How to Answer Inappropriate Interview Questions

At some point in your search for university employment, you may find yourself facing inappropriate questions about your religion or the number of children you have. One possible response is to ask a question of your own:

  • “I’m trying to get a feel for this job. Can you help me understand how this is relevant?”

Or you can answer the question behind the question. The interviewer may genuinely, albeit wrongly, trying to find the answers to key issues of concern. She may be worried about whether you will be able to juggle your home life with your work life, or he may be concerned about attendance problems or whether you can work evening or weekend.  You can gracefully sidestep the question that was asked and respond to the underlying issue:

  • An interviewer asking about your plans to have more children may be concerned about the possibility that you will only stay on the job for a year or so before you leave to have another child. You can reassure her by letting her know that you are focused on your career. “You know, I’m very interested in the potential for growth in this position. Can you tell me a little more about the career pathways available?”
  • A question about your religion may indicate concern about your ability to work outside of regular hours. “I’m certain I will be available to work whenever the job requires.”
  • Deflect an inquiry about your physical health by assuring the interviewer that you will not have absence issues: “I am confident that nothing will get in the way of my ability to work the required hours.”

By responding to the question behind the question without showing disapproval for the impropriety, you will show that you have the tact and political acumen for any academic positions.

Dindy Robinson is Director of Compensation at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas.

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