inappropriate interview questions

I was just checking things out in the forum.
and I happend to read some people talking about their interview experience… usually involving inappropriate gender/racial related Qs.
I thought it could be a good topic to talk about… and share some thoughts.

I will start with mine. ( me, woman )
I once had an interview at the one of well-known multi-national corporations.
It first stared with a phone interview and if you are selected, then
they would fly you to the company.
So I got lucky and flown to the location…( mind you, I have prepared for
this phone interview thing, writing down 8 pages of all the possible
Qs and rehearsing them…)
and this one manager asked me, between checking his cell phones and talking on the phone…
if I was married…
and how I got to know the manager that I talked to on the phone. ( like, I don’t even know who I talked to… it was a phone interview… how the hell
would I know? )
there was this implication in his Qs that I got there because I knew the manager personally ? or something…

well, I did not get the job and frankly I don’t want it… no thank you.
I was expecting at least some intelligent qs from a manager who works
at a company as large as…

can we do something about employers asking personal/sexually inappropriate Qs during an interview?
and how would you respond when being asked personally, racially, sexually
inappropriate Qs without risking your prospect job position?

just be yourself.

“writing down 8 pages of all the possible
Qs and rehearsing them…”

damn you really had no clue what they were gonna ask you!!

Since the personality of an office and the individual’s personality need to mesh, how would you define a personally inappropriate question? Where do you draw the line? It just might be that you were qualified for the job, but as you noted, the work environment would have grated on you.

curious- I would not want a company to get involved in the personal side of my life either to the point where it adversely affects my intra-office relationships. However the questions HR asked sound innocent enough. Even if you did know the manager personally, that probably would have worked in your favor anyway. I would anyday prefer to work with my friends than total strangers.

You did really good sitting down and practising interviews. Get a friend to sit down and practise interview questions and further scnarios. Get you story down pat withouut akward “ahems” and "huuh"s. How many people have really proactised the question,“Soo, tell me about yourself.” :slight_smile:

Personally I dont want to work at an office that isolates me because of x and y reason. So id rather uncomfortable questions be asked at the outset. I am of course assuming that there is an office out there that would be comfortable with me, (which I think that there usually is).

“Don’t Send a Resume: And Other Contrarian Rules to Help Land a Great Job” (Hardcover)
by Jeffrey J. Fox gives some great tips on how to respond and quick ways to turn questions into a conversation. It distills a lot of good tips into a simple read. Highly suggest.

You should read a book called “Bait and Switch” by Barabara Eihrenreich (ISBN 0805076069). An NPR podcast can be had at Apple as well. She went “undercover” and discovered some amazing stuff about the interview process and the hiring tactics these days. The most egregious abuse comes from fields that are over populated with applicants. Sounds familiar.

For fun, you should try on a little age discrimination. I had an interview with a well known design firm in the Valley, and many of the questions that the interviewers asked outside of the traditional interview area (lunch) were probing for info about my age. They would say stuff like “This generation of kids is something we know very well and can relate to - you might have kids of your own and know from your generation” … or “So what were your musical influences growing up?” or “things move at a young, fast pace here. Is that something you’re comfortable with?”…

I wanted to just say “Stop asking me stupid questions to find out if I’m one step away from wrinkle city and look at my portfolio.”

…it’s double edged sword. Health insurance costs companies a pretty penny these days, and taking on older employees is a concern… So is hiring pregnant women… but it’s against the law to discriminate… and good luck proving it.

By the way, “older” means anyone over ~33-34. Nice huh?

Also, I was told by more than a few hiring manager friends and even a professional resume counselor that I should take any of my work experience past 10 years off of the resume, and remove revealing dates relating to graduation etc… Pathetic.

In the end, I found a company that valued real world experience over some bizarre fascination with youth… but it wasn’t easy.

It’s fairly simple. Discrimination based on marital status is illegal in the US. There may be some exceptions (CIA and other specialized jobs, but I don’t think that’s where you’re applying). A large company I once worked for had a $2.2 million annual budget just for dealing with emplyoment-related lawsuits and settlements. Legal departments are terrified of being sued over innappropriate behavior and questions, so the ball is in your court. When asked, make it clear that this is not an appropriate question and that you know better.

– super 77

I went on some interviews soon after a high-profile colleague of mine suddenly passed away. Most of the interviewers I met asked me what it was like when this person died, wasn’t I just in shock, wasn’t it difficult to deal with, etc. I think it was clumsy curiosity, plain and simple, but it was extremely inappropriate. I never did find the right response to redirect the conversation back to me.


