What do you do if your colleague crosses the line in an interview?

by Nicola Middlemiss27 Jan 2015
So how old are you? Do you have any children? Inappropriate questions can easily slip out in an interview – especially if managers outside of HR are sitting in – but how do you tell your co-worker to keep shtum without seeming rude? We asked three industry experts for their advice…

“If you are in an interview with a colleague who asks an inappropriate or even illegal question, the best thing to do is correct it immediately,” says Joseph Campagna, founder of My Virtual HR Director.

“Don't just butt-in or change the subject. It's important to make the statement that it has no bearing on their selection for the position. If you don't, you leave that open as a liability,” he warns.

Campagna suggests saying something to the effect of:

“I'm sorry to cut in, but for the purposes of time I would like to get more into your qualifications for the position. While we definitely want to get to know you better, it is obviously not important that we know your parental status or age and it will certainly not have any bearing on your being hired."

“You want to be as cordial to your colleague as possible,” continues Campagna, “but it is more important to not be sued than to save face for your co-worker.”

Hiring expert Carol Quinn also takes a no-tolerance policy towards inappropriate questions – “There is absolutely zero need to ask inappropriate questions when it comes to correctly identifying and hiring top performers,” she told HRM. “There is nothing good about this and everything bad.”  

Quinn added that the offending employee would have to undergo effective interviewer training before they saw applicants again.

On the other hand, HR director Ashley White adopts a more unorthodox approach – she says the potential employee’s reaction should dictate the way in which you should respond: “The HR response all depends on the candidate and whether or not they are bothered by the question,” says White. “I’ve seen folks get offended by minor things and others are flat-out asked the “big” questions and it doesn’t bother them.”



  • by Rosalie Chant 27/01/2015 11:03:04 AM

    I don't believe the candidates reaction (at the time of interview) to the question is an indication of whether it matters. It may not matter at interview but they may have a different opinion if they don't get the job and are looking for reasons 'why not' The questions should not be asked and should be corrected at the time.

  • by Judy Apps 27/01/2015 11:17:36 AM

    Agree with you Rosalie. No reaction at the time of interview may change on reflection and with the input of others post interview. I once got asked what year I did my HSC as a way around asking me my age. I might add the recruiter (who should have known better) was most offended when I requested the relevance of such a question (I was in my 40's at the time so well beyond the point where my schooling could have had any relevance). It created a very uncomfortable environment on both sides and the interview went nowhere from there.

  • by Tristan Amadio 27/01/2015 4:39:25 PM

    I train my team members that, if their question is "just out of curiosity", it has no place in the interview at all.

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