Heading into an interview is a nerve-wracking experience. You may feel under pressure to answer all of the questions that the interviewer sends at you perfectly so you can stand out as a candidate. But be careful! Sometimes your interviewer may be asking for information that they’re not entitled to.
Here are five questions that you shouldn’t answer in an interview.
1. “How old are you? What is your background?”
It can be tempting to try and build a rapport by answering questions like these as small talk, but by law your interviewer is not permitted to ask.
It is illegal for an employer to ask how old you are in an interview under the Age Discrimination Act. A subtler way they may try to probe for it is by asking “when did you graduate?”. In jobs where you need to be an adult to work there, the employer is only allowed to ask whether you are over 18.
They are also not allowed to ask about your cultural background or religion. Making hiring decisions based on these factors is discriminatory unless it affects your ability to do the job you’re applying for.
2. “What is your maiden name?”
Your interviewer is not allowed to ask you about your marital status or discriminate based on gender.
An interviewer can instead ask “have you ever worked under a different name?”. But if they ask you, they have to ask other candidates the same question, and their purpose can’t be to assess your marital status. They can only ask in order to track down previous work awards, publications, or accolades, things that reflect your ability to complete the work they are advertising for.
3. “Do you have a disability? How much sick leave did you take in your last job?”
It is unlawful for any employer to discriminate based on a physical or mental disability. They are also not allowed to ask whether you have filed a worker’s compensation claim before.
The only exception is if your disability might affect whether you can complete your job duties or not. For example, if the job you’re applying for requires a high degree of physicality like needing to lift heavy things, your employer may ask some details about your disability to check whether you’re fit for the job.
4. “Do you drink? Have you ever used drugs?”
Employers are not allowed to ask about substance abuse histories and whether you drink or not. And if you mention it, they are not allowed to tell other colleagues and clients about it. This includes questions about whether you smoke or not.
But be aware that they may look you up on your social media after the interview. If you don’t want your employers knowing about a substance abuse history that you speak more openly about in online spaces, consider locking down your accounts. It is your decision whether you’d like to disclose your history or not, and an employer cannot pressure you into doing so.
5. “Are you a member of a union? Do you plan on joining one?”
It is unlawful for an interviewer to ask if you’re part of a union. It is illegal to discriminate against a candidate based on their union membership status.
When is it okay to ask?
What matters isn’t necessarily the questions themselves, but the information that the interview is trying to acquire about you.
For example, an interviewer can’t ask you about your voting habits or political alignments. But a non-profit organisation with a specific focus can ask “what values are important to you?” to see if you’d be a good fit for the work they do.
An organisation may also discriminate on the basis of gender or cultural background if the job requires a person who belongs to a specific demographic. For example, if the role requires the employee to liaise with Aboriginal communities, the employer may ask you whether you have an Aboriginal background or not.
The main thing is that it all must relate to whether you will be suitable for the job. You should only provide information and be asked questions that relate to your ability to perform in the role you’re applying for.
What can you do if you get asked any of these questions?
It might be difficult to not provide an answer when you want to get the job and make a good impression, but it’s important for you to know your rights and for those rights to be respected in the workplace.
If an employer asks a question that might be discriminatory, you can respond by saying, “Great question! I’m just wondering how this relates to the job?”
It might prompt the interviewer to clarify about the reasons they’re asking, and it might not be discriminatory after all.
But if you still think that your interviewer is trying to dig for information that they’re not entitled to, you should stand firm. Politely, of course.
You can say something like “I don’t think I have to answer that question”. Be confident in knowing that you can take legal action against them if they’ve discriminated against you in the hiring process.
Plus, if they keep pressing you to answer, that can be a sign that the workplace isn’t for you. The interview isn’t just for the employer to get to know you. It’s also an opportunity for you to get to know the workplace culture.
For more information about what counts as workplace discrimination, visit the Fair Work website.
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