We had a client recently ask a candidate whether they had a family and kids. It was meant as an icebreaker though the candidate came back with, “s/he can’t ask me that”. Well, that’s not true, you can ask anything you want in an interview, but just like other conversations in your life, some topics are off limits, rude, or just plain poor taste. And some open a door that’s best left closed.
Most interviews are not set up to trick you but often there’s a burning question that may have relevance with respect to your ability to do your job. I recommend that if the job calls for a ton of hours you offer up how you’ll accomplish that. If you live far away from work, you need to make it clear, without being probed, how you are going to work that and what the impact may be, if any. If you have children and the job calls for you to be on a plane a great deal of the time, that’s going to be a question mark, right or wrong, with an interviewer.
Sometimes, candidates are so dry and curt that an interviewer is just looking for a way to open up the conversation and get the candidate to relax.
Sometimes questions are off the wall with no right or wrong answer– the only ‘right’ answer is how you’ve reacted to it. I like to ask product people to describe their favorite product. Just looking for passion and an ability to articulate that.
Here’s more thoughts on the topic….
- SEPTEMBER 13, 2010, 10:51 AM ET
When Job-Interview Questions Become Too Personal
But when job interviews turn to juggle-related topics, some questions can catch interviewees completely unprepared.
Some women readers say they have been asked, “What are your child-care arrangements?” or “Do you plan to have a family any time soon?” Author Bob Rosner identifies other “toxic questions” in his book, “The Boss’s Survival Guide”: “I love your accent; where are you from?” (This one suggests ethnic or racial discrimination.) “When did you graduate from high school?” (This one smacks of age discrimination.) “Are you currently using birth control?” (Again, implies pregnancy discrimination.)
To avoid appearing to discriminate based on sex, bosses should stick strictly to job-related queries. Employers with 15 or more employees are covered by federal anti-discrimination law, which makes sex and pregnancy discrimination illegal; a few states, including New York, New Jersey and California, have anti-bias laws covering smaller employers.
Some managers try to startle interviewees into candid revelations about their personal values or philosophy. Ad executive Michael Mathieu told the New York Times that he likes to ask candidates, “What is the meaning of life?” He said, “It’s a fun question because no one’s expecting it.” One of his favorite answers, he added, was, “Are you talking about my business life or my personal life?”
Rather than probing too much, one of my bosses on a previous job many years ago took the opposite tack: He simply stopped talking and stared at the applicant for a minute or more of stony silence. The strategy: To size up candidates’ poise. Would they jabber senselessly to fill up the silence, pose an intelligent question, or squirm in anxiety?
Meanwhile, nannies seem to be the target of oddball queries from potential employers, as I’ve reported previously. Some parents ask nanny candidates, “How often do you bathe?” or, “Do you have a boyfriend?” Others say they have been asked if they have sexually transmitted diseases.
Readers, have you been asked surprising or disarming questions in job interviews? Or inappropriate ones? If you have been on the hiring end, what are your favorite questions? What do you think is the right boundary against probing too much on personal issues?