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5 Forbidden Interview Questions

Sep 12, 2008
As the MD of a recruitment agency for all kinds of online marketing and online travel jobs, I know how stressful interviews can be for a candidate. Whenever you travel to a job interview, it is only natural that on the way you'll try and think about every possible question that you might be asked and try and devise an answer to them. But there a few that you can cross off the list, as there are some interview questions that potential employers simply aren't allowed to ask...

How old are you?

It may seem like a very innocuous interview question, but due to the new age discrimination laws, it is now illegal to ask a candidate how old they are. It isn't just older people who complain about age discrimination - many younger candidates claim they are discriminated because they are too young, with employers assuming that they will not have the experience or maturity for the position.

An exception to this rule is when a candidate's age is classed as a "genuine occupational qualification". This applies in the army and the police, for example, which have minimum ages for employment. Of course, that doesn't apply to my candidates who are looking for online marketing jobs, and it probably won't apply to most jobs that you are likely to apply for - if someone asks you for your age (this includes date of birth questions on application forms) they are straying into dangerous territory.

Are you married?

This might come across as an ice breaker, and sometimes it is - but for many employers this isn't a casual interview question. Some employers prefer single employees, regarding them as being more committed to their careers, unlikely to become bogged down in family commitments, and more willing to do overtime or long distance travel for a job. Other employers prefer married employees who may be steadier and more reliable. Either way, you don't have to answer this question in an interview.

Do you intend to start a family in the near future?

This is a big no-no in an interview situation. For obvious reasons, some employers aren't keen on their employees having children, with resultant issues of outside commitments, maternity/paternity leave and flexible working requests. An employer can ask if for any reason you may have any difficulties with certain aspects of the job; travel abroad, being away from home for extended periods of time, doing large portions of overtime where necessary and so on, but they cannot ask direct questions about family circumstances.

Are you a member of a trade union?

Employers aren't allowed to ask about your outside associations in an interview, such as your membership of trade unions. These associations don't have any bearing on your capacity to do the job, and could be used to discriminate against you. This extends to political and religious organisations as well, so if any questions crop up concerning your political or religious commitments these topics are very much out of bounds.

Are you gay?

Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is illegal, and it is difficult to think of an acceptable reason why a potential employer would need to know this information. In addition to questions about sexual orientation, most questions about your personal life are illegal - for example, asking someone if they drink heavily as a form of recreation.

If you are faced with one of these interview questions, it is best to remember that in all likelihood your interviewer doesn't realise that they are doing something wrong. Directly confronting them and embarrassing them is unlikely to secure the position. You have the choice of politely asking the interviewer why the question is relevant to the position (giving them the chance to rephrase the question), or you can try and answer the question indirectly. For instance, if someone asks about marital or family commitments, you could use it as an opportunity to state your strong commitment to your work and your willingness to work long hours (that is, if you really want the position!) But make sure you know your rights, and always remember the interview questions that your potential employer cannot ask you.
About the Author
Gail Kenny is the managing director of Puregenie, an online travel jobs website. The site deals with recruitment in the ever growing travel sector and offers a wide selection of travel jobs, as well as other roles involved in maintaining a presence online. Although the site is mainly travel focussed, it also displays vacancies in the hospitality and leisure industries.
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