Safety During the Interview

UNH's Career and Professional Success Discusses Safety Tips during interviews

FACT: Job applicants are legally protected against discriminatory hiring processes and sexual harassment throughout the hiring process. This section focuses specifically on the interview stage.

Discriminatory Interview Questioning

During the interview stage, federal law dictates that many questions, or types of questions, are illegal during the job interview. For example, employers are not permitted to ask questions pertaining to a candidate’s (presumed) disability, sex, family status, religion, pregnancy, age, drug or alcohol use, national origin or citizenshipIn addition to these federally-protected classes, additional classes may be protected by state and local laws.   

You’ve Been Asked an Illegal Interview Question – Now What?

Knowing which interview questions are illegal is half the battle; the other half is knowing how to respond if and when you find yourself in this situation as a job candidate. Unfortunately, there is no singular or perfect way to respond to an interviewer who asks a discriminatory (illegal) question. Your response truly depends on a variety of factors, perhaps including your personality, values, and individual goals and objectives. A few different strategies, however, may include the following: confront, inquire, or reframe.  

  • Confront: One option is to choose not to answer the question and/or and thoughtfully inform the interviewer that the question is prohibited by law. As this is the most assertive approach, it is important to be mindful that this response may be off-putting to certain employers, thus potentially impacting a job offer. Still, it is certainly within the candidate’s right to confront illegal questions head-on and refuse to answer if so desired.  

  • Answer: Another option, of course, is to answer the illegal question. If you feel comfortable discussing your age or family status, for example, there are no laws that govern whether or not you may share this information.  

  • Reframe: A third option is to reframe or deflect the question. This may be accomplished through asking a follow-up or clarifying question, or by offering information that is peripherally tied to the original question.  

Sexual Harassment during the Interview

In addition to knowing their rights around legal versus illegal questioning, job applicants should also be aware that they are protected from sexual harassment during the interview. Such harassment may include inappropriate comments, unwelcomed gestures, and/or inappropriate physical contact.  Two primary categories of sexual harassment include the following: 

  • Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: Literally translated as “something for something’ this type of harassment may be evidenced, for example, if the interviewer indicates that the candidate must comply with his or her advances in order to be offered the employment position.   

  • Hostile Work Environment: this type of sexual harassment is more broadly defined, and includes any verbal or physical sexually-related act that makes the candidate feel uncomfortable. For example, a handshake is generally considered appropriate physical contact, whereas the interviewer’s hand placed on the candidate’s knee, is not. 

You’ve Been Sexually Harassed during the Interview – Now What?

Again, there is no “perfect” way of responding if sexually-harassed during a job interview. Depending on the situation, and the severity of the behavior, a candidate may choose to:  

  • Terminate the interview immediately 

  • Ignore the behavior and complete the interview 

  • Verbalize the discomfort, but continue the interview 

  • Many others! 

After the interview, the candidate may need to think about whether or not to report the behavior, and, if later offered the job, whether or not to accept an offer with that particular companyJust remember, sexual harassment during the interview is illegal and never the fault of the job applicant.