Should You Really Answer Personal Questions During a Job Interview?

Simply put, finding meaningful and well-paying employment will determine your quality of life. You’ve got to make sure that you do everything in your power to make the most out of the opportunities you are given — especially job interviews!

But with so much riding on your job interview, you want to be the best interviewee you can be. Job interviews are a bizarre social dynamic, and sometimes it’s difficult to gauge what you should and shouldn’t say. Personal questions are bound to arise; so how should you address them?

What Constitutes a Personal Question?

You will be asked all kinds of questions during any job interview, that much is certain. Some may deal with new skills you’ve acquired (after all, it’s easy to e-learn from anywhere), your educational background, professional experience, etc. All of these questions are par for the course, but what happens when things get a little more personal?

This can prove to be a rather difficult situation. On the one hand, you don’t want to divulge too much, but you also don’t want to come across as aloof or deflective. You must know how to traverse these waters successfully. 

Certain questions may be appropriate, others may not — at the end of the day, it’s up to your discretion. You need to decide where you draw the line. Here are a few examples to give you a better understanding of where to draw the line. 

Appropriate Questions

I already mentioned questions that relate to your professional capacities (i.e. skills, education, past job experience). These are normal and should be addressed to the best of your abilities. 

But some questions fall under the “personal” category and are rather innocuous and may actually help you to form a bond with your interviewer. Question like:

  • What’s the last book you read?
  • What sports teams do you like?
  • Recall a previous example in which you [insert skill here]
  • Do you speak any other languages?

In many cases, you might have an extremely friendly job interviewer. They might conduct their interviews in such a way that extraneous and seemingly unrelated topics might come up. Here, you shouldn’t feel too discouraged about opening up a little bit. Just don’t let it go too far

Inappropriate Questions

The line between appropriate and inappropriate can be tricky; the best rule of thumb is to go by your comfort level. Never go against your better judgments regarding a specific question. If it crosses your boundaries, don’t answer it!

Don’t ever hesitate to simply omit certain details that delve too deeply into your personal life. Regardless of if you’re asked or not, there are personal details you should steer clear of altogether. One former job interviewer, Liz Ryan, says you should never mention these topics:

  • Financial issues
  • Relationship issues
  • Legal troubles
  • Illness/injury
  • Family plans
  • Unpleasant departure from your last job
  • Religious affiliation
  • Political views
  • Manageable commitments
  • Complaints about former bosses

Questions relating to any of these topics would certainly fall under the “inappropriate” category, and you should approach them — and the interviewer — with caution. However, as Liz Ryan points out, the onus is also on you not to mention any of them either. 

In addition to flat-out inappropriate questions, some topics and inquiries are illegal. Depending on which country you live in, you will have certain discrimination laws at your disposal — familiarize yourself with them. 

Why You Should Bring a Personable Demeanor to Your Interview 

Just because you avoid certain personal questions, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compensate with a personable demeanor. In most cases, prospective employers don’t mean any harm, they simply want to get to know you a little better. 

You can easily show off your personality — a trait that goes a long way in almost any work environment — without revealing personal things you aren’t comfortable talking about with an employer (or any stranger for that matter). 

Don’t be a robot: let your personality shine. But don’t divulge any information that cuts too deep or compromises your standing with the employer. 

Conclusion

You’re in the midst of that oh-so-exciting period of your life where new opportunities are always on the horizon!

Depending on your particular set of circumstances, that last statement could be taken at either face value or as an act of brash flippancy. Either way, it’s important to realize what’s at stake here: your future.

I’m sure by now most of you already know this, but it does bear repeating: job interviews have the potential to make or break any prospective employment opportunity. It’s your only chance to show off what you can bring to the table; so be sure to get it RIGHT, but not at the expense of your privacy

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