Tag Archives: illegal questions

No BS interviews – stop the ugly questions

I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.  (Harry S. Truman)

How about this for answering an illegal or immoral question without losing the job?

Q: “Do you have any children?”

A: “I don’t have any entanglements that will keep me from traveling as needed. In the last year I have had to hop a flight 5 times with only an hour’s notice.”

Q: “That’s good, but are you married or divorced?”

A: “My personal life is very stable.  It is a great support to me in my work and is why I have been able to increase sales 40% this year at my current job.”

Q: “Are you living with anyone?”

A: Smile and laugh “If you are worried about my goldfish, don’t.  If you will ask me what you are really worried about, I’ll answer the question. What are you concerned about?  What red flags have been raised because of previous people who held this job?”

Three times is too much.  If an interviewer comes back to an inquiry you don’t want to pursue for a third time, stop them.  One way is with the Shirley Temple laugh I mentioned in my last article.   The other is to stop the interview cold and ask what the real problem is. You can combine the two effectively. I have found that if you ask for respect, you’ll get it. Smile, chuckle with your interviewer about the question, and then lay your concern on the line.  If you have to yell and threaten to get respect, you will only get an enemy, not respect or a job.

If you help your interviewer cure the underlying concern, you will be respected.  If you allow a lot of BS questions that are offensive to you, you won’t want the job and it won’t be offered to you.  The interviewer will have felt your resentment and pass over you.  So stop things and discuss the real problem. You have a right to ask questions too.

Something to do today

Send me a list of offensive or difficult questions you have been asked in an interview.   I’ll answer them in my newsletters.


Later:             The meek will inherit…

How to quit

The old boy network

Exploit the old boys

The money question

Illegal questions and what to worry about

Understand that legal and illegal are political, and often arbitrary, categorizations; use and abuse are medical, or clinical distinctions. (Abbie Hoffman in Steal This Urine Test)

Shirley Temple was asked about the “casting couch” mentality in Hollywood. She said it only came up once. She was talking with a mogul about a part she wanted to play in his movie. He stood up, dropped his pants and told her what she had to do to get the part. She laughed at him. At the time it happened, what he did was probably not illegal. Now it is definitely illegal. It was never right or moral. (I remember her talking about it, but can’t come up with a source now.)

The point is that you need to decide whether you care about a particular question. For instance: It is only illegal to discriminate based on age if you are over 40. That’s the law. Do you care? I can discriminate against you based on age, race, sex, religion, country of origin, accent and the fact that you are a Vietnam vet if my company is small enough or slips through other cracks in the laws. Questions you think are illegal may be perfectly okay by law for a specific situation. BOQ means Bonafide Occupational Qualification, and it is the biggest hole in the law.

What is more important than what is legal?

What is more important is that you know the questions you find slimy and objectionable. What questions do you want to avoid answering? What questions will make you so upset you stand up and leave in the middle of the interview?

Remember, you can always do a Shirley Temple and laugh at the question. You may be surprised at how it takes a burden off of both you and your interviewer. If the interviewer is offended that you laughed instead of slapping him, walk out. You are not going to starve because you fail a job interview.

Next time I will go a little deeper into handling bad questions.

Something to do today

Try the other side of this issue. List 3 questions you WOULD answer that some people find offensive. If you think about it you can probably find them.


Later: No BS interviews work

How to quit

The old boy network

Exploit the old boys

The money question

Ugly situation – Good manners

We are born charming, fresh and spontaneous and must be civilized before we are fit to participate in society.  (Miss Manners)

Good manners soothe people in a potentially bad situation.  In a positive situation good manners make everyone involved even more pleased.  Manners are society’s way of helping people cope with each other.

Here are some situations and how to deal with them:

I really want this job:  At the end of the interview say, “This sounds like a great opportunity.  Is there anything you’ve seen today that would keep me from working for you?”  Then say, “Can we set up the next step of the process right now?”    They will probably say they’ll call later.  That’s okay.  They know you really want the job.  Send an email and ground mail thank you letter.

In the interview, I realized I don’t want this job:  Never walk out of an interview unless they are asking you to do something illegal or immoral. You may be interviewing with this person in 5 years for a different job. Companies change. Opportunities change. If you get the feeling the job is absolutely not for you, stop the interviewer and ask very specific questions and explore your reasons in the interview. Don’t let your interviewer bypass your concerns. They may have solid answers, they may not. Once you are sure the job is NOT for you, look at the interview as a network building opportunity. You may have a chance to talk with a manager who will have a different hiring need, and get the job you really want. Networking for an extra half hour in an interview is easier than getting a manager to go to lunch with you.

They ask how much they have to pay you:  Answer them, “I really like this company.  The opportunity seems like a good one.  I’d like to go to work for you.  In my previous job I earned $(amount), I certainly wouldn’t want to work for less.  What I would like is to entertain your best offer.”

You are concerned they won’t pay enough:  Ask the recruiter or HR person what the pay range is for the job.  Don’t ask the hiring manager about money unless you become convinced they won’t pay near enough.  Better to ask, “Considering what I have done previously, how will this job continue to challenge me?”  That lets the interviewer know you are concerned that the job sounds too easy. 

You want to know about vacation time and benefits:  Wait a bit.  The first interview is absolutely NOT the place to ask.  If at some point you talk with an HR person who is already explaining that stuff, ask away.  If you are working with a recruiter, ask him.  Otherwise, when they are offering you the job is early enough.  You don’t have any bargaining power until they have made a decision to hire you.

They ask an improper question:  You don’t have to answer.  Better to try to understand what they want to know.  Reply, “Why do you ask?”  Another way is to answer the underlying question.  If they ask, “How old are you?” You can answer, “I’m in perfect health.  I haven’t missed a day of work in years.” That gives them the information they need without answering a question you may dislike.

I will be late for my interview:  stop and call the person you are to meet.  Apologize and tell them when you expect to arrive. Add 10 minutes to the time so they are pleasantly surprised when you arrive earlier than you said you would.

I don’t want to go to the interview:  call the person who set up the interview, the recruiter, HR person or manager, and explain why.  Explain your true reasons and then listen.  After a couple of minutes of discussion, finalize your decision to go or not.  Let the person who set up the interview tell the people who would interview you.

You don’t want them to call your boss for a reference:  Just tell them you don’t want to jeopardize your current job.  They will understand.

The basic ideas are: 1.  Ask questions at the right time.  2. Let people know your concerns in as positive a manner as possible.