Interviewing, part 3: Curveballs and questionable questions

The purpose of a job interview is to determine whether or not you are suitable to join a company’s team.  How the interviewer figures that out, however, can be unusual, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright odd.  It can also be illegal.  You need to be prepared for when the interview goes in an unexpected direction.

You expect to be asked about your experience, skills, education, and training during a job interview.  You may not be expecting some of the tools that companies use in their hiring process to find the best candidates for the job,  though.  Some companies will ask you to take a personality test (to see what you are really like), submit a handwriting sample (to be analyzed by handwriting experts), have your picture taken (so that others who are involved in the hiring process can see what you look like),  or something equally strange.  These questions and tests are perfectly legal, even if they seem a bit unusual.

What about questions that are not legal?

There are some questions that are not permitted, by law, to be asked of an applicant.  Although they vary from state to state, they generally fall somewhere in the following list:

  • Age
  • Gender, sex, or sexual preference
  • Race, ethnicity, or heritage
  • Disability
  • Faith or religious beliefs
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy or children

There are a few more for serving military veterans:

  • Classification of discharge
  • Military related disability status (particularly PTSD)
  • Post-military benefits status (healthcare, pension, etc.)
  • Whether you are in the National Guard and Reserves

Professional interviewers are well aware of which questions are permitted and which are not.  Not all interviews are conducted by professional hiring managers, though.  Many are conducted by small business owners, retail store managers, restaurant chefs, or anyone in business who needs to staff a position in their organization.  These interviewers may ask a question that they shouldn’t without realizing it, but even though they don’t know the law they are still required to follow it.

There is another possibility, too.  The person conducting the interview may be asking you questions that they know are illegal but they ask them anyway.

Regardless of the circumstance, when one of these questions is laid on the table it is up to you to figure out what to do about it.  You have about a millisecond to decide whether you will answer it or not.  How much do you want the job?  That it what it all boils down to in the end.  If you stonewall, refuse to answer, or debate the legality of the question with the interviewer the probability of you landing the job will rapidly approach zero.  However, if you feel that the interviewer is crossing the line intentionally, then perhaps the company is not really a place where you would like to work anyway.

You have to ask yourself the simple question: “Is answering that question worth getting a job with this company?”  If you answer yes, then do as you are asked.  If not, then don’t.  It is a simple as that.  The downside is that you are certainly guaranteeing that you won’t get the job.  Do you have to answer an illegal question or fulfill an odd request?

Nope.  You can say no.  And probably not get the job.  It is up for you to decide.

__________

Lessons Learned:

– Not everyone conducting an interview is a professional.  They may ask questions that they shouldn’t out of ignorance.

– There are illegal questions, unusual questions, and uncomfortable questions.  Regardless of where those questions lie on the spectrum, it is up to you as to whether or not to answer them.

– There are some questions that pertain specifically to serving military and veterans.  Your military and VA benefits are personal in nature, as is any pension of disability payment that you receive.  Disclosing any of that information is up to you, should any such questions come up.

– It all boils down to how much you want to work at the company.  Questions may be asked innocuously, and making a big deal out of it will likely cost you a job offer.

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2 responses to “Interviewing, part 3: Curveballs and questionable questions

  1. Mike…you probably made a decision to not include this:

    If you believe you have been discriminated against by an employer, labor union or employment agency when applying for a job or while on the job because of your race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, or believe that you have been discriminated against because of opposing a prohibited practice or participating in an equal employment opportunity matter, you may file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

    John…it’s the lawyer in me, I guess. Semper Fi, and Merry Christmas! It’s a good thing you are doing…

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