In a perfect world, all HR managers and recruiters would be good at their job. They would always know what they were doing, and they would use only right questions when interviewing job applicants. However, we do not live in a perfect world.

It is  not uncommon, especially in small and middle sized companies, to leave the room after the interview and say: “This person who I’ve just met was not qualified to lead an interview with me. Some questions made no sense. They did not know what they were doing”.


Our wishes vs the reality

Needless to say, our impression is always subjective–at least to certain extent. It is an interview, we want the job badly, and if things do not go our way, we have a tendency to blame the interviewers for our failure.

What is more, in some cases–rare cases–the interviewers may use strange questions on purpose, to take the job applicants out of their comfort zone. Taking you out of your comfort zone and watching your reaction helps us to understand how you’d handle difficult and stressful moments in your job–moments that come in every single occupation. It helps us to see your “true face”.

On the other hand, some interviews are simply not skilled, and some even do not know what they are doing. There are definitely some questions that can we can call bad, and if you hear them in an interview, it is a good time to reconsider your application. And if you are an employer, and have those questions on your interview template, think twice before actually using them. Let’s have a look at three groups of bad interview questions.


Illegal questions – avoid them at all costs

Any question that relates to job applicants’ age, marital status, race, or religion, can be deemed illegal according to US laws. I am speaking about the following questions:

  • Do you have any children?
  • Do you plan to have children?
  • Where does your father come from?
  • What is your religion?
  • Are you gay?

If you are a job applicant, remember that you have a right to refuse answering. Actually if someone asks you these questions, the best thing to do is to stand up, shake their hand, thank them for an opportunity, and leave the room–because it won’t be a good place to work at.


Use social media for your advantage

If you are an employer, you should avoid these questions at all costs. I understand that you may have a certain team of people at place already. Perhaps, Muslim would fit your team of workers better than a Christian, or a single man would fit better than a married one.

It would be a complete fallacy to believe that employers never consider such things while hiring new employees. After all, the harmony on the workplace matters. The better the people get along each other, the greater results the team will achieve. But you should use other means of understanding the personal matters.

Look at the social media profiles of the candidates. Check their Facebook page, their Instagram account. Nowadays (regretfully) every person is on the network, and they share pretty much everything about them. This should give you a good hint about their opinions and beliefs, and whether they would fit to your existing team of people.


Unrelated interview questions

Second group of bad questions consists in questions that are unrelated to the job. Let’s imagine a job interview for a position of a secretary. Some bad interview questions for this particular interview include, but are not limited to:

  • Have you ever managed a group of people?
  • Tell me something about process management, and the last time you applied it in your work.
  • What does an integer mean in Java? Explain the technical details.
  • If I gave you 1 million US Dollars right now, what stocks will you buy, or how will you invest the money?
  • Tell us about your leadership skills.

Secretaries do not deal with Java, or with process management. They need neither management nor leadership skills in their work. Answers to these questions will not help the employer to decide whether or not to hire a job candidate. They will lead to nothing but confusion. Think carefully about each question on your interview template. Will an answer to it help you do decide at the end of the interview?


Questions that are “too” personal

Personal questions are not illegal by the definition of the law, but they can still upset many job applicants. Let’s have a look at such questions right now:

  • Imagine that there is a need to work overtime, but your child is sick and you want to go home. Would you stay at work, or would you go home to take care of your child?
  • Are you open to start a relationship with your boss, or with one of your colleagues? What do you think about relationships on the workplace?
  • Do you plan to continue your studies in the future, or is this basic education you have right now sufficient for you?
  • Do you actually have any real experience with this job?

Questions that are rather personal can lead to a hostile atmosphere in an interview. Sometimes it is hard to guess whether or not you are crossing the limits with your question, since each job candidate have a different level of tolerance. While some people may take it easy, some other may get really upset, or even angry.

One way or another, you should try to assess the same capacity (or attitude) with a different question, one that is not personal.

four job candidates are waiting for an interview. They hold their resumes in hand. We can see two men and two women on the picture. All of them sit on chairs.


If you are an employer and plan to conduct job interviews, have a look at your interview template and think about each question for a moment. Is the question legal? Does it make sense? Will it actually help you to choose the best person for the job?

If you are a job seeker, and happen to hear an unprofessional question in your interview (or even an illegal one), consider it a bad sign, and think twice before accepting a job offer from the company…

Continue your preparation with Interview Penguin:

  • How to conduct an interview – A simple three step guide on conducting an interview, suitable mostly for small business. Learn how to choose the right person for your team.
  • Good questions to ask the job candidates – A simple guide to help you understand what questions you should ask the job candidates in an interview. Learn how to pick the right questions, and make a great impression on the new talent…
  • 15 most common questions and answers – For job candidates. Learn how to answer the most common questions–a good start for your preparation for a big day.
Matthew Chulaw
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