Equal Opportunity legislation has been around in Australia, for a couple of decades now, but a surprising number of job applicants, are still asked illegal questions at interview.
An illegal question at interview, are questions in relation to race, disabilities, sex, marital status, parental status, or religious or political beliefs. People conducting interviews should only ask questions that are relevant to the skills, abilities, experience and knowledge required to undertake a position.
Examples of illegal types of questions might include asking your age, marital status, your maiden name, whether you speak English at home, what religion you practice, whether you intend to start a family and whether you took sick days off to care for your children.
After being indirectly propositioned at interview many years ago and then being asked how I used my girly looks to manipulate a work situation, I decided to take a quick random survey of my friends to see if they had also been asked an illegal question at work. I was shocked to discover that at some stage, most of them had been asked an illegal or inappropriate question during interview. So in this article, I outline some of the approaches you might take, if asked an illegal question at interview.
Just answer the question
If the question is relatively innocent, or your response will actually enhance your application (e.g. you are asked about your religion, for a position at a religious organisation) then just answer it. Just remember however, that personal information, which is irrelevant to the job, could be detrimental to your application as it can open the door to prejudices and provide another reason not to employ you.
Tactfully side step the question or address their concerns
If you think the question was not malicious, or intentional (remember, most employers are not expert at interviews and might not even realise that they have asked an illegal question), then you might be able to side step the issue, by gently reminding them that the question is not relevant to the position and making sure you don’t get defensive. Another tactic is to simply address the question head on, by providing a response that will alleviate any concerns they might have. For example, if the question relates to disability, reassure them of your capacity to undertake the responsibilities of the position, by providing them with examples of working effectively in a similar work environment.
Refuse to answer
If you really want the job, this is probably not the best tactic, but if you decide this is not the type of organisation you want to work for, then you really have nothing to lose, by simply telling them that the question is irrelevant and you won’t be answering the question.