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Responding to Personal Questions

 

Response to Personal Questions Asked

During an interview, by law, recruiters are not permitted to ask personal questions that are completely unrelated to the responsibilities of the position for which you are interviewing. Typically, such questions focus on your marital status, parental responsibilities, age, weight, health, race, nationality, religious affiliations, and political affiliations.

While most recruiters are aware of common boundaries, there is a large gray area. This gray area is reduced when recruiters and candidates keep a simple rule in mind: focus the interview conversation on obvious requirements of the position and the candidate's ability to meet those requirements.

Basic Recruiter Concerns

Some recruiters may accidentally phrase questions in a potentially discriminating manner in an attempt to gain information that is relevant to the position for which you are interviewing. They have several basic concerns when interviewing candidates and, therefore, need to get at fundamental issues related to your potential job performance. Some of their basic concerns are as follows:

  • Will this person work in this position?
  • Does this person have the necessary skills or experience?
  • Can we count on this person to be punctual and available?
  • Will this person "fit in" to the existing culture and personnel?

Whether accidentally or intentionally, if you are asked a personal question that is unrelated to the responsibilities of the position for which you are interviewing, you should attempt to identify the aspects of the question that deal with position-specific information and craft your answer accordingly. As a job applicant, what should you do when a recruiter makes an illegal inquiry? Consider the following three likely options:

  • You have the option to overlook the fact that the question does not relate directly to the position and provide an answer.
  • You may choose a reply that tactfully acknowledges the lack of connection between the question and the position and craft an answer that addresses the recruiter's underlying concern.
  • You can inquire about the question's relevance to the position and express that you are uncomfortable answering such an inquiry. Realize that this response is likely to create some discomfort for everyone present at the interview, but it might be your best option in situation when the question is too inappropriate to answer.
  • While discriminatory motives may or may not be at the root of questions that fall in the gray area, such questions might convince you that the organization is not for you. This is a judgment call that only you can make.

Responses to Illegal Questions

The following questions and answers illustrate some approach to answering potentially discriminating questions. Examples aside, remember that each situation is unique and the ultimate decision on how to respond is yours.

Question:
"Are you married?"

Real Motivation for asking the Question:
"Will you devote yourself to the position?"

Possible Answers:
A. "Right now, I am focusing on my career and intend to give all the necessary time and energy to my career, regardless of my marital status."

B. "While I am married, my spouse and I understand the demands of good positions such as the one for which I am interviewing. I plan on doing what it takes to succeed in this position, and am eager to make use of my skills and experience."

Question:
"Do you plan on having a family?"

Real Motivation for Asking the Question:
"Will you devote the necessary time to the position?"

Possible Answers:
A. "I am not sure at this point, but I know that I am going to work regardless of my family status, and I will give my best effort and skills to the position."

B. "Regardless of my family structure, I plan on having a career and giving all the necessary time and energy to that career."

Question:
"Do you have any handicaps or disabilities?"

Real Motivation for Asking the Question:
"Will you be able to perform the work?"

Possible Answers:
A. "I believe I am fully capable of performing the duties associated with this position."

B. "Given the appropriate tools (or space or time), I believe I am fully capable of performing the duties associated with this position."