After combing through multiple job boards, rewriting resumes and cover letters, and waiting countless hours, getting an interview is an exciting feat. However, sometimes you land a role only to find out it’s not the dream job you thought it was.
Paying close attention to the questions interviewers are asking can quickly determine if a job is right fit for you, or if you should run the other direction. Here are 11 questions interviewers may ask that should set off alarms bells.
1. Do you have, or plan to have, children?
Employers who ask this question may be looking to see if you’ll have to leave work due to the unexpected needs of a child. If you have children or plan on starting a family, it’s important to pay attention to whether employers will be understanding of your needs as a parent. Asking this question reveals the employer will most likely not be flexible to your parental needs. Plus, it may be illegal. Some federal and state laws prohibit prospective employers from asking certain questions that primarily relate to women.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discriminations in the workplace based on a person's physical disabilities
Federal laws that relate specifically to women include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act—prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—prohibiting discrimination against pregnant women and parents who take leave from their employment responsibilities to care for a newborn baby, sick child, or aging parent.
Bottom line is employers cannot make judgments about a person’s dedication to their work by whether they have kids or will have them in the future.
2. Does work take top priority in your life?
Some employers truly believe work should always come first in your life, and if you value work-life balance, these aren’t the employers for you. An overwhelming 70 percent of employees work more than 40 hours each week and are suffering from the effects of burnout, according to the latest study. Employers who address your level of work commitment as being number one on your list are probably not ready to give the flexible work-life balance you want.
3. Are you available on holidays?
Enjoying time spent with friends and family on holidays and weekends isn’t going to be easy if you’re asked this question. Asking your availability during times when most don’t want to work gives you a glimpse into the lack of flexibility you’ll receive. Being able to work on holidays could also be a gateway for getting asked often to work extra hours, weekends, and odd hours.
4. How competitive are you with coworkers?
Having a competitive nature can be an asset in some roles (think professional sports), but being excessively competitive against other employees may also be detrimental to your success. Wanting to know your drive or determination are fair and acceptable questions, but watch out for interviewers who want to know if you’re a killer employee. These types of leaders are cultivating a workplace culture with little to no supportive teamwork aspects.
5. You respond to emails outside of office hours, right?
Having a life outside of work is necessary for your health and rejuvenation from the work week. Expecting employees to be accessible outside of office hours during extenuating circumstances is understandable and acceptable, but having to be constantly available will leave you burned out. Employers who expect you to respond immediately, no matter what, will not value your life outside of the office.
6. How old are you?
This question isn’t just inappropriate, it’s illegal. Employers should be focused on experience, goals, and personality traits—not age—when considering candidates for a position.
7. Are you willing to pay for continuing education for this career?
Continuing education is necessary for growing within a company, and it’s important for leaders to provide these opportunities for their employees. Organizations that expect you’ll bear the weight of educating yourself for this role lack the benefits and perks that may be important to you as you consider an MBA or a specialized degree.
[Related: Top 20 Employee Benefits & Perks]
8. What was your previous salary?
The legality of this question varies among states, and many are in the works of making it illegal. Asking how much you’ve been paid in the past allows employers to base pay off of your history rather than what is deserved per this new role’s responsibilities. Massachusetts recently passed a law prohibiting employers from asking prospective hires their salary history until after they make a full job offer.
9. Are you single?
This question should absolutely raise some red flags, for a couple of reasons. First, the interviewer may be trying to turn a professional interview into a personal conversation which definitely crosses the line. Whether he or she is interested in dating you or not, if this question is asked you should know that the emphasis is not being placed on your resume or credentials. Secondly, this also falls into the bucket of illegal questions to ask, namely because it crosses the HR line big time. Grab your resume and leave the interview posthaste.
10. Are you comfortable with daily and weekly status updates to managers?
Interviewers who want to know your ability to give frequent status updates may be waving a red flag announcing they’re a micromanager. Micromanagers are hyper-focused on details and being part of each step in the process. Being under the reign of a micromanager leaves employees with a lack of freedom to complete tasks in a manner that’s productive for them.
11. How did you lose your arm/sight/hearing/leg/etc.?
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee with a disability, and this includes employers asking questions about a person’s physical appearance or disabilities. The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and to state and local government employers. If you’re asked any questions along these lines, report this to the head of HR at the company and consider declining to proceed in any future interviews.