, see HERE for CV Preparation, Application Form writing, LinkedIn Profile writing, Interview Training and other career services.

You can read more blogs from Sabina HERE

Sabina Trench is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers, who have offices in Enniscrone, Galway, Limerick, Athlone, Sligo and Mayo, plus a full online service. Their services include CV preparation, interview training, personal statements and application forms.