Navigating Nosy Interview Questions

During a job interview, you might fumble the answer to a question, or your mind will go completely blank. But, at other times, the problem with the interview isn't you. Interviewers who haven't been trained properly or who are trying to screen out candidates for reasons other than their qualifications might ask you personal questions that are awkward at best and illegal at worst. This Q&A can help you handle these nosy interview questions:

What are interviewers not allowed to discuss?
Age, race, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, politics and romantic life should never, ever come up. Another inappropriate subject is your family life. They should not ask if you have children or if you plan to have children because that could be used to remove candidates who need to take care of their families. Likewise, beware of any questions about your health. Interviewers might use that information to keep insurance costs down by not hiring employees who have been sick.

What if I'm not sure if the question is too personal?
Some questions don't seem inappropriate, or you might not mind answering them, but you should be aware of them. You are either dealing with an inexperienced interviewer, which could be a sign of disorganization or a lack of training at the company at which you are interviewing.

How should I respond to a nosy question?
Don't get upset or offended, especially if the question falls on the border between personal life and work life. Simply practice the fine art of changing the subject, a skill that is valuable in any interview situation. Always turn the conversation back to your career achievements and the work you hope to do at the company with which you are interviewing.

How much should I tell an interviewer in general?
It is best to stick to work-related matters. Whatever happened at your past jobs, including why you left, is fair game. Anything involving your family or your personal life should stay off-limits.

What should I do if I think the questions are being used to weed out candidates?
If you are offered the job, you need to decide if you really want to work at that company. If you felt like you had to hide facts about your personal life, imagine what it will be like when you are actually in the workplace.

Unfortunately, it is hard to prove that you didn't get a job because of discrimination. A good interviewee takes notes during the interview, so look at what you've written, and try to determine if the questions were intentional or not. If you feel you have a strong case and would like advice, visit the Web site for the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and file a charge. The EEOC recommends that you file the charge soon after the incident.

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