Unfortunately, employers sometimes ask interview questions that are irrelevant or make you uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s a case of an interviewer not knowing what they shouldn’t be asking during a job interview. Other times the employer knows better, but still asks inappropriate interview questions or says something he or she shouldn’t say to try to get more information from an applicant.
In either case, it can be awkward when you're asked a question the hiring manager shouldn't be asking, or when you’re asked something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Whether it's not relevant to the job or your qualifications, or it's personal, it can put you in a challenging situation.
The Worst Interview Questions
There are many interview questions that employers should not ask, either because they are illegal, or because they are rude or irrelevant. Below are a few of the worst interview questions that employers have actually asked job candidates. These are organized by category.
Questions About Your Age
Questions about how old you are can be extremely uncomfortable. These questions can work both ways – you can be considered too old, or too young and not mature enough to do the job. Most age-related questions are illegal if age has nothing to do with the job (an exception would be if you have to be a certain age to legally perform the job). Some uncomfortable age questions and comments include:
- How old are you?
- You are young enough to be my daughter.
- Are you thinking about retiring?
- How do you feel about working for a younger manager?
Questions About Your Ethnicity, Race, or Nationality
You are required to provide proof of your ability to work legally in the country, but questions about race, color, ethnicity, birthplace, and/or national origin are illegal unless directly relevant to the job. Unfortunately, there are hiring managers who will ask these questions. Uncomfortable questions related to ethnicity, birthplace, etc., include:
- What race do you identify as?
- Are you going back to your country anytime soon?
- Is English your native language?
- Where are you from?
- Were your parents born here?
Questions About Your Religion
Questions about your religion or religious practices are illegal unless directly relevant to the job. Some uncomfortable questions people have been asked related to their religion are:
- Are you very religious?
- What is your religion?
- Will your religious practices affect your ability to do your job?
Questions About Your Personal Life or Your Body
Some interviewers will ask questions about your personal life, or make comments about your body, which are clearly inappropriate. These are all, unfortunately, real questions that employers have asked, or comments employers have made to candidates:
- Do you have any problems going out drinking with the office on Fridays?
- Where do you live?
- What did you live on while you were out of work?
- You are so cute.
- I want a receptionist who looks like a Playboy bunny.
Questions About Your Personal Relationships
Unless it specifically relates to the requirements of the position, an employer should not ask you about your marital or family status, or any of your other personal relationships. Examples of some of the worst questions on this topic include:
- Are you dating someone?
- Are you pregnant?
- Are you married?
- Do you have small children?
- Do you have childcare arrangements lined up?
- Are you a parent?
- If you have kids, how will you do this job when your spouse is deployed (question for someone with a military spouse)?
Other Uncomfortable Questions
There are many other kinds of uncomfortable questions and comments that you might hear during an interview. These can range from questions about your sex/orientation, to any disabilities you might have, to particular comments about your personal life. Here are a few real questions and comments that job candidates have shared:
- I need someone who will deal with everyone when they start crying.
- How is your marriage working? The stress of the long hours required might not be good for your marriage.
- How would your spouse feel about you relocating for work?
- Tell me what you think about the individuals you just met with?
- We’d love to hire you, but we want someone who will be here long term.
- I need someone who will stay to shut off the lights every night.
- Why have you been unemployed so long?
What Employers Shouldn’t Do During an Interview
There are also some things the interviewer shouldn’t do. Here are a few examples of inappropriate interview behaviors that job seekers have encountered. Employers should not:
- Give the applicant a big hug.
- Pat the interviewee on the head when offering her the job.
- Keep the interview going until there is nobody else left in the office.
- Interview outside on a 90-degree August day.
- Ask the candidate if he would like to go for a drink after the interview.
How to Respond to Inappropriate Interview Questions
What can you do if you’re asked questions that an employer shouldn’t ask? Questions about your age, ancestry, citizenship, credit rating, criminal record, disabilities, family status, gender, military status, or religion can only be asked if they are directly related to the job.
One way to answer illegal or inappropriate questions is to simply state, “This question does not affect my ability to perform the job.” You might then try to reroute the conversation to your relevant skills and abilities.
Before accepting the job, consider if you really want to work for someone who asks such personal or inappropriate questions during the interview. It is likely that their behavior will not improve once you are a paid part of the team. Here’s more advice on how to handle inappropriate interview questions.
It’s Your Turn: What Applicants Shouldn’t Say or Do
Just like with an interviewer, there are some things you shouldn’t share with the interviewer if you want a chance at moving forward with the interview process. Here are 10 things you should never say at a job interview.
There are also things you shouldn’t do that are related to how you present yourself. Check out the top 15 things you shouldn’t do when you’re interviewing.