It was 11.00am and I was wearing my new investment, a black Saba pantsuit. We’d barely finished our hellos and small talk before I heard a question I wasn’t expecting.
“How old are you?”
It was the first time I’d been asked this in an interview setting and I was shocked. I didn’t know how to respond the right way. So I quietly replied: “I’m 22.”
Then the lady with her gold glasses, short black hair and turned down mouth, proceeded to tell me she thought I was four years older! Thanks potential boss lady – you know how to make a woman feel good!
Four years later the question came up again. This time I was ready with a response.
“May I ask why you’re asking me this question?”
The hiring manager responded, “aww don’t be like that! I want to know because of x.”
So I told him but I felt a bit funny. My intuition told me that it wasn’t the right move.
Inappropriate interview questions are always awkward to deal with. Here are some ways you can respond.
Consider the intent behind the question
Sometimes hiring managers genuinely don’t realise they are asking something inappropriate.
Eight years ago I was working on a project with delightful manager that would have been a great mentor to any new hire. When I sat in on the panel interview he asked the interviewee how old he was. I was horrified. I addressed it later and the manager said he genuinely didn’t know he couldn’t ask and apologised. In subsequent interviews that question was never raised again.
Another way to approach an inappropriate question is to deflect.
A friend in her mid twenties was asked about her family, where the intent was to find out if she was married and if she would she be starting a family soon.
She responded with:
“I get along well with my sister but I find my parents more challenging.”
Another way to deflect a question is to respond with a question. If you’re asked:
“Are you married?”
You can ask: “is it important that I be married for the role?”
You could also say: “what’s the reason you need to know?”
Or you could state that the question makes you uncomfortable and decline to answer it.
Do you want to work for the organisation?
Being interviewed can feel difficult and nerve racking. However, don’t forget that it’s also an opportunity for you to assess the organisation. Do you want to work for them? Will you be happy?
If the organisation is getting off on the wrong foot asking inappropriate questions really consider if they are right for you. Perhaps you are better off pursuing another opportunity.