With competition for job roles so fierce it’s unsurprising to hear that employers make prospective candidates jump through hoops before they even get a chance to wow them in an interview. Hoop-jumping may be frustrating and time-consuming but alas, it is allowed, unlike some interview questions you definitely shouldn’t have to prepare for.
On the whole employers cannot ask you anything about the following topics:
• Marital status
• Religion / philosophical beliefs
• Political views / affiliations
• Sexual orientation
• Gender reassignment
• Disability or the health of the job applicant
“As the above points are deemed ‘protected characteristics’ according to employment law, there is a risk that if a candidate is unsuccessful they could use the fact that irrelevant questions about these matters have been asked and claim discrimination,” explains Ella Keefe, Graduate Recruitment & Inclusion with Reed Smith. “Questions on those characteristics should not be asked on the application form or during interview, unless there are relevant non-discriminatory reasons for asking these questions, for example to identify if a candidate needs adjustments relating to a disability.”
“Although it is not a criminal act, asking those questions may be unlawful,” says employment lawyer Andreas Nicholls. Things can get particularly messy if you voluntarily divulge that information without being prompted. “It always depends on the facts of each individual case but if you volunteer that information it makes it harder for the candidate to prove the employer was swayed by the information,” she says.
As always, employers can cheekily get around the law by wording questions in a way that reveals sensitive information without actually saying it: “One way it is to say that the job requires late-night work; that way they can find out if you have any childcare commitments,” explains Andrea.
Jackie Smit is the lead resourcing business partner at Telefónica UK and he stresses that not all recruiters probe candidates this way. “I know it happens but only a very unprofessional person would ask something like that,” he says. “Most people will find out about candidates on social media anyway so when we talk about privacy there isn’t that much left unless you’re very clever with your security settings.”
So how can you, a person who wants to be the successful candidate, dodge these inappropriate questions without losing your shot at the job? “People should only answer up to a point where they feel comfortable and they should ask why that information is relevant to a role,” Jackie continues.
You can also walk out in disgust, but that probably won’t go down well. Just by knowing your rights is enough to evade personal questions and who knows, by handling the sensitive issue easily may impress them even more, but it’s up to you to decide whether you want to work for them.
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