How To Handle Inappropriate Job Interview Questions

How To Handle Inappropriate Job Interview Questions

Job interviews can be challenging to navigate even without the added stress of trying to diplomatically field inappropriate, invasive, or downright illegal lines of questioning. In the interest of helping future job-hunters navigate these choppy waters, we looked at some of the weirdest interview experiences and sought out expert advice on how to handle them.

Brain Teasers

While these types of questions are lessening in popularity, quite a few have run into them during job searches. Some of the brain teaser questions include puzzlers like:

  • Why are manhole covers round rather than square?
  • How are hotel shower systems designed so the hot water comes on almost instantly?
  • How would you go about figuring out how many cows are in Vermont?
  • Calculate the number of lamp posts between City A and City B.

As Alison Green, who runs Ask a Manager, explains, brain teasers are often asked to get a sense of how you think through a problem rather than whether or not you have the right answer.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of these types of questions, try to walk the interviewers through your thought process and then (hopefully) move on.

Personal Questions

These kinds of questions are tricky, because interviewers often use them to make assumptions about you as a candidate, which in some cases is illegal. MaryJo Fitzgerald, Economics Communications Manager at Glassdoor, advises you to know your rights as a candidate. Some personal questions we’ve heard got pretty close to or crossed that line:

  • What church do you go to?
  • Are you planning on having children?
  • Do you have a boyfriend? (A variation of this: Are you married?)
  • Who did you vote for?
  • What kind of car do you drive?

Fitzgerald suggests a couple different ways to redirect the conversation back to your qualifications and away from an intrusive question:

Two helpful phrases to use are either “The question doesn’t affect my commitment to the position…” or say outright, “I don’t feel comfortable sharing that personal information, but I’m happy to discuss more about other relevant experiences.” Both allow you to take control of the direction of the conversation and highlight why you deserve the position.

Of course, if the questions are really offensive or show you that the company culture is not going to be a good fit for you, you can always end the interview early. It’s hard for that not to be awkward, but you can try something like, “I’m realising that I’m not the right fit for this position. To be respectful of your time, I’d like to end the interview now. Thank you very much for the opportunity to meet today.”

Seemingly Unrelated to the Job

A little different than brain teasers are questions that test a skill not core to the role you’re interviewing for or that seem unrelated to the job:

  • Who is your favourite Beatle?
  • Take something out of your bag and tell us a story about it.
  • Sell me this pen. (For an administrative job)
  • What would you do if a coworker showed up [and started attacking] people?

That last one is a doozy and to be honest, I don’t know if there’s a good answer to that one (if you can recover from the shock of it being asked). For some of the other types of seemingly unrelated questions, you’ll have to decide in the moment why you think they’re asking you that.

They might want to see how you react when put on the spot, how creative you are, or how you think.

That doesn’t make these good interview questions, but it does help you figure out how to answer. If you think you know the intent behind the question, do your best to show them that skill. If you’re not sure how it relates to the job, you can ask for clarification, “Can you tell me how that relates to this role?” or “Can you explain a bit what you’re looking for with that question?”

And if the question is really out of the blue, try Fitzgerald’s suggestions above to redirect the conversation back to your qualifications.


  • 1. dumb questions indicate an amateur recruiter at work: terminate the interview because working with a bunch of amateurs will damage your career.
    2. personal questions: “interesting question; could you explain how this is relevant to the job, please so I can give you an appropriate answer?”
    3. person attacking workers: “firstly, I’d should “fire, get out” to evacuate the area, then, because of my military training I would execute a flying rising snap kick to his/her throat. 🙂

  • For future questions like pregnancy etc, the answer is to lie. They should not be asking these questions. Post job you could have just ‘changed your mind’.

    They will not query you later as that would be admitting that they asked these questions – and fairwork would love to hear about it.

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