When Interviews Cross the line: My Strategies For Handling Inappropriate Questions
Job interviews can quickly go from standard Q&A to uncomfortable territory if an employer asks invasive or inappropriate questions. I've been on the receiving end of those crossing-the-line queries more than once.
The Set-Up: I arrived for an interview at a financial firm excited for the opportunity to take my marketing career to the next level. Right off the bat in the screening interview, the hiring manager's questions got personal. "Are you married?" he probed. "Do you have kids?" I was taken aback as the invasive questions kept coming. How did I redirect the conversation without taking my chances at this position?
Here are five tips for gracefully handling even the most awkward interview questions:
Strategy 1: Deflect Back to Qualifications
When asked clearly inappropriate questions about my personal life, I responded by saying: "I'd really like to focus our conversation on my background and qualifications for this role. I can tell you about my experience developing targeted marketing campaigns..." That put the focus back on my ability to do the job.
Strategy 2: Re-Frame to the Positive
For sensitive questions that dance near the line, I've found it helpful to re-frame to an uplifting response. When asked "Why did you leave your last job?" instead of complaining, try: "I was ready to pursue new challenges and opportunities for growth."
Strategy 3: Ask for Clarification
If a question catches you off guard, don't be afraid to ask for clarification: "I want to make sure I fully understand that question. Could you please elaborate on your specific concerns about my qualifications?" That gives space (and time) to pivot the dialogue.
Strategy 4: Silence is Powerful
Don't feel pressure to fill awkward silences. Letting a clumsy question hang in the air sends the message that you're not taking the bait. Follow up with a question of your own to redirect.
With the right techniques, you can maintain composure and control, even when interviews cross the line. Don't sacrifice your power or professionalism. Assess red flags when employers probe too far into your personal affairs. The interview process is a two-way street, so evaluate whether they deserve you. If you do need the job, approach awkward questions tactfully yet firmly. You can also file a complaint after the fact. With practice, you'll become a pro at steering inappropriate interviews back on course.
Job interviews are prime opportunities to put your communication skills to work. While you hope for straightforward questions about your abilities, sometimes interviews take uncomfortable turns. With the right preparation, you can steer the conversation to more positive ground. Remember, you have a right to set boundaries around sharing personal information. Now get out there and ace those interviews!
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