The ‘off-limit’ job interview questions you should know

 ·29 May 2022

The questions you might be asked at a backyard braai are not the same questions you should be asked in a job interview — no matter how innocent they seem, says job recruitment website Glassdoor.

The group noted that this includes a range of personal questions, including:

  • What year did you graduate?
  • When do you want to retire?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have kids?

“These types of questions can come across as small talk, so you may not recognise that they’re red flags. While they’re all perfectly fine in a social situation, these are no-nos in an interview. The nature of these questions could be biased or discriminatory, and they have nothing to do with your skillset,” Glassdoor said.

Notably discriminating against people during the hiring process is unlawful in South Africa.

The Employment Equity Act prohibits unfair discrimination against an employee or job applicant in any employment policy or practice on the grounds of:

  • Race, gender or sex,
  • Pregnancy, marital status or family responsibility,
  • Ethnic or social origin, colour or sexual orientation,
  • Age, disability or religion,
  • HIV status,
  • Conscience, political opinion or culture
  • Language, birth or on any other arbitrary ground.

How to shift gears

Now you know that these questions are against the law and inappropriate, but knowing that doesn’t help you pivot away from them in the moment. That takes practice, Glassdoor said.

“One way of handling this is to point out the interviewer’s mistake in asking these questions. But, that could make the interviewer feel defensive and hurt your chances of getting an offer.

“Then again,  maybe you’ve made a decision to reject companies where their interviewers veer into personal topics, and you’re ready to close this door. Yet, if you’re like most jobseekers, you  want as many offers as possible.”

Here are some tips on how to shift the conversation.

  • Marital Status, Children, or Religious or Political Affiliations – For questions related to your marital status, children, or religious or political affiliations, Glasdoor suggests a firm, but polite, “I try to keep business and personal matters like that separate. I don’t think that my family life would ever affect my ability to do an excellent job here.” Similarly, when it comes to health or disability status, you could respond that you’re confident in your ability to meet the demands of the position.
  • Homeownership – For housing issues, deflecting and redirecting back to the interviewer typically works. “It’s been tough, right? I keep reading about people who have made offers on 10 or more homes! Have you moved recently?”
  • Age and Family – As for the age-fishing questions? If an interviewer asks when you graduated from high school or college, roll out a friendly response that highlights your work experience. For example, “It feels like that was ages ago! I’ve already been working in accounting for 12 years.”

Read: South Africa to look at ‘German system’ for jobs: Ramaphosa

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