Purveyor of High-Quality Verbiage

Lisa Vaas is a journalist who analyzes technology and job-hunting strategies.

How to (Diplomatically) Skirt Inappropriate Interview Questions

with 3 comments

interviewHe was in his early 50s, and he looked every bit of it.

The questions on the job application went right to his age.

After stewing over the form and discarding his first draft, he filled out a second copy. Then, he sat and waited for his interview. As he waited, an attractive, young woman entered the room for a job interview.

She was called in before him. She wound up getting the job.

He didn’t. He did, however, receive $50,000 after filing age-discrimination claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The reason interviewers ask inappropriate questions varies. Sometimes they discriminate, as they did in the scenario above. Sometimes they need the information for internal statistics.

Most job seekers don’t want to sue over these practices. They just want to know how to deal with them diplomatically. Job seekers want to avoid appearing combative and thus jeopardizing their chances of being hired and want to avoid handing over information that can be used against them in discriminatory situations. Knowing what questions to shy away from is the starting point, and knowing how to skirt them is the next step.

To more on which questions to avoid answering and how to do so diplomatically, click here to read the full story.


3 Responses

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  1. Hi Lisa,

    Great article! I am a hiring manager, not an HR rep, and these are great reminders of questions that we forget not to ask.

    I have a question, as you brought up one class of questions that I’ve never seen prohibited before. What is the legislative basis for not asking about prior convictions? I could understand, perhaps, not asking whether a candidate had ever been arrested, but you said the only appropriate questions in this area are around convictions for specific crimes that are job-related. I’ve never had a reason to ask a question like that, but I’d like to keep up with the law.



    September 18, 2009 at 9:36 am

  2. Glad you liked the article. Regarding asking about convictions, here’s some info from the University of Washington’s Dept. of Statistics:
    ” Unlawful Inquiries: All inquiries relating to arrests. “Have you ever been arrested?” (Note: Arrests are NOT the same as convictions. An innocent person can be arrested, remember.)
    Lawful Inquiries: None relating to arrests. Legal inquiries about convictions are: “Have you ever been convicted of any crime? If so, when, where and disposition of case. “Have you ever been convicted under criminal law withing the past five years (excluding minor traffic violations)?” It is permissible to inquire about convictions for acts of dishonesty or breach of trust. These relate to fitness to perform the particular job being applied for, as stipulated by FDIC requirements.”

    With that said, the specific laws vary by jurisdiction.

    For example, Wisconsin law permits questions only on pending charges if they are substantially related to the particular job. Questions about arrest records are inappropriate under Wisconsin law.

    And here are the guidelines under Massachusetts law, according to the law firm of Mayer, Antonellis, Jachowicz & Galvani (http://www.hkwg.com/Law-Firm-Overview.html):

    Employers may ask the following series of questions:

    1. Have you been convicted of a felony? Yes or no?

    2. Have you been convicted of a misdemeanor within the past five years (other than a first conviction for any of the following misdemeanors: drunkenness, simple assault, speeding, minor traffic violations, affray or disturbance of the peace)? Yes or no?

    3. Have you completed a period of incarceration within the past five years for any misdemeanor (other than a first conviction for any of the following misdemeanors: drunkenness, simple assault, speeding, minor traffic violations, affray or disturbance of the peace)? Yes or no?

    4. If the answer to question number 3 above is “yes” please state whether you were convicted more than five years ago for any offense (other than a first conviction for any of the following misdemeanors: drunkenness, simple assault, speeding, minor traffic violations, affray or disturbance of the peace)? Yes or no?

    Some employers are authorized to request, receive, view and/or hold criminal offender record information pursuant to state or federal law. Any inquiry into the criminal record of an applicant must also contain language pursuant to M.G.L. c. 276, s. 100A.

    It is unlawful for an employer to make any inquiry of an applicant or employee regarding:

    1. An arrest, detention or disposition regarding any violation of law in which no conviction resulted.

    2. First convictions for the misdemeanors of drunkenness, simple assault, speeding, minor traffic violations, affray or disturbance of the peace. For the purposes 804 CMR 3.02 minor traffic violations include any moving traffic violation other than reckless driving, driving to endanger and motor vehicle homicide.

    3. Any conviction of a misdemeanor where the date of the conviction or the completion of any period of incarceration resulting there from, which ever date is later, occurred five or more years prior to the date of such inquiry, unless such person has been convicted of any offense within five years immediately preceding the date of the inquiry.

    No person shall be held under any provision of any law to be guilty of perjury or of otherwise giving a false statement by reason of his failure to recite or acknowledge such information as he has a right to withhold by 804 CMR 3.02.


    September 18, 2009 at 11:46 am

  3. Dates on resumes: Go ahead and put them on, all of them (college included). I’m in my late ’50s. The advice I got from everyone was don’t put dates on your resume. The thing EVERY recruiter said was “send me a resume with dates.”

    In the course of a 2 1/2 year long job hunt I learned there is absolutely no point in tippy-toeing around your age. The notion of “get in the door and make your case” is, in this case, just wasting everybody’s time, your’s included (and you really don’t “have nothing else to do” because you could be spending the time looking for real prospective employment instead of wasting it on some brain stem who would have tossed your resume if they knew you were over 40).

    If the company is going to discriminate on the basis of age, they’ll figure out how to do so, almost certainly without leaving any paper trail or trace of having done it.

    I went to interviews I was told would last for 2 or more hours and was dismissed after 15 minutes. It had nothing to do with not showering, or being inappropriately dressed, I could tell that the minute the recruiter saw me, his/her mind was made up.

    Nick Stuart

    October 6, 2009 at 3:51 am

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