During an interview the focus should be on selecting the best candidate for the job. That is the person who demonstrates the skills, abilities, experience and knowledge required for the advertised position.

It is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of disability, and these laws apply to every step of the process including the interview. Generally, it is unlawful to discriminate on any of the following grounds:

· Race, colour, national/ethic group
· Sex, marital status
· Parental status, pregnancy or breastfeeding
· Physical or mental impairment
· Religion
· Age
· Trade Union Activity
· Political belief or activity

This being the case, employers need to be careful in outlining the objective selection criteria for the job and ensuring that the key qualities are based on the skills, qualification and experience to perform the job. Age, gender, ethnicity for example are not a legitimate part of the criteria. It is equally important that they also do not discriminate by the type of questions that they ask during the interview.

Potentially discriminating questions can be dangerous for the employer, as job applicants have no obligations to answer questions they consider discriminatory, but they can usually assume the reasons such a question was asked. The same questions should be asked of all applications, so if the job you are applying for includes frequent travelling, that is a key criterion for the job. It is therefore more likely that you will be asked a question like “This job requires fortnightly interstate travel; are you able to spend regular time away from home?” rather than “How many children do you have, and what are your babysitting arrangements.” – and when answering, focus on your ability to undertake regular travel and avoid discussing any arrangements that make that possible.

The interview is an opportunity for the employers to evaluate the applicant’s suitability to fulfil the requirements of the job, it is also an opportunity for the prospective employee to evaluate the company, and one way to do that is by an appreciation of the type of question asked at the interview.

Questions which relate to any of the areas of discrimination listed above are considered to be unlawful; so if, as a female, you are asked any question about your marital status or your intention to have children; you have no obligation to answer. If you feel the question is suspect ask yourself “Would this question be asked to both genders?” or “Would this question be asked to any other race, colour or ethnic group?” Certainly, I doubt whether any male applicant has been asked about his marriage or parental intentions!!

So, if you are faced with inappropriate questions, how to respond. Well, a polite request for the relevance of the question is a good response. An interviewer who asks “What would you do if your husband got a job overseas?” may be brought to realise the inappropriateness of the question by “I have already indicated that I am able to give a long-term commitment to this position, so what is the relevance of this question.” Again, ask yourself, “Would a male applicatant be likely to have the same question asked about his wife’s possible overseas move?”

By asking for the relevance of the question it allows the interviewee to clarify if there was a job related criteria behind the question. Questions which are unlawfully discriminatory are often asked out of habit and can reflect generalisations. For instance, it may be legal to discuss any lack of capacity relating to a disability if that may affect an ability to do the job; as in: “Are there any special devices or equipment you would need to perform these duties?” But a question posed such as “Convince me that you can do the job even with your disability” would not.

Employers using a structured interview approach usually have the opportunity to have questions vetted by their legal department, or the Commission; so such blatantly discriminatory questions are not often met with today. The best way to handle any possible such question is to query the relevance before answering or rejecting such questions.

Find out more at the Trischel’s Interview Skills Workshop on the 26th July.


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