The BBC reports on feedback from people who’ve been asked daft questions in job interviews, and as usual doesn’t bother telling us half the story:
Katherine Irvine was 37 when she went for a job as a recruitment consultant in Cornwall. She was shocked to find her interviewer was concerned that she was too old and wouldn’t have the energy to do the role.
“It was a group interview and the interviewer commented that myself and one of the others were ‘older’. There was a concern about us being able to work long hours.”
She was then asked: “What do you think? Do you think you’re too old?”
This was probably a fair question. Recruitment consultants these days are basically minimum wage telemarketers: they know nothing about what they’re buying, even less about what they’re selling, and work on a volume business taking a cut of whatever they manage to shift. From what I’ve seen it’s a young man’s game and populated mostly by greasy spivs you’d not trust with a blank piece of A4, let alone a CV.
Katherine was surprised at such open discrimination and informed the company’s HR department who said they were “shocked”.
Sounds as though that HR department is doing a splendid job. I wonder how many people it employs and what it costs in overheads, yet still can’t get company managers to conduct interviews without breaking the law?
Mature student Kevin Helton told us: “The interviewer asked, ‘You used to be in the Army, how many people have you killed?’
“My answer was, ‘Depending on the outcome of this interview, the number might change.'”
Heh! Good answer.
Others have faced a grilling about their personal lives, particularly women of child-bearing age.
Francine is a high-flying solicitor now but when she first entered the job market and applied for a medical secretary role, she was asked if she was going to get pregnant and leave.
I believe companies are entitled to ask this. What they’re not allowed to do is reject a candidate because of their answer. But given how much employers have to shell out when one of their staff takes maternity leave, it’s hardly surprising they ask about it.
“I was 24 years old then and it was one of my first interviews. I turned down the job when they offered it to me.”
So did you get pregnant and leave whichever job you did take? Alas, the BBC doesn’t ask. I would have, which is probably why I don’t work for the BBC giving interviews. But note she applied for a job as a medical secretary and is now a solicitor. Perhaps the interviewers sniffed that she wasn’t fully committed to the role she was applying for?
Even just a year ago an interviewer asked her, “Are you Jewish?”
“In retrospect, I should have said that was none of your business,” she says.
Marc Callow was shocked to be asked in an interview for a recruitment management position if he was gay. “I was that gobsmacked that I just replied ‘yes’. I got the job but it was a portent to what the company was like.”
Companies are forever being told that “diversity” is paramount and more minorities should be hired. This has got to the point that many companies keep statistics on how many minorities they employ and in which positions. But companies aren’t supposed to ask about this minority status in interviews. How does that work, then?
These kinds of questions really have no place in a job interview, because there are laws against discrimination, as Peter Reilly, principal associate at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), explains.
“In a legal sense, you have to be careful,” he says. “You have to ask, is that relevant to the task? And if it’s not, you shouldn’t be asking it.”
That’s the entire diversity industry out the window then, isn’t it? Indeed, I wish we would go back to those halcyon days when “Is that relevant to the job?” was something we could ask.
That goes for racial issues too. One person told the BBC: “The interviewer said he was surprised I was white because he thought my name sounded black.”
The interviewer must have been as thick as mince to have actually said that. But nothing surprises me about those who turn up in modern businesses.
And this is an entertaining list of questions you should not be asked:
Is English your first language?
The concern is that if the answer is “no”, you might be able to put together an email in proper English.
Are you married?
Do you have children?
Because taking into account an employee’s work-life balance is completely unnecessary. I mean, has a couple ever got divorced because the breadwinner was spending too much time at work, away from home? I don’t think so.
Do you have any criminal convictions?
No, instead you can request a far more intrusive DBS (formerly CRB) check.
What are your sexual preferences?
You can’t ask whether anyone is LGBT but we expect you to employ more LGBT people. You’ll just have to work it out from the adam’s apples, the limp wrists, and the Birkenstocks.
There was a time when job ads would, as a matter of course, contain details of the salary that the company was willing to offer.
But nowadays, as one PR executive found out when he was approached by a well-known tech firm, it can actually be quite hard to pin down an interviewer on that kind of detail.
“The second question was: what’s your current salary? I asked, what’s the range for the role? and the response I got was, ‘We don’t reveal salary ranges, it’s not our policy, so you go first.’ I was astonished,” he says.
“I just thought, that, for me, is completely unprofessional, and I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a very productive way to go forward.'”
The candidate is spot on here. I also find companies’ refusal to indicate a salary to be highly unprofessional, and this is compounded by them having the cheek to demand you tell them what you’re earning now. But this is just one of many ways in which HR and recruiting has gotten much worse over the course of my career. Sadly, the decline has been interpreted by most corporate managers as progress.