How to Redirect Inappropriate Questions in an Interview

Inappropriate questions in job interviews are questions the interviewer can legally ask, but probably shouldn’t. Depending on whether the information is used to discriminate, inappropriate questions set up employers for lawsuits, a threat their corporate lawyers constantly warn against.

You can tell the interviewer that the inappropriate question is off-base. But perhaps another approach will work better for you, especially if you think the interviewer’s questions come from ignorance rather than bias. Redirect the offensive question. Here’s an example of redirecting:

Suppose the interviewer asks a question about age:

I see you went to the University of Colorado. My son’s there now. When did you graduate?

The smooth candidate directly responds to the question, sort of:

I don’t think your son and I know each other. I’m sure he’s a fine young man. As for me, fortunately, I’ve been out of school long enough to have developed good judgment. Would you like to know a little about how my good judgment saved a previous employer $25,000?

Another way to redirect is to answer the question you want to answer, not necessarily the question that’s asked. (Politicians do so all the time.) Using the same situation, here’s an example of how a smooth candidate cherry-picks the conversation:

You mention the University of Colorado, such a fine school. In addition to taking my undergraduate degree there, I returned last summer for an intensive executive management course that prepared me for exactly the kind of position we’re discussing now. Would you like to hear more about how I am a good match for the financial functions of this position?

Religion is another slippery-slope question not to answer directly. Suppose, for example, you’re asked if you’ll need time off to celebrate Passover — or any religious holiday. Try this approach:

I understand your concern about the time I will need to observe my religious beliefs, but let me assure you that if this time has any bearing on my job performance at all, it will only be positive, because the inspiration of my beliefs will help me stay renewed, fresh, and mentally focused.

Notice the answer makes no mention of specific religious holidays, it doesn’t refuse to answer, and it doesn’t confront the interviewer with the discriminatory nature of the question.

If a question is repugnant or blatantly discriminatory, don’t answer it at all or answer it your way. Sometimes you have to establish your boundaries firmly. But in general, if you want the job, avoid becoming confrontational and answer all the questions to your benefit.

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