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nervous about having to respond to inappropriate questions

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we all know there are questions interviews are legally forbidden to ask, and other questions that may not be illegal but are unethical. some such questions, the interviewer will ask anyway and it is up to the interviewee's discretion how to (or not to) answer the question. i'm sure i'm not the only one who's come accross this, or the interviewer who's unnecessarily rude to you based on your work and educational history (if that's the case all they need to do is not hire you, and why did they call you in for an interview anyway?)


anyway i've said my mini-rant. now comes my quest for advice - how to best deflect such behavior from interviewers. i ask because i have an appointment with a temp agency in a couple days. i don't anticipate finding a work placement immediately (might need some computer-skills refreshers, etc). but what i'm actually more nervous about is the person at the agency sneering at my less than stellar work and educational history, and inappropriately interrogating me as to why it took me 5 years to earn an associate's degree, another 5 to earn a bachelor's degree, and why i've never had a permanent full time job. the former due to a slew of personal circumstances beyond my control and the latter due to the fact that i've always had to be in school and a learning disability which makes attending college and working full time an impossible feat for me personally. but just that info, without going into any specifics whatsoever, is more than i should have to divulge professionally. unfortunately i've had many people cross the line of what's appropriate and ethical to ask and i don't know how to respond in a way that both stands up for my rights and doesn't make me sound rude or defensive. i feel the "personal reasons" answer is a catch-22. for one thing its vagueness leads to assumptions of possibly someone trying to hide a history if irresponsibility, hard partying, and frittering away educational opportunities (all of which in my case could not be further from the truth). but the thing that would be an even worse professional no-no would be to divulge specifics (if nothing else it makes one come off as self-pitying, and as a liability to potential employers). so what's the most professionally appropriate way to address such interrogation, if it comes up? is the "personal reasons" answer adequate? is it too much info? does it make one sound suspicious? how to handle it?

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I'm not sure why you say that some of those things are inappropriate. i would say that it's inappropriate to ask about marital status or religion or if they have children.


i would think of answers to those questions that will portray you in a good light, answer the question, but not give unnecessary details.

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i went to a career development seminar where they said, "don't leave blank spaces on your resume. if you traveled around the world for 1 year, then say that. otherwise, if they see a blank space, they might wonder if you were in jail."


i think you should give enough of an answer that they don't think you were in jail or mixed up with something illegal, but not get into your life story. you can say, "family personal reasons" or whatever, or "there was a period of time I had to take care of a family member and had to take some time off of college, but I went back and finished my degree." or whatever. just say it in a positive light.

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why it took me 5 years to earn an associate's degree


another 5 to earn a bachelor's degree


"I chose to pursue my degrees part time. Financially and personally, it made the most sense."


and why i've never had a permanent full time job


"Full time hours were not available at my previous jobs."


These links might help:

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This gives info to employers about how to accommodate link removed


I wouldn't even say "personal reasons" when asked tough questions. Just give a casual, brief answer which is not overly specific and which does not sound secretive. They will move on.To me, "personal reasons" almost sounds like "personal issues" -and that is not good to project.

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Questions about how long it took to get a degree are 100% relevant and should be asked in my opinion.


When they ask that question, they are looking to find out what kind of challenges you faced and what steps you took to get past them. Show them that you're determined to succeed no matter what gets in your way.


If it took someone a long time to get a degree because they are simply lazy or didn't try hard, the company won't want to hire them.

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I just read your other thread in which your mentioned that people may treat you differently because you look young for your age and have a naturally high pitched voice




If that is the case, I think you should take the reigns right away by mentioning in your cover letter and/or interview that you are known to be a very outgoing and young-spirited person. Come right out and mention during an interview that people often mistake you for being younger based on your looks and voice alone, but that your professionalism is salient and exceeds expectations once they get to know you. Talk about it as if it is an ADVANTAGE. Own it and love it.

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Well firstly, anything that could be relevant to your ability to do the job, and has not been specifically proscribed by law, is fair game in an interview. You're not entitled to a job, you have to earn it by convincing someone that you're the person best able to do it. You don't get to put limits on that. Often-times, and I've been on the receiving end of this myself so I know what it's like, interviewers will be deliberately tough in order to see how you cope under such pressure. If you crack, if you're rude, if you fall apart, that's telling them something about how you may react under similar pressure in the workspace. If employers are not allowed to ask any questions related to your history that may make you feel uncomfortable, how are they obtain that information?


is the "personal reasons" answer adequate? is it too much info? does it make one sound suspicious? how to handle it?


"Personal reasons" certainly wouldn't work for me. That takes you into murky territory as an interviewer, since you don't want to pry but you do need more information. If an interviewer doesn't feel able to ask you any more about that, the chances are you'll be ruled out at that point. If your personal reasons are not something that you're ashamed of, state them. You don't have to sound as though you're asking for a favour or you want them to feel sorry for you, make it breezy, make it cheerful, make it pleasant, make it factual. If you are ashamed of your personal reasons, you should still explain them, also explaining that this is your past and you're now here because you've moved on and improved yourself. A good employer will not rule out because of such things (depending on the specifics up to a point).


Talk about it as if it is an ADVANTAGE. Own it and love it.


This is SUCH good advice. 90% of how someone reacts to you depends on how you expect them to react, which influences how you present things. Act as though something is good, and unless you're really stretching credibility, your audience will believe you. Don't hide your personality but capitalise upon it; convince yourself first, and then you'll convince your interviewers.

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