Unethical interview questions: What are they and how can I handle them?

Posted on: May 1st, 2008 by Madhuri Vijay 4 Comments

What are unethical interview questions?

Interviews are stressful enough already without worrying about whether or not the interviewer is doing something he or she is not supposed to be doing. However, there are certain interview questions that are considered unethical, because they are designed to gain information about an applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, gender, birthplace, age, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected class. Any question asked for the purpose of discriminating against an applicant is considered unethical.

How can I recognize if a question is unethical?

The best way to recognize an unethical interview question is to ask yourself, “Is this information relevant to the job or position?” If it is not, then be careful. It may help to make a list, ahead of time, of the possible unethical questions that might come up, so you will be prepared to recognize them and deal with them in the way you best see fit.

What are some examples of unethical interview questions?

1. How old are you?

2. What is your maiden name?

3. Are you a U.S. citizen?

4. Do you have any children? Do you plan to have children?

5. Do you have any physical disabilities or handicaps?

6. Does your religion prevent you from working during certain times of the year?

How do I handle an unethical interview question?

When confronted with an unethical interview questions, you have some options:

1. You can refuse to answer the question. This may or may not affect the interviewer’s hiring decision, but you will have stood up for your rights

2. You can swallow your pride (and privacy) and answer the question. You might feel like your privacy has been violated, but at least you are still in the running

3. You could ask a response question. You might, if asked about your marital status, say, “I am not quite sure of the reason for that question. Is it because you are afraid that I might not be able to carry out all my duties?” This puts the responsibility back on the interviewer, at the same time informing him or her that you are aware of the unethical nature of the question.

4. You can address the real concern of the interviewer. Most of the time, unethical interview questions are a result of a genuine concern on the part of the interviewer (e.g., how long you plan to continue working at the company). It is possible to address this legitimate concern while ignoring the exact, unethically phrased, question. For example, when asked about whether you plan to have children, you might say, “I plan to pursue a career, regardless of whether I decide to raise a family.”

How can I prepare for unethical interview questions?

Deciding on what questions are unethical and how you should go about dealing with them can be tough, especially when you are in the middle of an interview. It helps to be aware of these issues beforehand and sort out for yourself exactly how you want to approach them. Here are some tips you can use in preparing for an interview:

1. Make a list of sensitive questions you may be asked

2. Decide how much information you are comfortable releasing and where your boundaries are

3. Determine which of the approaches listed above you feel most comfortable using

4. Practice, practice, practice! Remember, the Career Center is here to help with “practice” or “mock” interviews, which will help you become more comfortable with this sometimes stressful process. The Career Center, through our partnership with Honor Roll Online, is now using Interview Stream to help students with practice interviewing. Additionally, we have several books on interviewing available at the Career Center, most of which have chapters on illegal or unethical interview questions.

Sources

Career Center page on unethical interviewing

Landy, Sylvia. Ditch the Flip Flops: Ace Your Job Interview Fresh Out of College. Winnettka, IL: Keystone Three LLC, 2007.

Related Career Center links and resources

Career Center page on unethical interviewing

Landy, Sylvia. Ditch the Flip Flops: Ace Your Job Interview Fresh Out of College. Winnettka, IL: Keystone Three LLC, 2007.

Medley, Anthony H. Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed. New York: Warner Business Books, 2005.

Yate, Martin. Knock ‘Em Dead: The Ultimate Job Seekers’ Handbook. Holbrook, MA: Adams Media Corporation, 1998.

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4 Responses

  1. Asking unethical questions is a big shame, but in this time also a big trend,
    but i agree with ako: Pointed questions are aving time for both sides, but they have to be fair und clear.

  2. techcomnews says:

    I think these days Unethical interview questions are specifically asked by employers as they seek best fit for their organization.Its better things are clear at initial stage only.

  3. Ako says:

    I think these days Unethical interview questions are specifically asked by employers as they seek best fit for their organization.Its better things are clear at initial stage only.

    Saves time of interviewer and interviewee

  4. It’s sad in this day and age that some interviewers still ask unethical questions. However some of them may not even realise their question is unethical.

    I have to agree with the advice to practice interviews. Doing practice/mock interviews will give you more confidence for the real interview. It will also give you a chance to practice other things like your body language

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