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What did you just ask me? How to handle tricky interview questions

What do you do when the interviewer asks you something you would rather not answer?

We have all been in an interview situation where we are wearing our best outfit, sweating slightly and trying to answer the questions appropriately and coherently.

There are many questions that can make us squirm or panic when they come up in an interview. ‘What are your weaknesses?’ is one of the worst, but did you know that there are some questions the interviewer should not be asking you by law?

Any question that asks you to reveal your age, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, ethnicity, political affiliation, disability, religion, and whether you are pregnant is actually against the law. Even questions about your trade union membership or your previous criminal convictions are not allowed.

That is because these factors – in most cases – are irrelevant to whether you can do a job or perform in a certain role. You should never put any of these things on your CV – by doing so, you are potentially giving a recruiter a reason to reject you in a prejudiced manner. If an interviewer asks you something that may lead to you revealing one of these facts about yourself, you need to be prepared to answer in a way that does not shock or alienate the interviewer.

According to the president of American company Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, Jodi RR Smith, interviewing is almost like ballroom dancing, with someone leading the situation and another following. The person being interviewed is usually in the less dominant role and it is not easy to be assertive when facing questions the interviewer should not be asking in the first place. With hindsight, it is easy to say “I should have said so and so…”; however, in reality, most of us are pretty stressed anyway when it comes to being interviewed and simply go along with whatever is being said.

One way to cope with being asked something inappropriate is to direct the question back to the interviewer; for example, if they ask how old you are, your religion or your marital status, ask them how this is relevant to the job and its responsibilities. This response should alert them to the fact they are being inappropriate.

Interviewees should remember not to be evasive or abusive, even when asked illegal questions; however, they must ensure they are not revealing unnecessary information about themselves that could enable a recruiter to refuse them the job on spurious grounds.

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