World's dodgiest job interview questions

21:23, Jan 16 2014

Most people have been asked a job interview question that made them squirm.

Here are some some "red flag" questions bosses and job hunters may encounter on the interview battlefield.

If you are a job seeker, alarms bells may ring when asked ...

When did you finish high school?

Melbourne publishing company manager John* was asked this question when he was 52, and says the interview never recovered.

"I walked into the agency and this director immediately asked what year I finished high school.

"I answered the question after being quite befuddled by it, and it was all downhill from there."

John's experience should never happen, says Scott Brown of Scott Brown Recruitment but "believe it or not it is still common".

"Many people who do the hiring in companies are inexperienced ... and ignorant around the latest discrimination laws and candidates are well within their rights to say 'look, that's a very personal question and I would rather not answer it'."

If you were an animal, what would you be?

Job seekers should be wary of recruiters who ask "out-of-the-box" questions, advises Anne-Marie Orrock of Corporate Canary HR Consulting.

If an unorthodox opener is not followed by a "carefully constructed" series of questions that reveal useful information about job candidates it is "just meaningless and risky".

"Companies such as Microsoft and Google are known for asking these types of questions to test candidates' mental agility, ability to respond quickly or to ascertain the kind of person they are," Orrock says.

"But employers need to ask themselves, how is knowing one interviewee is 'a lion', one is 'a monkey' and one is 'a caterpillar' really going to aid the recruitment process and get the best result? Because unless the interviewer is skilled at drilling down to get useful information those types of questions go nowhere, and carry risk of deterring suitable candidates."

Do you plan having children/more children/getting married?

Any question about interviewees' family ties, suburb of residence, sexual preference, disabilities or impairments, race, current or future dependents, religion, political stance and/or industrial activities is off limits when recruiting, stresses Brown.

However many "modern" Australian bosses are "still living in the 1950s", says Joanne Sillince, managing director of Pets Australia.

"I have been asked every one of these hare-brained questions multiple times and often made the decision not to take the application further as I start asking myself, 'what do questions like that say about the management structure?"'

How free are you on Saturdays?

If the job is casual, this question is relevant. If applying for most full-time roles questions about weekend availability flag an employer's expectation of regular overtime hours.

Counter this question by asking how employees' overtime is compensated.

Similar alarm bells should ring if asked about your after-hours' weekday activities.

"I hope you don't make plans for the evenings" is a red flag question commonly reported by job seekers, says Gen George, founder of online job platform OneShift.

If you are a boss, listen up if asked ...

What does your business do?

Andy Sheats, chief executive and founder of and, has recruited hundreds of employees during his 20-plus years in business and says "any questions that could easily be answered with a Google search" are interview red flags.

"In today's world you would expect a candidate has gone online and ensured it is a job that may interest them; in our industry, it is a bit of a deal breaker."

How strict is the company on personal use of computers?

This question can ring alarm bells but bosses should avoid jumping to conclusions,  Jacqui Elliott, recruitment manager from Watts Next in Brisbane says.

"Bosses need to know that if the person is raising it, it must be a concern to them so ask them why, why is it important to you, because some parents, for example, use apps to stay contactable by children in an emergency. But on the other hand I have also had an interviewee tell me they ran an online business and 'need to be available during the day to answer customer inquires'."

When will I get promoted/a pay rise/know if I have the job?

Sheats says Generation Y job candidates often arrive at interviews with the attitude "I want it, I want it my way and I want it now".

He was recently hiring and grew concerned by a candidate's incessant queries regarding when he could get his preferred job.

"He was saying 'OK, I really like the company, so how long do I have to stay before I can get the job I really want?'

"I have also had candidates ask me, point blank, 'did I get the job?' and then tell me they need to know before tomorrow as they have other things lined up."

How is your wife?

Unless you are already friends with your prospective boss, most don't want to be asked about their private lives while conducting interviews.

"The ones that really get me freaked out are the personal questions some candidates ask you," Sheats says.

"I know we [employers] do it too just to make sure they are who they say they are, but when they stalk you online often in an attempt to show initiative, and then come out with 'so, how's Julie', I do find over-sharing of information that isn't relevant to the position a pretty big red flag."

* name has been changed.


Sydney Morning Herald