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Job interviews can be nerve-wracking enough, but when faced with intrusive or discriminatory questions, the stress can skyrocket.

This blog aims to cut through the confusion and will aid you to navigate potentially stressful situations with confidence and knowledge.

We’ll dive into some “off-limit” questions you might encounter, from the blatantly illegal to cleverly disguised ones that probe into personal areas irrelevant to your job qualifications.

We’ll also discuss some seemingly harmless questions that might, in fact, be subtle red flags hinting at negative company culture, suggesting high turnover rates, a toxic work environment or a lack of diversity and inclusion.

We hope this blog equips you with some effective strategies to handle these questions and enables you to make an informed decision about whether the job is the right fit for you.

Unconscious bias – what is it and why does it matter?

Firstly, we need to mention that interviewers aren’t always objective. Even though they may have good intentions, as humans, we all carry unconscious biases – automatic thoughts and preferences that can influence our decisions without us even realising it. In the case of an interview, these hidden biases can affect how candidates are perceived, leading to questions that might seem harmless on the surface but perpetuate stereotypes or prejudices. Whether malicious or good intent, it’s something to be aware of so you can mitigate its influence.

Sneaky “off-limit” questions

Job interviews should be about showcasing your skills and experience, not batting away personal questions, or facing discriminatory inquiries. Unfortunately, some interviewers still ask questions that cross the line, whether intentionally or through an unconscious bias.

You should brace yourself for:

  • Disguised Ageism: While an outright question about your age is blatantly illegal, some interviewers will resort to more subtle tactics by aiming to assess your age indirectly, such as questions about your retirement plans, graduation dates, or masking concerns about your adaptability to the role.
  • Personal Life: Questions about your marital status, appearance, nationality, family planning or religious beliefs that are irrelevant to the job requirements.
  • Disability/Sickness: Questions about medical history, recent sickness record or disabilities. *
  • Tricky Scenarios: Hypothetical questions with hidden biases or designed to test your loyalty in unethical ways.

* It’s important to know that it is illegal for an employer to ask about your medical history, sickness record or disability until a job offer has been made, at which point, you have the right to discuss any accommodations you will need to carry out the role. Your employer is legally obligated to make these adjustments unless they are reasonably unable to do so. It is the employer’s responsibility to consider reasonable adjustments, not to assume disability inherently creates a barrier.

Spot the red flags

Identifying and dodging illegal questions is one thing, but our radar needs to be even wider. Beware seemingly harmless questions about work-life balance. For instance, “are you comfortable with long hours and tight deadlines?” While relevant to some roles, might indicate an unhealthy work-life balance. Similarly, questions about handling pressure or conflict can put emphasis on resilience, ignoring the importance of adequate support. You can even flip this question back on the interviewer by asking “Does this role offer the resources to help manage workload and navigate challenges effectively?”.

Know your worth

Unfortunately, not everyone plays fair in the job market. It’s crucial to ensure you find a workplace that values your skills and respects your time. If an employer sweet-talks you with promises of gaining valuable experience or exposure, while neglecting to mention actual compensation, this is a huge red flag that shouldn’t be ignored.

“What was your previous/current salary?” can also be a problematic interview question. It risks perpetuating pay inequities and might put you in a position to be undervalued based on your previous earnings, not your true qualifications or market value as a candidate and will put you at a disadvantage in salary negotiations. Consider politely redirecting the conversation to your desired salary range or compensation expectations.


While interviews assess your knowledge and experience, be prepared for curveballs. Some seemingly innocent questions harbour hidden agendas. Take “How do you deal with difficult colleagues?” At surface level, it tests conflict resolution skills. However, consider if it subtly hints at a challenging or toxic work environment. To gauge the intent of this question, could you respond by asking “Could you tell me more about what types of challenges colleagues typically face?”

By answering these questions strategically, you can not only clarify the information but also subtly demonstrate your problem-solving and communication skills, making a positive impression on the interviewer.

Intuition is a powerful tool. Even if a question is technically legal, don’t dismiss your discomfort. You have the right to politely decline to answer questions that feel intrusive or unfair. Respectfully clarify the intent of the question, redirect the conversation towards your qualifications, and in some cases, you can even politely decline to answer.

Your well-being, values, and skills are invaluable. Don’t hesitate to walk away from opportunities that don’t align with your vision and values. Remember, an interview is a two-way street!