Ever had a job interview that seemed to have nothing to do with your ability to do the job? It appears that plenty of people can answer “yes” to that question.
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?”
Katherine was surprised at such open discrimination and informed the company’s HR department who said they were “shocked”.
Katherine is far from alone when it comes to such unexpected interview experiences. When we asked on the BBC News LinkedIn page, more than 1,500 of you contacted us with a whole range of questions deemed “inappropriate” and “outrageous” for a variety of reasons.
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.'”
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 was 24 years old then and it was one of my first interviews. I turned down the job when they offered it to me.”
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.”
Is this relevant?
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 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.”
Even though this happened several years ago, the memory still hurts.
“I didn’t put it on, he held it in front of my face,” she says. “As soon as I came out of the room, I just burst into tears. I felt violated.
“Now I think it says more about him that he didn’t trust himself to make a business decision when looking at my face.”
In the end, she was actually offered the job, as a barperson in a private health club. She turned it down and went on to build a successful career in public relations, and is now broadening her social media management skills with Digital Mums.
Help, not hinder
However, as Mr Reilly from the IES explains, there may be some cases when what appears to be an inappropriate question is actually intended to help, not hinder the candidate.
When a big firm recruits people, “the line manager is thinking, who can we get to fill the job, will they stay and are they going to be competent?”