How to answer these 5 inappropriate job interview questions

As if the interview process wasn’t anxiety-ridden enough, job seekers must stay vigilant for the occasional inappropriate question, says recruitment experts, Glassdoor – the subtly awkward questions that make you furrow your brow in confusion.

Sometimes, hiring managers are not HR specialists; they are simply looking for a talented person to join the team. In the quest to hire a colleague, they might ask off-putting or inappropriate interview questions, it said.

If you are the candidate what should you do? It’s tough to outright correct a hiring manager or to refuse to answer — and that’s where tact comes in.

Tactfully answering any interview question is your best weapon in remaining composed, calm and focused on what’s most important: evaluating if a company is really for you. The type of questions that are asked in an interview can be revealing of the company culture.

Pay close attention to what is asked, what is discussed and how the interviewer conducts him or herself. Again, an interview is not only about a candidate being considered for a position, but it is also about a company being the right fit for you.

Glassdoor has provided five examples of subtly inappropriate interview questions that should cause you to raise an eyebrow of concern. “But, because you’re a pro who is prepared, you’ll be equipped with expert advice for how to handle anything that comes your way,” it said.


Example #1: “Many of our employees are young guys who put in 14 hours days. Are you up for that kind of challenge?”

Why It Is Inappropriate: Any questions that dig into your age, race, national origin, gender, religion, marital status and sexual orientation are off-limits. It is a violation of Section 6 of the Employment Equity Act (EEA) to discriminate against job applicants on a number of arbitrary grounds including race, gender, pregnancy, age and numerous others.

How to Handle: Job search expert for The Balance Alison Doyle said: “Hiring managers are allowed to ask whether you can handle the workload and the schedule. When responding, discuss how you’ve worked in the past, what type of schedule was involved, and explain how you can handle the challenges of this role.

“Remember, if long hours aren’t what you’re looking for you don’t have to take the job if you get an offer.”


Example #2: “Congratulations on returning to the workforce. Given your family, do you need a flexible schedule? Are you planning to have more children?”

Why It Is Inappropriate: A question about family should be a no-no but, alas, a naive interviewer, or worse, one that does not value women in the workplace may still ask them.

How to Handle: “A polite way to respond to questions about children is to answer that you’ll be able to perform all the duties of the position,” said Doyle.

“It’s answering with a non-answer, but this can be more diplomatic than refusing to answer. The interviewer may not be aware that they shouldn’t ask, and it’s best to keep the conversation positive and focused on your qualifications and skills.” While many parents may be tempted to discuss flexible work schedules in an initial round of interviews, Doyle cautions against jumping the gun.

“It’s better to stay that you’re available to work the normal schedule for the job than it is to ask for flexibility this early in the hiring process.”


Example #3: “When did you graduate from university?”

Why It Is Inappropriate: This one is a roundabout way that some interviewers try to hone in on a candidate’s age. Again, age discrimination is protected against in South African labour laws.

How to Handle: “If you’re asked interview questions about when you graduated or your age, you have a few options for responding. You could answer the question, even though it shouldn’t be asked, if you think that your response won’t hinder your chances of getting a job offer,” advised Doyle.

“Another tactic is to deflect the question and say that when you graduated won’t impact your ability to perform on the job. A third option is to mention you’d be glad to answer, but you’re not sure why the interviewer needs to know. That could get you out of giving a direct response. At the least, you’ll discover why you were asked and can opt to respond – or not.”


Example #4: “We’re a small company filled with strong, Type-A women. Is that going to be a problem for you, sir? Have you worked well with women bosses in the past?”

Why It Is Inappropriate: The question assumes that a man would have a problem working with women and assumes the worst in the candidate. This is one that is indicative of a potentially difficult company culture.

How to Handle: “No matter how this question is worded, it’s a tough one. It means that the hiring manager has put you into a category that’s different than what they were looking for,” said career coach Angela Copeland.

“The best answer when someone asks you about being different is often, ‘Throughout my career, I’ve worked well with all sorts of people. I’m a great team player, and very excited about this opportunity to create value for the company.”


Example #5: “We like our employees to look and carry themselves a certain way. Do you think you will be able to set your financial hardships aside to rise to the occasion of working here?”

Why It Is Inappropriate: While it is discussed far less than race or gender in the workplace, white- and blue-collar workers alike can face socio-economic discrimination.

How to Handle: “A very difficult part of the interview process is what we can’t see — the way we’re being judged by appearances. Unfortunately, our culture often has unspoken class rules that we learn somewhat indirectly growing up. Anytime you’re interviewing for a job, it’s a great idea to learn all about the company and the culture,” said Copeland.

“Do your best to dress in a way that the company and the hiring manager can relate to. If you have the misfortune of being asked a question like this one, put a positive spin on it. Say something like, ‘You know, one of the great things about my background is that I have a track record of success working with diverse groups of people. I’m confident I will succeed in this role because of my skills and experience.’”


Read: 45 questions you should ask in your next job interview

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How to answer these 5 inappropriate job interview questions