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INTERVIEWS: Dealing with Inappropriate Interview Questions

Written by Heather Sadlier, Employment Specialist with Next-Steps Employment Centre – Riverdale

There are a number of questions that an employer should not be asking you in an Interview, based on the Human Rights guidelines in Canada. We call these “Illegal Questions”. Questions asked in an interview should be relevant to the applicant’s ability to perform the job.

The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of:

Ethnic Origin
Sexual Orientation
Record of Offences
Marital Status
Same-sex partnership status
Family status

If you are presented with an illegal question in an interview, you have several options:

1) You do NOT have to answer questions that are illegal.
  • You can simply say “I prefer not to answer that question”. However, keep in mind that some employers may lack knowledge and may not be asking you the question with ill intent. While other employers may attempt to get a vulnerable candidate to reveal inappropriate information.
  • It is best to know your rights. You may also choose to state politely that the question is prohibited, however you would be willing to answer question directly related to the position.

2) Why do you ask?

  • Rather than giving an answer right away, asking the employer why they are asking the question can give you a minute to collect your thoughts and prepare an answer. It may also help identify the employer’s motive in asking the question.
  • For example, if the employer asked if you have children, they might clarify that the reason they ask is that they have a ‘Take your Kids to Work day’ once per month, and wanted to let you know about it. If the employer did have a malicious intent in asking the question, by making the employer accountable, they may feel embarrassed and decide to move on to a different question.

3) Think about why they are asking the question, and address that point instead.

  • If the employer asks if you have any children, this is an illegal question as they should not be asking you about your family life. However, this might be the employer wanting to ask about your availability to work different shifts. Rather than answering the direct question, you can simply say “I am available to work evenings and weekends as needed”.
  • You are avoiding answering the illegal question, but you are still providing an answer that will help the employer understand how you fit into the role for which you are applying.

Be aware that employers are permitted to ask:

  • Are you authorized to work in Canada?
  • Are you of legal working age ?
  • Are you able to perform the functions of the job?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime related to the job?
  • Are you able to lift 30 lbs (if it is a part of the job)?

Need more Interview help or practice?  Visit our FREE monthly workshop calendars and register for one of our interview workshops or other job-search related sessions.  From one-on-one interview practice to video recorded sessions and much more, our knowledgeable staff can help you with the skills you need to get your next job!


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