How to Handle Illegal Interview Questions

Job interviews can be stressful enough without the added pressure of illegal interview questions. In South Africa, it is against the law for employers to ask certain questions during an interview, as they may be discriminatory and can lead to bias. Illegal interview questions can cover a wide range of topics, including race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. In this blog post, we will discuss how to handle illegal interview questions and what to do if you encounter them.

Understanding illegal interview questions

Illegal interview questions are those that relate to personal or protected characteristics of the candidate that are not relevant to the job. In South Africa, the Employment Equity Act (EEA) of 1998 protects employees from unfair discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, disability, and sexual orientation. The Act prohibits employers from asking certain questions during the hiring process that could lead to discrimination or bias.

Some examples of illegal interview questions include:

  • What is your religion?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?
  • What is your sexual orientation?
  • What is your race?
  • How old are you?
  • What is your political affiliation?

If you encounter these types of questions during a job interview, it is important to remember that you have the right to refuse to answer them. These questions are not relevant to your ability to do the job, and they should not be used to determine your suitability for the position.

Handling illegal interview questions

If you are asked an illegal interview question, there are several ways to handle the situation. The best approach will depend on your personal preferences and the context of the interview.

  1. Politely decline to answer the question

The most straightforward way to handle an illegal interview question is to politely decline to answer it. You can simply say something like, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable answering that question. It doesn’t seem relevant to the job.”

This response is polite but firm, and it clearly communicates your boundaries to the interviewer. It also puts the focus back on your qualifications for the job, which is where it should be.

  1. Reframe the question

Another way to handle an illegal interview question is to reframe it in a way that is more relevant to the job. For example, if you are asked about your marital status, you could say, “I’m not married, but I’m fully committed to my career and am excited about the opportunity to contribute to this company.”

This response acknowledges the question without directly answering it, and it shifts the conversation back to your skills and qualifications. It also demonstrates that you are focused on your career and are committed to the job.

  1. Redirect the conversation

If you encounter an illegal interview question, you can also try redirecting the conversation to a more relevant topic. For example, if you are asked about your race, you could say, “I’m proud of my heritage, but I’m more interested in discussing how my skills and experience make me a good fit for this role.”

This response acknowledges the question without directly answering it, and it redirects the conversation back to your qualifications. It also demonstrates that you are confident in your abilities and are focused on the job.

  1. Educate the interviewer

If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also use an illegal interview question as an opportunity to educate the interviewer. For example, if you are asked about your sexual orientation, you could say, “I’m not sure if that’s relevant to the job, but I’m happy to discuss how my qualifications make me a good fit. It’s important to note that sexual orientation is a protected characteristic under the Employment Equity Act.”

This response directly addresses the question, but it also educates the interviewer about the law and the importance of avoiding discriminatory questions. It also puts the focus back on your qualifications and abilities, which is where it should be during a job interview.

  1. Report the incident

If you feel that you have been subjected to illegal interview questions, you have the right to report the incident to the relevant authorities. The Department of Labour is responsible for enforcing the Employment Equity Act, and they can investigate cases of discrimination and take legal action against employers who violate the law.

If you decide to report an incident, it is important to gather as much information as possible, including the name of the interviewer, the questions that were asked, and any other relevant details. You can also consult with a lawyer or a labour rights organization for guidance and support.

Preparing for the interview

One of the best ways to handle illegal interview questions is to be prepared for them. While you cannot predict every question that will be asked, you can anticipate questions that are likely to be discriminatory based on your personal characteristics.

For example, if you are a woman, you may be asked about your plans to have children or your marital status. If you are a person with a disability, you may be asked about your ability to perform certain tasks. If you are a person of color, you may be asked about your race or ethnicity.

To prepare for these types of questions, it can be helpful to research the company and the position you are applying for. Look for information about their diversity and inclusion policies, as well as any relevant laws and regulations. You can also practice answering questions that relate to your personal characteristics, using some of the strategies discussed above.

It is also important to know your rights and the protections provided by the Employment Equity Act. Familiarize yourself with the law and the types of questions that are considered illegal. This knowledge can give you the confidence to handle any discriminatory questions that may arise during the interview.

Conclusion

Illegal interview questions are a form of discrimination that can harm job seekers and create a biased hiring process. It is important for employers to follow the law and avoid asking questions that are unrelated to the job or that could lead to bias. If you encounter an illegal interview question, remember that you have the right to refuse to answer it, and you can use strategies like declining to answer, reframing the question, redirecting the conversation, educating the interviewer, or reporting the incident to the relevant authorities.

By being prepared and knowledgeable about your rights and the law, you can handle illegal interview questions with confidence and focus on your qualifications and abilities for the job. Remember that a job interview should be a fair and unbiased process, and it is up to all of us to ensure that this is the case.

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