When you get a job interview, it is an exhilarating and terrifying proposition. There’s the excitement of moving to a new role or landing your first one, but there is also the nerve shredding anxiety of being interrogated and judged by people you’ve never met.
While most interviews tend to be anti-climactic in terms of the drama you anticipate, sometimes the eagerness to please and impress means that in the heat of the moment you forget that an interview is a two-way street and you’re in as much control as the interviewer. This isn’t to say that interviewers intentionally look for reasons to trip you up or discriminate, but inexperience or a simple lack of awareness can lead to some awkward and potentially illegal lines of questioning.
The questions you can’t be asked
These are just a few of the types of questions that could be considered illegal, but there are many more.
“How old are you?”
This can potentially lead to age-based discrimination and you are well within your rights to refuse to answer. Sometimes, a role will require someone to be of a certain age, such as a role in hospitality that requires a RSA certification, but for the majority of positions, age isn’t grounds for someone to be denied a job.
“What is your marital status?”
“Do you plan to start a family or are you pregnant at the moment?”
“What is your sexual orientation?”
Questions around your relationships, sexual orientation or gender identity are definitely illegal. However, in the course of small talk and having a conversation, these types of questions can come out incidentally.
“Do you have any health conditions?”
A role may require a health assessment before you are able to start, however this is something that needs to be conducted in a more professional and official capacity, i.e. via a heath professional, not HR.
“Have you ever been arrested?”
While some roles mean require a background check, an interviewer can’t simply ask you if you’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime. The key here, as with the health-related questions, is observing the proper processes. A criminal conviction for theft might preclude someone from working in a position that requires handling money, but that’s not a decision for the interviewer to make based on your answer on the day.
“Are you religious?”
“What is your religion?”
Generally, any questions that relate to religious beliefs and cultural background, your personal life or the lives of those around you, are off limits.
Who to turn to if you think something is wrong
Being asked these questions and refusing to answer is difficult. Finding a job can be a long, stressful process and the relief at being interviewed and getting a chance means that interviewees will answer just about any question. If you think you’ve been unfairly or improperly treated in your interview, the best place to start is with the Fair Work Ombudsman.