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Discriminatory Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

Jan 27, 2021 5:00:00 AM
By The TPD Team

in Interview, Job Seeker

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You arrive at a job interview ready to answer all sorts of questions about your work experience, your skills and your professional accomplishments. And when it comes to questions aimed at determining whether you’re a fit for the job, pretty much anything goes. However, there are some questions that you shouldn’t be prepared to answer, and that’s because employers shouldn’t be asking them in the first place. 

 

Both the United States and Canada have rules against employers asking discriminatory questions. Questions that generally fall into this prohibited category are those related to:

 

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Gender Identity
  • Marital status
  • National origin or ethnicity
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

 

All of these topics have at least two things in common: First, the information they reveal doesn’t speak to a person’s ability to successfully do a job. Second, the answers to such questions could result in bias – whether conscious or unconscious – on the part of an employer against an applicant.

 

Still, employers sometimes do ask prohibited questions during job interviews. When they do, though, it’s usually not out of malicious intent, says Andrea Duke, TPD’s Manager of People & Culture.

 

“The employer may be simply looking to get to know you better,” she says. “It can be helpful to find common ground with your interviewer. You can look up their LinkedIn profile before the interview and come ready to bring up mutual interests. This way, you have personal information you are comfortable and ready to share, which can be discussed instead.”

 

Other times, an employer may ask a discriminatory question in an effort to get information that actually is relevant to the job. In cases like this, Duke says, you can try to reframe the question so you’re able to provide the information the interviewer is looking for.

 

“For example, they may ask you where you’re from because they want to know about your international experience or your language skills,” she says. “When responding to such a question, you can mention that because ‘place of origin’ is prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Code or the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, you’ve been advised not to answer questions like that directly. However, you can offer that you speak certain languages, or offer more information about different locations you’ve worked.”

 

Duke points out that discriminatory questions may not always be straightforward. Some examples include:

 

  • What are your childcare arrangements? (This question probes an applicant’s family status; instead, an employer should ask about your availability.)
  • When did you graduate from high school or college? (This question can be used to determine an applicant’s age; instead, an employer should ask if you graduated, from where and what degree you have. If they are looking to verify your education, then that can be done in a background check after they have offered you the job.)
  • What is your native language? (This question can reveal national origin and ethnicity; instead, an employer should ask you what languages you speak.)

 

Whether an employer knowingly asks a prohibited question or not, when it happens during a job interview it can create an awkward situation – but it can also shed some light on the organization’s culture. The bottom line, says Duke, is that applicants are not required to answer them.

 

“It may be uncomfortable to refuse to answer those questions, but keep in mind that you want to find a workplace that you find comfortable,” she says. “If you choose to answer such interview questions, then the employer is still legally required to not let your responses inform their hiring decision.”

 

The issue of dealing with discriminatory questions highlights one of the many benefits of a job seeker working with a recruiter, per Duke. 

 

“Working with a recruitment partner can help you navigate through tricky interview situations,” she says. “A recruitment agency has a relationship with the company and can provide them with helpful feedback and guidance on appropriate interview questions.”

 

Looking for your next job opportunity? TPD is committed to helping people succeed. Join the TPD Talent Community, find jobs and check out our free job seeker resources.

Filed under Interview, Job Seeker

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