Interviewing - Getting That Job

by Jane Tredgett

Questions that should not be asked

There are some questions a good interviewer should not ask. However, as there are many less-than-perfect interviewers out there, it might be useful to prepare yourself for these questions – just in case...

  • Leading questions, which tell you the answer they are looking for: for example, ‘we need people to work as a team here – how good are you at working in a team?’ or ‘you have done this before, haven’t you?’ If you get asked one of these questions, remember to back it up with facts and examples, so the answer has some substance when it is reviewed later.
  • Hypothetical questions: for example, ‘if this building were on fire, how would you react?’ You have no way of verifying your answer and you can give a perfect answer based purely on your imagination and not on fact. However, when the interviewer is reviewing the interview later your answer may seem unrealistic. Again, try to refer back to real situations you have dealt with and make reference to those when giving your hypothetical answer.
  • Questions starting ‘why’, when used in the following way: ‘why did you make that decision?’ Questions like this may imply a criticism and can trigger defensive reactions in some people. If you are one of those people, get a friend to ask you ‘why’ questions and practise staying calm and unflustered.
  • Discriminatory questions relating to race, religion, sex, disability, spent crimes and age. The only valid questions in this category are those that are absolutely necessary for the requirements of the job. For example, if the law says someone must be 18 to do a specific job, then you can legally be asked this question. If the job specifically requires a person to be sighted for Health and Safety reasons, it is acceptable to explore this. It is not acceptable to explore travel arrangements with a working mother, when no mention of this has been made to a male candidate, nor is it acceptable to ask about age if there is no legal requirement for the job.

Which of these are discrimination and against the law?

  1. A job advert states ‘applicants should be between 20 and 35 years old’...
  2. An applicant is given a Friday afternoon interview, but requests an alternative time on religious grounds. Their request is refused.
  3. A woman is asked about child care arrangements in an interview.

Answer: all of them

Discrimination laws are regularly amended and updated. If you feel you have been a victim of discrimination, speak to a solicitor or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

For more on this, see the page on Discrimination in the Recruitment topic.