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The Illegal Questions during an Interview

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Despite Federal and state laws, interviewers will often ask questions that are against the law to ask. These include inquiries into the sex of the applicant, marital status, age, religion, race, color of skin, hair, or eyes, arrests, relatives, dependents, birthplace, national origin, and even whether or not you rent or own a home. In fact, many of the application forms you will be asked to fill out will ask these questions.

When you are asked these illegal questions, you have only two choices. If you want the job, you will have to answer them. If your integrity or sense of privacy prevents this, you can refuse to answer but you will probably not be hired. Technically, the employer cannot refuse to hire you because you won't answer an illegal question, but it is hard to prove that he denied you the job because of that. Incidentally, you can always report the employer to the authorities for asking such questions or take him or her to court.

Still, if you want the job you must figure out a way to answer that protects your interests while satisfying the employer. The simplest answer is to be as general as possible. For example, if he or she asks you if you plan to get married and have children, instead of saying "Yes," you can say "Fm not at all certain about that. My highest priority, at this point, is my career." Or, if he or she asks how much you weigh, you can always respond, "Fm not certain. I don't have a scale at home."

However, it may be that the only way to answer an illegal question is by distorting the truth. Although you may find this prospect troublesome, you are being put in a very unfair and illegal position and you have a right to protect yourself. If the employer asks, "How old are you?" you might increase or decrease your actual age depending on what you think is best as long as you don't break the law yourself.

High pressure questions

There are those who believe that putting an interviewee under pressure is good because it tends to "bring out the real person." In other words, they maintain that what you do and say under pressure is a strong indication of what you are really like and what you really think. They also assume that if you can handle yourself under pressure, you will do that much better under ordinary business circumstances. Whether any of this thinking is accurate or not, it is not uncommon to find yourself in this situation.

The high pressure interview is designed to get you to answer very spontaneously and demands responses to difficult questions. Frequently, the interviewer shows no signs of emotion and fires the questions at you at a very fast pace. The moment you finish answering one question, he or she hits you with another.

The first thing to do in a high pressure interview is to remember that, in a very significant way, you are in charge. The interviewer wants something from you, and you can control how you respond and what information you give him or her. Accordingly, you must take your time with your answers and avoid the temptation to say the first thing that comes into your mind.

Second, remember that the pressure is only there if you decide to let it be. If the employer throws one question at you after another, with hardly a moment hesitation, you are not obligated to match that pace. In fact, the pressure is really on the interviewer in this situation, because he or she is the one who is trying to exert it.

Summarize, your best response to high pressure interviews is to take your time and try to recall your prepared answers. Whatever you do, remain as calm as possible, and recognize that you are really in the driver's seat.

The hostile interviewer

There are many number of reasons that an interviewer might be hostile toward you. It may be that he or she has simply had a bad day. Perhaps he or she was forced to do the interview in place of someone else and has other work to do. Or maybe he or she just hates to interview people. The reason for the interviewer's hostility, however, is less important than your ability to deal with it effectively.

One way to deal with the hostile interviewer is to respond in kind; to become equally hostile and tell the employer what you think of him or her. You can do that if you want, but you certainly won't get the job.

A more effective technique is to act pleasantly, even if you don't particularly feel like it. If he or she says, “This application isn't very neat!” a useful response would be to say with a smile, "I was so interested in answering everything in as much detail as possible, I guess I didn't pay much attention to style."

Or you can act the role of the understanding friend. If the interviewer claims that he or she has a very tight schedule, you can tell him how much you appreciate his or her willingness to talk to you.

Finally, if he or she goes so far as to question your honesty, you can explain with a smile that your memory isn't perfect but that your answer is based on your best recollection.

No doubt there are people who cannot respond well to this sort of petty tyranny. So it becomes a question of trying to make the best of a bad situation or engaging in an argument. It is a matter of doing what suits you best.
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