Interview Questions: The expected, the unusual and the inappropriate

When it comes to job interviews, we all prepare for those predictable questions: What can you bring to this company? What are your strengths? But with more companies looking to hire for cultural fit rather than skills alone, more recruiters are asking out of the norm questions to get to know the brains behind the briefcase.

Creative questions can be used to elicit a response that shows how you think, how quick you think and how practical you are. Take the following question as an example: “What three items would you bring to a deserted island”, will your response show that you are creative (wine, chocolate and a good book) or practical (matches, water and sunscreen)?

What happens when the interview questions take a turn south? It’s important to know what isn’t above-board when it comes to interviewing. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2012-2013 Annual Report states that 363 enquiries were made regarding employment including themes of political opinion, religion, sexual preference, social origin and union activity.

For Kimberley Petty, an inappropriate interview question was a red flag. “Earlier this year while job hunting, an interviewer asked if I’d ever had a relationship in the workplace, to which I responded, ‘No’. He then explained that they ‘have previously had people hanging around making out instead of working’. I responded that I felt it was an inappropriate question to ask, to which he laughed, ‘Oh, we’re all adults here’. I quickly changed the subject by asking about the projects I would be involved in. Needless to say, I declined the call back in preference of the job I currently have.”

So how do you know what’s right and wrong? Interview questions should relate directly to the position and your ability to perform in the particular role. They should not be personal, intrusive or irrelevant to the job i.e. anything regarding:

  • Your personal situation e.g. your marital status and whether you have children
  • Your race or ethnicity
  • Religious or sexual preferences
  • Age
  • Social origin
  • Political opinion

If you sense things are getting off-track, try saying: “I’m not sure how that relates to this position, can you explain why that’s important?”. Or: “I don’t think we need to discuss that, I’d prefer to talk about the role”. If you feel you’ve been discriminated against during an interview, contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance.

Below are five of the oddest interview questions of 2014, compiled as part of an annual survey by US career website Glassdoor.

  1. Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer? Asked at Dell
  2. You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what colour would you be and why? Asked at Urban Outfitters
  3. If you were a pizza deliveryman how would you benefit from scissors? Asked at Apple Computers
  4. Why is a tennis ball fuzzy? Asked at Xerox
  5. If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why? Asked at Bed Bath & Beyond

This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.


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6 years ago

I had an interview that was going perfectly until they started asking about my relationship status. I thought it was a bit intrusive, but just acted calm and said yes. They went on to ask how serious it was which really shocked me, and I ended up just telling them it is long distance. I feel like I lost the job because they assumed I was going to move countries or have children in the near future (both false). Very unfair questions.

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