Job interviews: "Forbidden questions" and how to respond

Job interviews: "Forbidden questions" and how to respond
The questions asked during a job interview not only give recruiters the chance to get know candidates and gauge their interest in the position, but also to see how they react under pressure. Recruiters ask standard questions that everyone can prepare for in advance, but also trick questions to try and catch candidates out. Even though it's easy to feel as though you're sitting an exam, you're not obliged to answer every question you're asked in a job interview! This is particularly true when it comes to questions regarding your private life, or questions that aren't directly linked to the job you have applied for. So, what are these infamous "forbidden questions" and how can you respond confidently if asked one? 

What are the forbidden questions that recruiters should not ask during job interviews and how should you respond if asked one?

Forbidden questions

When a recruiter asks you a question that has a direct link to the job applied for, you obviously need to answer! These can be questions regarding your skills, education, university results, prior work experience and your reasons for wanting the job. On the other hand, questions asked by recruiters for strategic reasons, which don't have an apparent link to your application, are forbidden. Recruiters do not have the right to ask you these kinds of questions during your interview and, if they do, you are not obliged to reply.

These questions can often concern...

  • a future pregnancy
  • your family situation
  • your religion
  • belonging to a trade union or your political views
  • your private life in general
  • your partner or family members (personal information, occupations, financial situation)
  • your health (illnesses or handicap)
  • your financial situation or your previous/present salary
  • your criminal record
Forbidden questions include questions regarding your private life, financial situation, marital status and criminal record.

There's always an exception...

There are always a few exceptions to the rules. If the question is directly related to the job responsibilities, recruiters obviously have the right to ask the question and receive an honest response. For example, if you are applying for a job that has risks for pregnant women or unborn babies, the recruiter has the right to ask if you are pregnant. The same applies for physical jobs: recruiters have the right to ask about your state of health. Questions concerning your financial situation or personal debt are legitimate if you are applying for a job with a bank. And, if you would like to become a Lawyer, don't be surprised if they ask whether or not you have a criminal record. A few forbidden questions can still be asked by recruiters during a job interview if they are directly related to the responsibilities of the job applied for

How should you respond to "forbidden questions"?

Even if the questions mentioned previously are forbidden during job interviews, there are a few recruiters who continue to ask them anyway. The most important thing to remember is to respond confidently and professionally. Of course, you could just sit there dumbstruck and not answer, which definitely wouldn't be professional! A simple "You're not allowed to ask me that", probably wouldn't make a good impression either. We've come up with a few tips to help you respond appropriately to these "forbidden questions":

Tell the truth nevertheless

A recruiter might ask you a forbidden question during an interview and you might have absolutely no qualms about answering. This could be the case when asked if you're or pregnant or if you have any health problems, if the answer is no. Why not tell the truth? In this type of situation, the easiest answer is "no".

Explain why you prefer not to answer the question

As mentioned previously, you don't have to answer questions regarding your private life, which are unrelated to the job in question. Bear in mind that answering certain questions honestly can lead to discrimination. If you are afraid that this could be the case and would prefer not to answer because of this, you will need to justify your decision. For example, you could respond with another question, along the lines of  "Could you please explain the link between my partner's occupation/a possible pregnancy/my religion... and this job?".

Lie if it seems appropriate

If you are convinced that the question asked by the recruiter has no relevance to the job in question and you're afraid it could lead to discrimination if you reply honestly, you're allowed to lie! For example, if your interviewer asks if you would like to start a family, they probably won't employ you if you start talking enthusiastically about the 6 children you want to have over the coming years. At times like these, there's nothing stopping you from saying that you haven't planned to have any children. It's not easy to lie, especially in situations where the aim is obviously to discriminate against you, but don't hesitate to give a false answer!  If you are asked a forbidden question during a job interview and are unsure about how to respond in case you are discriminated against, it's okay to lie. Recruiters often ask "forbidden questions" without even realising they're inappropriate. In any case, you should always ask if the question is relevant to the job in question. If that's not the case and you get the impression that the recruiter is trying to provoke you, you should probably think about whether or not you really want to work for said employer. No matter what the circumstances: remain calm and professional! It's not uncommon for these sorts of questions to be asked to test candidates' behaviour! There are questions that are forbidden during job interviews and, thanks to our tips, hopefully you now know how to react if you are ever asked one! :) Good luck!  wizbii

Article written by Katharina Beck