Can you ask that question?

Many People Thinking of QuestionsInterviews are tough – both for the candidate and I believe for the interviewer too!  You’re both on show…Do I want this person to work for me?  Do I want to work for this person?

Ashlea provides some great insight as to what can and cannot be asked during interviews and why.  Take it away Ashlea….



Question mark

Have you ever been asked during an interview how old you are, or whether you have children, or are you married? Have these questions made you feel uncomfortable? They should!  No interviewer can ask you, or expect you to answer questions like these. These questions are discriminatory.   Why?  Simply because they are not relevant to your ability to do the job.


An interviewer cannot ask if you married or not, or if you intend to have children.  How is that relevant to a person being able to do the job???  They certainly cannot decide not to hire you because you are young newlywed female and have jumped to the conclusion that you’ll be off starting a family soon so won’t stick around long or they’ll have to provide maternity leave.


Similarly, you cannot be asked how old you are.  If the job requires you to be over a certain age to complete the inherent requirements of the role then the question must be asked in a certain way.  When recruiting for bar work, employees must all be over 18, and in this case the question ‘are you over 18?’ is perfectly acceptable. The question must not be ‘how old are you?’ As to whether the candidate is 20 or 53 is irrelevant.  Rather the question should be ‘a requirement of the role is for you to serve alcohol, to do this you must be over the age of 18.  Can you advise if you are over the age of 18?’  This way – the question being posed is job relevant – it is a core requirement of the role and can be asked in this manner and allows the candidate to confirm that they can meet this requirement or not.


I have sat in on interviews where my superior has opened the interview with ‘so, tell me a little about yourself?’  The candidates in front of us would generally swing into ‘I live in blah, I am married, and have 3 young children, I currently working at blah, blah…..  The candidate has unwittingly given us some pretty personal information here.  Later in the interview, my superior would then ask, ‘so when you have to work late evenings and on weekends, what will you do with the kids and how will you go having to get up early in the morning if you haven’t finished until 1-2am?’  I shrink into the chair and prey that this person sitting in front of us gets the job or doesn’t realise what they have just been asked.   How this question should have been asked is ‘a key requirement of this role is to work evenings and weekends.  Are you able to meet this requirement of the role?’  See the difference?  It is none of the interviewers business as to what child care arrangements are in place, just can they work until close and or on weekends or not, just that you can do the job!


For Employers – asking a question the wrong way or even asking the question at all may land you in serious hot water with the very real possibility of legal action for not hiring a worker because they are over a certain age, had children, were or were not married, perhaps the candidate is in a same sex relationship. If the information is not relevant to the role – don’t ask it!  Our advice to all interviewers is to think about how they phrase a question and why they need to ask it.  Have your questions set, don’t just wing it and go with general conversation, this may lead you into dangerous territory!  If they volunteer the information, great, but don’t write it down and certainly don’t make your decision of whether they’ll be successful or not on this information!


From a candidate perspective – if questions of a personal nature are asked during the interview and that are not relevant to the role, then this may be a blessing in disguise, a red flag as such – do I really want to work for an employer that doesn’t believe in equal rights or discriminates against minority groups?  Chances are, you don’t.


Interviews are complicated and stressful enough without having to field inappropriate questions!  What needs to be remembered is that during an interview, both parties have rights.  And as much as the interviewee is the one on show, so are the representatives of the business (the interviewers).  Asking that unprofessional or inappropriate question during a job interview is serious business.  Not only will they deter high calibre candidates from accepting a role with them, they are damaging their reputation and in a worst case scenario, end up facing a legal battle for discrimination.


Inappropriate interview questions can be taken as a form of discrimination and as a violation of equal opportunity rights.


Interviewers – think carefully before you ask.  On the flip side, you as a candidate have every right to ask why that question is relevant to the role.  If they cannot tell you why, don’t answer the question!


If you are an employer and would like assistance with developing interview guides – please contact Julie on 0429 140 557 or e-mail


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