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February 22, 2023

The 3 Interview Questions You Shouldn’t Answer

Post By:
Debra Wheatman
In-House Contributor
Careers Done Write
Guest Contributor:

The Great Resignation and the ensuing candidates’ market have exposed how broken the hiring process is. Employers opine on why they can’t find any qualified candidates; meanwhile, candidates wade through systems and processes that can best be described as Kafkaesque. And, despite there being far more open positions than there are candidates, employers continue to approach hiring as if it is an unequal relationship in which they call all the shots.

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

An interview and an employee/employer relationship are exercises in collaborating for mutual benefit. Candidates know that they should interview prospective employers just as much as they are being interviewed. With that said, I advise clients to put prospective employers on a need-to-know basis. 

Just because an employer may want to know something does not mean you should supply that information. Here are three things that employers really have no business asking you about:

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1. Your current/previous salary. 

Your current or previous salary has exactly zero bearing on the compensation plan for the role for which you are interviewing. This is an example of #LazyRecruiting, wherein a company fails to do its due diligence when it comes to market rate of pay. You should NEVER divulge what you have earned or are currently earning. Absolutely not. 

Why would you give personal financial information to a stranger? And can you imagine what the response would be if you turned the question around on the person asking it? Would he or she share such information with you? 

In the past, candidates were often required to submit pay stubs or W2s to “prove” their prior earnings. Thankfully, 21 states now have laws prohibiting an employer or agent (such as a recruiter) from asking for your salary history. I am happy to report that this practice is no longer as common as it was just a few years ago.

2. Wanting a reason for a “gap” in your employment. 

In decades past, there was a prevailing thought that if someone had a gap of more than 6 months in their employment history, this was a problem. One somewhat legitimate concern was that a gap of a few years could have meant a stint in prison, but sophisticated background checks have obviated that, as most check for criminal history. 

It is not at all unusual for someone to have a career path that is not linear. Breaks in employment happen for reasons that are none of an employer’s business—an illness, caring for a family member, a mental health crisis, or simply a protracted job search. Again, none of these things have anything to do with the job at hand.

3. Why did you leave your last job/why do you want to leave your current job? 

Let me be extremely blunt: this is one of the dumbest, most irrelevant questions that recruiters and hiring managers ask. Everyone knows that people leave their jobs primarily for one of three reasons: horrible bosses, toxic culture, and inadequate compensation. So if we all agree on that, why does the question continue to be asked almost every time? Maybe it’s just out of curiosity, but it’s irrelevant at best and unprofessional at worst.

Recruiting and retaining talent is hard work. Employers that ask questions like the ones above make it harder on themselves. Remember that as a candidate, you have power, too. And you would not be interviewing if you didn’t have the skills and experience needed to do the job. So exercise your power and keep your personal information personal.