How to keep your cool when faced with an illegal interview question

So there you are, sitting in an interview for your dream job when the unthinkable happens – you’re pretty sure the interviewer has just asked you an illegal interview question.

Now the interviewer may just be unaware that this particular question is unlawful, or they might be disregarding the fact that it’s illegal and hoping you won’t notice – but either way you need to know in advance how to deal with the situation professionally without forfeiting the job opportunity.

How you do this really does depend on the motives behind the question and the person who asked it.

So take a deep breath, and consider your next move carefully.

If the interviewer seems oblivious to the fact the question is illegal, then they are just trying to assess your suitability for the job. Take a moment and try to address the underlying concern instead of answering the question directly.

An example of this is if you’re asked which religious holidays you observe, they are possibly trying to work out how many days off a year you may need. Instead of launching into a tirade about how inappropriate that question is or being reeled into telling them your religious views, just say that you require additional days if necessary, otherwise tell them that you need the standard holidays that the company allows.

On the other side of the coin if you think that the interviewer is well aware the question is illegal, but has decided to go ahead and ask it anyway, you have two choices. You can opt for the indirect route as mentioned above, or you can tell them that you’re not comfortable with that particular question and ask them to rephrase it.

Another way you could approach this is to offer up the information you are happy to share. For example if you’re asked if you plan to start a family in the near future, you could respond with ‘while I’m not comfortable with that question, I can assure you that I’m 100% committed to a role which I can commit to long term.’

Using this approach will signal to the interviewer that you’re well aware of what they can and can’t ask you, but also offer up the information that you are willing to disclose.

If after this the illegal questions continue, then is time to ask yourself if this is a company you really want to work with.