Career / Speaking Out

How To Respond To Inappropriate Interview Questions

. 5 min read . Written by Priyanka Sutaria
How To Respond To Inappropriate Interview Questions

From unnecessary to sexist to downright disgusting — we’ve heard every inappropriate question under the sun. How do we answer them though?

Recently, we put up a post on the Kool Kanya instagram. It was a regular ‘relatable’ post about the kind of inappropriate questions women often get asked during job interviews.

The response on the post was overwhelmingly positive, in the sense that every woman had been asked one of those. Some even had other terrible examples to add to the list.

Another thread that ran through the comments on that post was about how we would go about fielding such questions?

So here is how you should respond to inappropriate questions at job interviews.

When They Ask You Personal Questions

“Are You Married?” Or “Are You Planning To Start A Family Soon?”

Look, your personal life should never be part of a job interview. 

Here’s a handy response. “Before I answer the question, I would like to know how this information will help you in the hiring process?”

Many companies do not want to hire newly married women, or women who might want to have children, because they don’t want to hire someone they think might take a maternity leave or vacate the position. So it is best to nip that sexism when it’s a bud.

They may say something like, “This is a demanding job and we want to make sure that the person we hire will be able to put in the work necessary.” 

If you find that the interviewer is offended, you can say “ Look! I can assure you that my marital or family status will not affect my work. I am a professional who is committed to her job and my personal life does not change that.”

When They Ask You Political Questions

“What Are Your Political Inclinations?”

Politics is complicated as is, but in the current political climate, your inclinations can result in everything from rejection to harassment

So if you are asked this question, be upfront in dismissing it. 

You could say, “Honestly, I do not feel comfortable answering this question. I do not feel as though my response would affect my work ethic or my ability to perform at your organisation.”

If they continue to push for an answer, you should take that as an indication of how they will behave if you do end up working with them. So simply thank them for their time and leave.

It’s best not to get pushed into a corner, especially when people tend to get extremely defensive and cannot handle being on opposite ends of a spectrum.

When They Ask You Questions About Personal Finances

“What Was Your Last-Drawn Salary?”

This is a tricky one! 

It is a very common and problematic practice, even though it is not illegal, atleast, not in India, even though many states in the US, like California, have banned employers from demanding a salary history from applicants.

But we’ve all seen the ‘Current CTC’ blank in application forms across India, which are often compulsory to fill out. 

Why, though? We are led to believe that this is to determine the increase in our pay packets when they hire us, or even to arrive at what the salary offered should be. However, this practice can also be misused to avoid ‘overpaying’ us. 

Think about this: If you start out with a pay gap, as women generally do, and each hike is based on your already existing salary, you will never catch up.

Instead, your salary requirement at any organisation should be based on your seniority, experience, role, and responsibilities. It should also match industry standards, if not go above and beyond, based on how well you perform.

So when you are asked about your previous salary, ask them, politely, “Is there a particular reason as to why you would like this information at this point? I am happy to share my previous salary once you make me an offer, and I will be happy if you make that offer based on the role, the level, and industry benchmarks.”

This way, you are not refusing outright, but you are asking them to make an offer based on something other than what you have earned previously. You could also say, “Based on market research and the role, my salary expectation is such and such amount, or in this range. I am happy to share further details as we go ahead.” 

They might say, “Oh, all companies ask these questions!”

Well, they shouldn’t be. And you are not obliged to answer them.

However, that can hurt your chances of getting the job, so if you do disclose, say something like, “This is my current salary, but based on market research, the role I have applied for, and the value I bring to the table, this is how much I expect.

I would like my future salary to be assessed on the basis of my capabilities and performance, rather than my previous earnings.”

Quick Thinking: Short Answers For Big Inappropriate Questions!

“What’s your religion?” 

“I’d rather not say.”

“Do you have any disability or illness?”

“As it stands, I am capable of performing the functions of this job.”

“How old are you?”

“How is age relevant to the role? You know my experience.”

“What’s your sexual orientation?”

“I don’t see how that is relevant to my work.”

“Would you mind flirting or dating the customers if it’s necessary to close the deal?”

This is the biggest red flag, if there ever was one.

Escape this potential boys’ locker room — grab your stuff, and get out of there, ASAP!

Inappropriate questions often put you in the spot, leaving little to no wiggle room. Women are often groomed to face every situation with mind-numbing politeness, and to take inappropriate situations in their stride.

That should not be the case. Do not let such questions pass you by without being brave enough to call them out for what they are.

And we know that a formal environment requires a formal decorum… so do it subtly, in a way where they know that if they push for an answer, they’ll be the ones violating that decorum!