Your palms are sweaty, you’re nervous, and your mind has blanked. You’ve prepared for this job interview for ages, but suddenly, you’re thrown a curveball question – and you have no idea what to say.
Most of us know exactly how it feels to have a nightmare interview. Some of them might make funny stories with hindsight, but new research shows that, sometimes, it’s not a laughing matter – particularly for women.
Research commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (and conducted by YouGov), has found that out of 1,106 senior executives surveyed, a third of those working for private companies thought it was ok to ask a woman about her plans to have children in the future. Almost half said they thought it was reasonable to ask a woman if she had small children.
It’s illegal to not hire a woman based on whether she has children, or plans to have children, either at the time of the hire or in the future. A woman’s family choices should never be a factor in choosing whether to give her a job, which means employers cannot ask about it in interviews.
But it still happens. And actually, both women and men get asked some pretty inappropriate questions in interview situations. We asked people to share the most offensive things said to them.
1，‘What’s your religion?
Nuala was asked about her religion at an interview early in her career as a tech entrepreneur. It’s not the only inappropriate question she’s been asked. She’s also had: “How many children do you have? Do you plan on having more children? How will you manage the job and family?”
Unsurprisingly, these questions left her speechless and struggling to respond. Another woman was asked if she was Jewish at a job interview. She was so surprised by the question that she refused to answer, and they all sat in uncomfortable silence until her prospective employer changed the subject. She got the job.
2，‘Don’t you think studying was a waste of time?’
“I got asked that when I was applying for a part-time role with a mobile network provider, while studying for a medical science degree,” said Amy. “I had previously studied publishing and journalism, so I’m not sure which qualification he was referring to. I asked him why learning anything would ever be considered a waste of time, and then he just said, ‘good point’.”
3，‘Would you consider dying your hair to look more like your mother?’
When Ariel was 17, she was asked this complete curveball of a question at an interview for an administrative assistant role. “It was totally crazy,” she says. “And it was followed by a range of questions laced with sexual innuendo about items of clothing not visible or intended for public display.”
She was totally baffled. “I later found out the interviewer had been engaged to my mother as a teenager,” Ariel reveals. Small world. But still not ok.
4，‘Tell me about your CV. It looks interesting given your background.’
This was what Natasha was asked when applying for an internship at a start-up 10 years ago. “My family’s Mauritian, but people usually think I’m Indian (since we brown people all look the same *rolls eyes*),” she told us. Not only did they make assumptions about her heritage, they then stereotyped what it must be like to come from India. The start-up seemed to assume she must have suffered economic hardship, and were surprised at her level of education and experience. “I laughed it off. What else can you do? I needed the job, after all.”
5，’How do you feel about role play?’
Tom applied for a job and was called in for a third interview, which was just with the CEO, which he found unusual. And then the CEO hit on him. “It was very weird,” he says. She kept touching his arm and then; “She asked me if I was into role play, and I got really awkward. I said no, then made up an excuse and left. I didn’t get the job.”
6，‘You have very kissable lips’
This isn’t a question, but it’s so bad we had to put it in. It happened to Frankie when she was applying for a junior sales job. “I was fresh out of uni and super intimidated, so I actually thanked him!” she says. “I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and stand up for myself properly!”
7，‘What does your husband think about you applying for this role?’
Firgas was applying for an account director role at a PR agency when she was asked this. “I’m not even married,” she says. “Like that even matters. I asked if he was worried I’d mess up his budget by asking for maternity leave, but really I should have just left.”
8，‘Can you write for a female audience?’
David was applying for a marketing role when he was asked if he could write for women considering he’d mainly written for male-dominated sectors. “I tried to explain how craft beer and rugby aren’t exclusively male interests,” he explains. “Imagine how patronising that question would sound if the genders were reversed!”
9，‘Did you need your boyfriend to go with you?’
Parvati was applying for a job in PR when she was asked about her experience abroad. After telling the male interviewer she’d lived in South America, he asked her: ‘Did you need your boyfriend to go with you?’ She says: “I was annoyed he’d both assumed I was straight, and thought that was relevant. My first impulse was just to answer the questions, but then I called him up on it and he tried to defend it, saying it showed whether I was independent or not.”
10，…. And not being allowed to finish an answer.
Hana was interviewing for a marketing job when this happened. “I was asked a question, I started answering and they put a hand in front of my face to stop me (really close to my face),” she says. “I paused. They then told me to slow down and start over.”