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8 Inappropriate Interview Questions Only Women Hear (& How To Respond)

Women are certainly not the only people who are subjected to inappropriate interview questions, but there are plenty of questions interviewers seem to reserve for women – things you just know they’d never ask a man. While there have been some definite improvements in gender equality in the workplace recently, we still have a long way to go when it comes to making the workplace completely female-friendly and free of gender discrimination. Should you find yourself faced with one of these eye roll-worthy questions, take a deep breath and learn from these experts the best way to deal.

1. Are you married?

For some reason, many interviewers seem to think that personal details, such as relationship status, are somehow relevant to a woman’s ability to get the job done.

The bottom line is that it’s you applying for the job, not your SO — meaning your personal life should never be part of the conversation.

How to deal:

Rachel Ritlop, a career and business coach, says that oftentimes answering a question with a question is the easiest way to subtly remind your interviewer that their question is not okay.

“If someone feels uncomfortable, they should advocate for themselves, and redirect the conversation by saying things like, ‘Before I answer, how would that information help you in the hiring process?’” Ritlop advises. “It’s illegal for employers to ask you anything that they cannot relate back to the position you’re applying for.”

Related: 6 Interview Phrases Employers Are Tired of Hearing

2. Do you plan to wear that at work?

As many people who wear a head covering, such as a hijab, as part of their religious beliefs can attest, this question is seriously so annoying. 

If the interviewer is referencing the length of your skirt or dress or the height of your heels? Also totally inappropriate. Unfortunately, like a lot of high schools, many workplaces still have the mentality that a leg-baring look is going to distract the men in the office — ugh!

How to deal:

Counter this question with the straightforward answer of, “Yes I do, though I’m not exactly sure how what I’m wearing affects my ability to do this job.”

3. We sometimes make dirty jokes around the office — are you okay with that?

Newsflash: There are, in fact, men that exist who are also uncomfortable with NSFW jokes or inappropriate conversations in the workplace. Besides that, it’s often considered sexual harassment.

“I was once asked by a CEO, ‘Sometimes I make jokes around the office that some of the women around here find inappropriate. How do you think you will handle that?’” Jodie Shaw, former CMO of The Alternative Board, says. “My response was, ‘Is that a question or an example?’ Needless to say, I did not get the job.”

How to deal:

Questions like these can serve as an early sign that the company you’re interviewing with may not have a culture that respects women. In this case, how you decide to respond depends on whether or not you’re okay with working in an office culture that might not always be very female-friendly.

“I remind candidates that interviews are two-way streets,” David Nast, an interview coach, says. “You’re learning about them as much as they’re learning about you. If an interviewer made you feel uncomfortable by asking inappropriate questions that should serve as a warning to you as a clue into their corporate culture, and play into your decision-making process should an offer for employment come your way.”

If you don’t see yourself being able to put up with an office culture that is potentially misogynistic, feel free to give a resounding, “No.”

4. How would you handle a predominantly male team?

If you happen to be going into a typically male-dominated field, be prepared to hear this cringe-worthy question a lot. Um, we’d handle a predominantly male team like we’d handle any other team, because men shouldn’t take issue with having a strong, competent female boss.

This question also implies that your gender is to blame if your “predominantly male team” doesn’t take you seriously, when in actuality the problem is that your team is treating their boss with disrespect.

How to deal:

In this case, subtly reminding your interviewer that their question is inappropriate isn’t necessarily a bad idea — simply asking, “How exactly will a predominantly male team be different from any team I’ve handled in the past?” should do the trick. You can even keep things short and sweet by responding with, “I’d handle a male team as I would any other team,” and move on to reminding your interviewer why you’re an amazing leader. Nailed it!

5. You’re a woman?

Surprise! So, you share the same first name as several members of the opposite sex, and the interviewer clearly thought they would be interviewing a male — but seriously, should it even matter?

“Upon entering an interview I was immediately greeted by the principal of the firm holding my resume who remarked, ‘Oh! I thought you were a man,’” Amy*, an architect whose middle name also happens to be Rene, says. “Apparently, the male version of ‘Rene’ in my name had thrown him off. I smiled and responded, ‘I don’t think you’re allowed to say that.’”

An interviewer might be surprised by your gender, especially in a typically male-dominated field, but that still gives him no right to embarrass you by acknowledging it.

How to deal:

In this case, it’s entirely possible that the interviewer doesn’t know how inappropriate they’re being. If you suspect this is the case, a friendly, “Yes, I know I’m one of the few!” is the best way to go. Have a feeling the interviewer is trying to be condescending? Steal Amy’s response and directly call him out on the impolite nature of his question.

6. Have you ever cried in the workplace?

Last I checked, your gender doesn’t make you any more likely to get upset over a bad day at work. Everyone has those days when it feels like nothing is going right, and a few tears shed in stress doesn’t affect your ability to finish the work.

How to deal:

Remind your interviewer that what he just asked for is private information. Responding with, “I’d like to keep that information private,” or “That’s personal information,” will allow you to leave the interview with your dignity still intact.

7. Do you plan to have children / Are you pregnant?

To be clear, this question is not only obnoxious, but it’s also illegal. Need we say more?

“I was interviewing for my dream job and I also happened to be nine months pregnant with my first child,” Karin Hurt, the CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders says. “The 50-something, southern guy said, ‘You say you’ll still be as focused on your career, but many women change their minds. How can we know that won’t be you? What if I wait for you and you don’t come back?’”

How to deal:

Using the “answering a question with a question” technique is best here — simply asking, “In what way is that information relevant to my ability to do the job?” should get the point across.

8. How do you plan to balance work and family?

How do we plan to balance work and family? The same way a man would, assuming we even decide that we want a family — which also happens to be none of the interviewer’s business. As a very wise woman named Beyoncé once said, “Who run the world? Girls.”

How to deal:

Again, this question is asking for information that is your business, not your potential workplace’s business. Whether you’re planning to have a family or not, answer by saying, “How I plan to balance my professional and personal life is information I’d like to keep private. You can be assured that while I am at work, I will be focused on getting the job done.”

The reality is, even the most qualified, strong woman will get asked a question that is totally out of line every now and then — but having an empowered answer prepared will have you ready to make your interviewer realize their major faux pas.

Expert sources:

Rachel Ritlop, career and business coach

Jodie Shaw, B2B marketing professional

David Nast, interview coach

Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders

Caroline is the Evening/Weekend Editor and Style Editor at Her Campus, a senior public relations major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a leather jacket enthusiast.  You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @c_pirozzolo. 
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