Bad interview questions and how to handle them
February 04, 2022
Whether you are looking for a part-time job in college or you’re going after your first full-time job after graduation, inevitably you’ll have to take part in a few interviews as part of the hiring process.
The interview process is a chance for you and the employer to get to know each other. Unfortunately, sometimes employers ask irrelevant or even illegal interview questions. Spotting those questions is one part of the equation, but what do you do after that?
Today’s article will guide you on what these interview questions look like and what to do once you spot them.
What’s a ‘bad’ interview question?
Bad interview questions are generally questions that aren’t relevant to the job. They sound interesting on the surface, but they can be difficult to prepare for and challenging to relate back to work. Here are some examples:
“Which superhero do you most align with?”
We all have a superhero we love to embody, but this question doesn’t tell an employer about your capabilities. Unless you’ll be bitten by a radioactive spider before your first shift, this interview question won’t help your employer pick a candidate.
“What was your least favorite part of your last job?”
If you have a past employer, you likely have a long list of reasons you left. Grappling with this question can be challenging because you need to be honest about your experience without badmouthing your past employer.
“I saw on Instagram you spend a lot of time playing competitive football. How do you plan to make room for your work considering this?”
Firstly, it is legal for them to check your public social media accounts, but it’s a bit untactful for interviewers to mention it and can be very unnerving. These probing questions can be difficult to answer because you’re likely more focused on the fact they’ve snooped through your social media.
What should you do if someone asks a bad interview question?
So, someone has asked you a question that feels offbase or inappropriate. Bad interview questions aren’t against the law, so there’s nothing wrong with answering the question. However, you could try to make better use of the time with the following tips:
Ask for clarification
One easy way to get to the deeper meaning of an interview question is to ask for clarification or an example from their perspective. For instance, if someone asks what superhero you align with, you might ask them to share an example from their perspective first. From there, you have an easy answer to base your response on.
Keep answers short
Another idea for answering bad interview questions is to keep your answers short and avoid rambling. Quick answers help you control the flow of information you share with a potential employer. For example, if you’re asked about your least favorite part of an old job, try to answer the question using only a handful of words to ensure you’re not oversharing.
Pivot to answer the overarching theme
Employers often ask bad interview questions because they’re not trained in the types of questions they should ask, or how to appropriately word their questions – a problematic issue in hiring. It’s best to get to the root of the question. For example, if someone mentions your participation in football, they really want to know about your time management skills. Instead of talking about your football schedule, simply share your time management skills and your availability for the role.
What’s an illegal interview question?
Most demographic-related questions are illegal to ask in an interview. These questions run the risk of creating discrimination, meaning candidates could ultimately be judged on their ability to perform a job based on classified information. Employers must avoid these examples listed below and keep the interview process focused on behavior or role competency questions.
“Are you going to be celebrating Christmas/Hanukkah/Diwali this year?”
If you are not applying for a job with a religious organization, you do not need to discuss your religious beliefs with any potential employer.
“Do you have any disabilities?”
Questions about disabilities are considered illegal interview questions. Employers might ask questions about your ability to fulfill a job requirement like lifting equipment. You might also get asked questions about accommodations you might need to do the work. Employers cannot ask you to disclose any disabilities if you do not wish to do so. You should never have to disclose until after a conditional job offer is made.
“Are you planning on having children in the next few years?”
Questions about relationship status or family structure are not permitted. You should never be prompted to share this information with a company during the interview process, even within innocent small talk.
What should you do if someone asks an illegal interview question?
There are a number of reasons an employer might ask you an illegal interview question – for example, they may be unaware what they’re asking is illegal, or they may be making small talk and fail to realize they’ve crossed a line. What should you do if you’re asked an illegal interview question? Here are our suggestions:
Pivot the conversation
One way to move on after someone asks an illegal interview question is to pivot the conversation. Have a few pivoting options in your back pocket before stepping into the room. Here are a few options you can use to shift to a relevant and helpful discussion as you choose your next opportunity.
- “I don’t wish to talk about _____, but I would be delighted to share why this job opportunity caught my attention.”
- “I am private about _____, but I would love to learn more about how this role moves your organization forward.”
- “I am not comfortable sharing ____, but I would like to discuss the advancement opportunities this role offers.”
Point out illegal interview questions when you see them
If you feel comfortable sharing direct feedback, you can call out illegal interview questions when they happen.
- “Is that relevant to the job I’m applying for?”
- “I have studied the interview questions that I might get, and I realize that this is an inappropriate question. I would like to move on to the next question on your list.”
This approach can be difficult if you’re inexperienced at interviewing, so you should only use it if you want to.
Share your thoughts with HR when you leave
After you’re finished with the interview, you might decide to share your thoughts with the company’s HR department when you leave. Human resources should be able to take your complaint and make sure that the proper steps are taken to remedy an organization’s hiring practices.
Make a formal complaint about the interview process
If your interviewer made you feel uncomfortable or wouldn’t let you avoid responding, you might choose to make a formal complaint about the interview process. If you are in the United States, for example, you can make a formal complaint to your local branch of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Reconsider working with a company that asks illegal interview questions
Lastly, you have to consider if you want to work with an organization that asks illegal interview questions. Mistakes happen, but it can be a sign of a lack of training. You need to grapple with whether a bad interview question would stop you from working with an organization or not.
Conclusion: Getting past a bad or illegal interview question
Many interview questions shouldn’t be asked because they’re either illegal or they simply don’t help an interviewer understand your ability to perform a job. Employers should ensure that interviewers know the right questions to ask, but that’s not always the case. You might decide that a bad interview question isn’t the end of the world, but that’s up to you as a candidate. It’s important that you can detect a bad interview question and what you can potentially do if you run into them.