Inappropriate interview questions are questions about things that could be used to discriminate against you. Discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly because of things like your personal life, your physical features, sexuality, ethnicity or gender identity.
You don’t have to answer inappropriate questions. In fact, you probably don’t want to work for an employer who asks them in an interview.
Examples of inappropriate job questions
Sometimes an interviewer might ask interview questions that are inappropriate. These include questions about:
- your age (although if you’re under 21, an employer may pay you according to your age)
- your sexual preference
- your gender identity
- your disability status
- your ethnicity, race, colour, nationality or cultural background
- your physical features, like height, weight, size, shape, facial features, hair or scars
- whether you’re married, in a relationship or single
- whether you have children, or are planning to have children
- your political or religious beliefs.
An inappropriate interview question could seem harmless on the surface, particularly if you feel you don’t have anything to hide.
However, your answer might be used to discriminate against you. For example, the interviewer might turn you down for the job because they don’t like the political party you belong to.
The interviewer should stick to questions about the job you’re applying for, and your ability to do that job. If they ask a question that isn’t related to the job, you don’t have to talk about it.
Inappropriate questions about previous employers
You should avoid talking about your previous employers and co-workers as much as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t explain the tasks and responsibilities of your previous jobs. It just means you don’t have to answer questions about the people you worked for, especially if it means revealing confidential information.
Discussing any confidential information or personal details about people you have worked with is unethical. Unethical means behaviour that isn’t the right thing to do.
Handling an inappropriate interview question
It can be hard to know how to respond when you're asked about something you'd rather not answer. Sometimes you’re taken by surprise and you freeze. Sometimes it makes you angry.
Try to be polite and steer the conversation back to more appropriate topics. Here are some ways you can respond:
- ‘Thanks for the question, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing that information with you right now. I’d much rather explain how valuable my skills and experience could be for your organisation.’
- ‘Can you tell me how that’s relevant to the job? If you could rephrase it in a way that’s relevant to my ability to do the job, I’ll do my best to answer.’
- ‘I don’t want to talk about this. Do you have another question for me?’
Power dynamics and inappropriate interview questions
A power dynamic is when there’s a difference in power and status between one person and another.
In an interview situation, it may seem like the interviewer has all the power. They’ve got something that you want. They’re in a position to decide whether or not to give you a job.
Sometimes, this power dynamic might make an interviewer feel like they can ask you an inappropriate interview question.
Don’t forget that you have power, too. You’ve got something the interviewer needs – your skills, experience and energy. It’s okay to use that power to refuse to answer an inappropriate interview question.
Even if you feel powerless, you still have rights. Knowing your rights and how to stand up for them is an important part of the job application process.
Getting help if an inappropriate interview question leads to discrimination
Sometimes an inappropriate interview question might lead to discrimination. This happens if you don’t get the job because of information you gave the employer about your personal background or characteristics.
If you think you’ve been discriminated against, you can make a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC). Visit the complaints page on the VEOHRC website to find out more about the process for making a complaint.
You can also contact Victoria Legal Aid for legal advice. Their Workplace bullying and discrimination page has some information for job applicants who have been discriminated against.
Visit our Discrimination and harassment page for more on how to deal with discrimination.