Interviews can, at times, be peppered with many many inappropriate questions. Mithila Mehta provides tips on how to handle such seemingly offensive questions

If you have given many interviews in your professional life, chances are that you have experienced an interviewer throw seemingly irrelevant questions at you. Many, flabbergasted by such questions, find themselves at odds with the one sitting across the table. The key to tackling such interactions lies in understanding what questions cross the line and then handling the situation in a calm, assured manner. “A good interviewer always knows his/ her boundaries, but sometimes, inappropriate questions do come up during interviews. If you feel violated or wronged by a question, remember, you are not obliged to answer it. Let your discomfort be known, but remember to do so in a poised manner,” advises Revathi Rai, human resources manager, learning and development, at a leading FMCG company.

Such questions must not be dealt with aggressively; try to dodge it as effortlessly as possible.

Relationship status
Interviewees often find themselves in a predicament where the interviewer wishes to prod into their ‘relationship status.’ Recalls Priyal Jani, account planner at an ad agency, “During my campus placements, this was one question that came up quite a few times. I didn’t know how to react, especially because in an interview you don’t want to say something that might cost you the job.” The solution lies in maintaining a calm demeanour. Smile, look nonplussed and throw the question back at the interviewer– ‘I’m sorry, but why do you ask this question?’ That should be enough to defuse the situation and force the interviewer to move on.

Religion, politics and caste
Religion is also a tricky subject that should be avoided during interviews. Reveals FMCG brand manager Aziz Merchant, “I was recently interviewed for a position in an alcoholic-beverages company. The interviewer asked me if my religious views would affect my performance. I told him very calmly that I would not have applied to the job if I had the slightest concern about that, and he seemed satisfied with the answer.”

Similarly, some interviewers also ask questions about your political inclinations. Politics is a tricky subject as interviewers tend to judge you over your political stance. Prerna Modi, a teacher with the primary years programme, International Baccalaureate, was faced with a similar situation at an interview once but managed to fend it off. “During an interview, one recruiting officer asked who I supported politically. I managed to brush off the question by saying that politics was not my cup of tea.” It is best to remain diplomatic in such situations, try to shrug away the question or laugh it off.

Additionally, when an interviewer is tasked with assessing a candidate, questions about caste, although completely inappropriate, do arise frequently. If you think the interviewer has offended you with their question, be firm and let the him/ her know that (s)he is crossing the line.

Different perspectives
There are various ways to reasonably respond to an inappropriate question in an interview without being seemingly offended. It’s important to be professional and let the interview go on smoothly. Brush off such questions and pretend like nothing has happened. Humour can also help diffuse the air after a tense question.

If there is any subsequent reference to the inappropriate question, maintain the same stance as you had previously. “Sometimes, interviewers may throw slightly strange questions at you to just see how you react in an unfamiliar situation and how well you can stand up for yourself. Also, different people have different views on whats offensive and not during an interview. Don’t let such questions affect you unless your sensibilities have been very obviously intruded upon,” advises Sabeer Dasgupta, chief operations officer, InMobile Solutions.