Job interviews are the most powerful factor in the job selection process, and the perfect opportunity for you to leave an impression and show what you can bring to the table. They hold a large degree of importance, which can make them quite stressful at the same time - especially so if you're made to feel uncomfortable by the questions they are asking.

Questions that pertain to the position you are applying for, such as "What are your biggest strengths", "Where do you see yourself in five years", or "Tell me about a big professional achievement you are proud of", are all questions that help interviewers understand a little about your skill set and how you would succeed in the role and with the company. However, if an interview starts to take a turn to more personal questions, don't be afraid to question their relevance.

Questions that are illegal to ask are anything that does not specifically relate to the job requirements, and may be discriminatory, such as questions that have to do with your:

  • age
  • race, ethnicity, or colour
  • gender
  • national origin or birthplace
  • religion
  • disability
  • marital or family status

Questions of this nature may not always be classified as 'illegal', but unless they are directly related to the job they are hiring for, it is unlawful to discriminate against any of these factors. An employer cannot ask outright questions on these topics, but may need determine some degree of information. For instance, if the job requires a minimum age, such as working as a bartender, the interviewer can ask for some form of proof of age. Another example is asking questions specific to your ability to perform tasks, such as ensuring they can carry items of a certain weight or standing comfortably for the length of a shift. An employer can ask of your confidence to perform relative tasks, but cannot ask details of your height, weight, or physical/mental limitations.

During a comfortable or more laid back interview, it may be easy for the interviewer to throw in seemingly innocuous questions in order to dig for information beyond what is relevant. This tends to happen easily in more often in relaxed settings, such as having an interview at a cafe. Don't be fooled, you are still entitled to refuse an answer to these questions. You can politely answer the question vaguely to avoid any specific answer or even end an interview, as the interviewer may have asked the inappropriate question accidentally with no malicious intent.

Questions that are not permitted may look something like these:

  • What year were you born in?
  • When did you graduate high school?
  • Do you need any days off for religious holidays?
  • What country are your parents from?
  • Do you have a disability?
  • Have you had any serious illnesses in the past year?
  • Do you have any children?
  • How old are your children?
Although these questions seem normal, these examples either directly or indirectly ask for information that is not necessary for an interviewer to know. You may voluntarily offer information on these topics to an interviewer during an interview process, and that can be alright if you are comfortable providing that answer. However, an interviewer is not permitted to pursue that topic further.

Before an interview, take the time to explore what information may be necessary to the position you are applying for and do not be afraid to refuse inappropriate questions. Although it may be uncomfortable to do so, both you and the interviewer's primary focus should be on making you feel comfortable in your potential position with the company.

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