I went on this interview once and everything was going well…till the questions about my personal life began to spring. I am from a different ethnic background, so the manager asked me if I was seeing anyone, and if not, there were a lot of people of the opposite gender in the company from my ethnic origin that he could ‘hook’ me up with! Talk about inappropriate! :angry:

On a second note, adding to what MasterBlaster said; I was a minority in every sense in the last company I worked for. During my interview with them I was told that they were not looking for a star designer but someone who can blend within the company! At that point, all I could think about was getting that job. Bad decision. It’s better to analysize what you are getting yourself into earlier than to regret it later…if you have a choice.

And lastly, Deez: We can do without you in this forum! Very little you say is actually valuable.

I had an interview at MSFT many many years ago, and I got the “are you married” question. I was very surprised since they put an enormous amount of effort into the HR process (they put me up in a nearby apartment complex that was probably strictly for interviewees; scheduled an entire day of interviews - although the main HR contact didn’t show up that day and I sat in the waiting area for a few hours) that you’d think they would have basic training on what they can or can’t ask.

Mind you, after the day of interviews and getting reinmbursed for hotel, car, airfare, and meal expenses upon my return, I never heard from them again regarding the position (despite a specific promise of followup). Until about a year later when another recruiter called me to see if I was going to a CHI conference and maybe would come in for an interview.

I bet everyone has stories like this; I guess at this point I’m more surprised at how lame it was than I am personally upset about it.

very true.

anything unrelated to your job function is lame and against the idea of good coordination and startegy by company managers and supervisors.

i went to an interview and the interviewer asked me if i was married or not.
i told him “if you want to know about my sexuality i’m not gay.
so he made an ass of himself and told me " you never know”.
i gave him a dirty look and he got the point. later he called me “sir” when i was going out the door but he knew he messed up pretty bad.

I work for MSFT, and can honestly say that your interview must have been SEVERAL years ago. There’s tons of MANDATORY training that we have to go through to make sure we know what we’re allowed to ask, and how to ask it. Anyone asking questions like “are you married?” is acting on their own behalf, and not the company’s. In my interview, the manager said “I dont know if you’re coming here by yourself, or brining six kids with you.” and he really meant it. I ended up working for him for 3 years, and he was cool.

if you’re refering to me my interview was about two years ago.

looks like yours was more than three years ago!

It was several years ago. But it was not in the dark ages. Presumably the people who are working in the HR function of the company had, back then, undergone some significant and mandatory training.

What’s so wrong with asking if someone’s married, I would see that as being relevant, if relocation is an issue, and an interview is not something where every thing said has to be about the business, that’s a basic chit chat question, and to get in someone’s face about asking would obviously fluster most people.

It’s an illegal question. They can’t ask about anything that can be considered grounds for discrimination, i.e., race, marital status, etc. has more on the topic.

Maybe the interviewer just lost focus for a moment (like humans do) and asked a social question to try and relate to you a bit. Maybe it ment nothing at all.

In my case it was a definite probe on “likelihood to take a job, if offered” because they were considering my ties to where I was living. They are thinking about closing the deal.

I agree with chill. I (male) have been asked that question or something near it on almost every interview. One company that asked the question straight out was looking for someone because the last person left after his wife accepted a job in another city. Yes it is an “illegal” question but I think it is a relevant question if the job would include relocating.

On another note, one of my former co-workers would leave 2-3 times a week without finishing his part of the work. This caused several deadlines to be missed and lost us a client. Hard to fire someone who has to “pick up his kids”.

This should not be an illegal question because it is a very important part of one’s life. Some companies like married people because they are more “stable” and “responsible”.

who cares what they have in mind. point is it’s against the law.

yes a lot of people cross the street where there’s no crosswalk and they throw their trash where there’s no trash can and call themselves “taxpayers” but does that make the act understandable?

it wont. if it serves any purpose it’s disturbance and pollution not to mention extra cost to people who do their jobs right.

what’s the regular employee’s fault if the company HR brings the company’s performance to very lows because of these stupid scenario-case portrayals to the point that they loose their jobs?

if there’s a new business philosophy that says this type of operation is valid then show us the legal grounds for such solutions first then go to detailed case explanation.

"It’s an illegal question. They can’t ask about anything that can be considered grounds for discrimination, i.e., race, marital status, etc. "

While that is certainly true, it doesn’t say much for our alleged freedom of association. The asshole is the canary in the coalmine when it comes to protecting individual rights.