Know What are Off-Limit Interview Questions & How to Tame Them

interviews, careerTo give your career a new high, you decide to attempt for your dream interviews. You give your best shot at preparation. The big day arrives. During the interview, your confidence level keeps rising with your brilliant ability to tackle the showering questions. You start feeling assured about grabbing your most-wanted position. And then all of a sudden, you are presented with a mind-boggling question which bears the onus of your selection decision. Your confidence goes for a walk leaving you alone before the interviewer. Your new companion becomes the awkwardness and uncertainty. You are not able to figure out the relevancy of the question thrown at you. You are perplexed whether to tell the truth, or to refute to answer, or to take any other diversion.



What are those questions that can make you uncomfortable?

These questions are considered off-limit illegal questions.

  • Are you married? Or what is your marital status?
  • Are you planning to have a baby or what is your family planning?
  • How old are you?
  • Which country are you from?
  • Which religion do you belong?
  • What is your caste?
  • What is your retirement plan?
  • What is the status of your health?
  • Do you drink or smoke?
  • Have you ever been arrested?

Any question resembling above in nature must arch your eyebrow upward. You must be attentive enough to spot such questions so that a) you know these are considered illegal b) you know how to tackle them and c) you know what to do in extremely unavoidable situations.


If these questions are considered illegal, then why do employers ask them?

There could be any motive behind asking these questions. It could be their sheer incognizance of the fact that these are called illegal in first place. They might also be using these questions just as a tool to break the ice and make the interviewee comfortable, or they might have their own business & logical justification. Nonetheless, there are some unscrupulous employers interrogate interviewees intentionally for no reason but to display their patriarchal mindset.
Some of the answers provided by the employers are:

  • The HR manager of a small IT company was asked why they asked the candidate about her marital status and family planning. As a response, he mentioned that they were hiring for an extremely crucial project where they were not in a position to negotiate with manpower reduction in middle of project execution. If a woman is planning to have a baby, it is quite understood that she would be going on maternity leave, and that would entail them to find a replacement, invest time in onboarding, and endow training all over again. These were considered overhead for them. They stressed that they wanted to carry the project work uninterrupted and wanted to prevent the hassle from early stage itself.

  • Another company justified the reason behind the question about child and care by saying that their job profile required 60-70% of time for travelling. They expressed their observation as per their company trend that married woman, especially the ones having children, generally decline such prospects in later stages.

  • In other revealing case, one company clearly admitted that they asked applicant’s drinking and smoking habit. Based on company’s data, they claim that chain-smokers and accustomed-alcoholics incur poor health, irregular working hours, and additional cost of health maintenance – all with an added negative personality.

The rationalizations provided by the employers seem logical, however, all of them have been committing one primitive mistake – not letting the interviewee know their real intentions and wrapping the objective under off-limit theories. Rather than asking about children and their care, employers could have simply modeled the question as simple as “We have requirement of travelling for almost 10-15 days a month. Will you be comfortable with that?” This would give the applicants ample thought to consider regarding the job prospect.


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Employers made their point. Now, what you should do when you find yourself dumbfounded?

Whenever you are thrown with any uncomfortable personal question that makes you doubt its applicability, take one of the following digression.

  • Refuse to answer outright: Let your interviewer know that you are not comfortable to answer the question. Also make them aware that the question is offensive to you as well as legally invalid.

  • Ask employer’s intention behind the question. Once you are aware with their real motive, it will be easy for you to respond. For example, if employer’s intention is to have the resource that is willing to work overtime or in tight schedules, then clearly express your availability or concerns. Supplement your answer with your prior work experiences and praiseworthy incidences.

  • File a complaint. Even after warning, if the employer does not recognize the sensitivity of the question, then do not hesitate to explore the avenue to file a complaint with that company’s HR. If you think that’s not a viable solution, then take help of legal consults. Give a second thought before pursuing this route whether it is worth putting the complaint. If you think the situation is sever, then go-ahead.


Before ending, let’s quickly glance at the list of what NOT to do during interviews


  • DO NOT indulge in flirting: Hold your self-respect and self-esteem along with your resume. Chicanery with the interviewer would only land you in embarrassment and self-abasement. Be graceful and mindful.

  • DO NOT pose the just-out-of-bed look: give some effort to make yourself tidy and hygienic. Be simple and clean.

  • DO NOT wear revealing come-for-me-baby type dresses: It’s going to work against you. Decency is your biggest strength.

  • DO NOT be the delivery-lady of monologue conversation: Do not be over-confident that you are perceived as a constant chatter-box and I-me-myself attitude type.

  • DO NOT just make any story: If you don’t know the answer, tell that. Do not go telling them the breaking news of the town. Be brief and sincere.


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Shweta Kumari

Shweta is a writer, blogger, bookohlic, information seeker, women empowerment enthusiast, and a full-time mother. Her world revolves around her two boys - her kid and her husband. She is passionate about writing, reading, writing again, and then reading again…..and the cycle goes on.

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