Opinion: Don’t let illegal interview questions stump you

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber is a senior English major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

I’m standing in the noisy kitchen of a well-known pizza and sports bar in Kent that boasts “Happy Hour 3-9 p.m. Everyday” as the restaurant manager sits in a cluttered makeshift office, asking me all the normal interview questions. And then he pulls a fast one: “Can you deal with drunken customers? How do you feel about guys hitting on you at the bar?” I’m so taken aback by his question that my mind goes blank, and I mutter something about mutual respect and getting my manager if I can’t handle such a situation on my own. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, nor did I want it after that interview.

Our generation is often regarded scornfully by our elders as one of entitlement. However, when a potential employer asks inappropriate or illegal questions during an interview that make the interviewee uncomfortable, a sense of entitlement is hardly the issue at hand.

It’s illegal not to hire candidates because of their race, colors, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability or marital/family status. Therefore, “federal and state laws prohibit an interviewer from asking questions that may directly or indirectly elicit” such information, according to María Jimena Rivera, the director of the Office of Career Services at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

If an employer asks you a question that he or she would not ask another candidate, chances are, that question is out of bounds. If I was male, would this manager have asked me my feelings about being hit on by women at the bar? Probably not. Some other examples of potentially illegal interview questions include asking candidates how they respond to authority, how they define sexual harassment and if they have ever been sexually harassed, according to Ronald Krannich, who provides advice on employment and education.

As a job candidate, the choice is ultimately yours when it comes to managing inappropriate interview questions, and you have several options when it comes to dealing with these questions. First, calmly decide whether to answer the question. You may also ask the interviewer to clarify further or even reply “Why do you ask?”

According to Rivera, “this gives the interviewer time to pause and rephrase the question or go in another direction.” Another good approach to take is by directly addressing the underlying question: whether one can effectively perform the job. For example, I could have responded to my interviewer’s question with, “If you are asking whether I will be able to manage a diverse range of customers, I will because of x, y and z.” In doing so, I could have avoided the question of sexual harassment altogether.

College students can’t exactly afford to be picky when looking for a job. They should, however, know their rights when dealing with illegal job interview questions. If you’re asked a question you don’t feel comfortable answering, then don’t answer it; better yet, hold the interviewer accountable. A minimum-wage job serving 42-cent wings shouldn’t outweigh your dignity.