I’d like to ask you about questions recruiters ask. I had a call with a recruiter for a well-known recruiting firm. It was a “get to know you so we can potentially work together in the future” type of call. During our conversation the recruiter asks where my family lives. I tell her some of my family is in X state and my husband’s family is in Y. That being said, I am open to various locations. Then she asks where my parents live. In the moment I am thinking, does she really need this info? But I tell her they are not in the U.S. Then she asks, “So where are they?”
Am I obliged to answer this question, especially when it comes across as pushy? I want to give her the benefit of the doubt that she is looking out for me but it made me uncomfortable. How should I handle it in the future?
You are never obliged to answer any questions that make you feel uncomfortable. And I agree — something’s up with that recruiter. I cannot imagine how your parents’ place of residence would affect your job.
How will that help you place me?
There is no reason to not ask why she needs to know. You can reject any question you feel is too personal, illegal, or indicative of bias — especially if the recruiter offers no explanation about how that information will help her to place you.
And that’s the key point about any questions recruiters ask: How will that help you place me? That’s a perfectly professional way to challenge them without being confrontational.
I wouldn’t bother bringing it up again because it will serve no purpose. If she asks another such question, that’s when you should state your position. (Here’s a batch of interview questions that are illegal.)
What’s she look like?
As a headhunter, I’ve encountered questions that have been surprising. Some were questions clients asked me; others were questions employers asked job candidates. Here are some examples.
A new client asked about a candidate I had presented: “We looked her up on LinkedIn but her profile has no photo. Can you have her add her photo?”
When I inquired about the reason they wanted to see a photo, they said they just wanted to get a look at her. I fired the client. A photo and what she looked like were irrelevant. (Then there’s this stupid interview question to ask a woman.)
Man to man?
After two rounds of interviews went very well, the HR recruiter wanted to discuss the Quality Assurance Engineer I sent him.
“Is he, uh, you know?”
“No, I don’t know,” I responded. “Is he what?”
“You must have noticed. You know. How do I put this. The other guys on the team here prefer to work with, you know, a man’s man.”
“You know, doesn’t the guy seem effeminate to you?”
Oh, I suddenly knew. His company missed out on a great Q.A. engineer that day, and I fired the client.
Can you steal?
A senior executive came to me for coaching while she navigated a complex interviewing process at a company she really wanted to work for. The company was a direct competitor of her current employer. At the second interview they asked her to bring certain materials to her third interview: her current company’s price lists for customers the new company competed for.
She felt she had no choice but was worried about the ethical problem. I told her not to do it. She was relieved because she agreed. I suggested she tell them she would no more reveal her current employer’s confidential data than she would reveal the new company’s data to her next employer. To her surprise, they hired her anyway and never brought up the subject again.
I’ve got more: The high-tech employer that wanted to know “What kind of accent is that?” The retailer who wanted a new HR executive but only females need apply. I’ll close with these two really insulting interview questions. Now let’s hear yours.
What inappropriate questions have recruiters and employers asked you? How did you handle it? What questions have you answered that you wish you hadn’t? What was the outcome?