How to deal with controversial interview questions

Susanna Kahr

We’ve all been there, one minute you’re acing the job interview only to be blindsided by a curveball of a question the next! If you’ve ever started to feel uncomfortable mid-way through an interview thanks to questions about your marital status, political views or religion it’s time to get wise about how to answer them or call out a hiring manager for asking you something that’s not allowed. 

1. Plan for all kinds of interview questions

As soon as you find out that you’ve got an interview, it’s time to get to work preparing yourself for the interview itself and for all the different kinds of interview questions you could be asked. The more preparation you do, the more confident you will feel in your interview. Depending on the job, you should consider the kinds of skills-related, cultural and personality questions that you might be asked. You should also plan for the inevitable ‘What are you passionate about? question! 

2. Make a list of unusual/controversial questions

Although it might feel like it, interviewers don’t ask difficult or controversial questions to try and catch you out. These questions are often used to help your interviewer work out if you’d be a good cultural fit, to see how quickly you can respond, how creative you can be or even to see how funny you are. So, when you’re planning for your interview, why not use the opportunity to ask your friends and/or partner to help you think up some crazy questions and have fun coming up with answers to them. 

You can use the following to help you get started: 

1. In a film of your life, which actor would you choose to play you?

2. If you could have any superpower what would it be?

3. If you were left on a deserted island for a month, what 3 things would you have to take with you?

4. Who do you most admire and why?

5. How do I rate as an interviewer?

6. If you could sum up your career in one tweet, what would you say?

3. Get the know the difference between controversial and illegal questions

The biggest way to tell if a question is actually legal or not, is to work out whether the answer you give will be used to discriminate against you. Job interview questions that solicit information about your race, religion, gender, age or disability in a direct way can result in charges of discrimination an investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and potentially a lawsuit. Watch out for the following: 

1. Are you a US citizen?

2. Can you provide a birth certificate?

3. What country are your parents from?

4. What is your background?

5. Do you have a disability?

6. Where were you born?

7. Have you ever filed a workers compensation claim?

8. Have you ever suffered a workplace injury?

9. Do you have any commitments that might prevent you from working the assigned shifts?

10. Are you married?

11. Are you single?

12. Do you have any children?


“At your interview you are asked if you have any children and how old are they, if they get sick who is going to take care of them. You are asked if you are married. All questions that may be illegal.” – anonymous employer review at First United Management Group

4. Choose how to respond to an illegal question

Whilst you might think that the question has been asked in an illegal way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a crime has been committed. Most illegal questions are asked in ignorance and not with malicious or criminal intent. So, instead of calling them out straight away, ask yourself if they’re just trying to be friendly and if they’ve asked you personal questions to try to break the ice and get to know you. When it comes to your response, you have two options – 1) answer the question briefly and redirect the line of questioning, or 2) ignore the question completely and redirect the questions into another area. 

5. Stay in control

If your interviewer asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, or that goes in a direction that you’d rather not go, there’s no need to panic. When this happens, take a deep breath and work out what kind of information you could share. You can also use these tips given by Terry Gross – professional interviewer from NPR. 

6. Ask your own questions

Whether your interviewer asks you illegal or controversial questions or not, it’s important to remember that the interview is a two-way conversation, meaning that it’s your chance to find out everything you need to know too. So, it’s really important to make sure that you ask your own questions too, especially questions that will help you to work out if you’ll be a good cultural fit at this particular company or not. And, if you feel up to it, why not test your potential employer with some unusual questions too?!


If your New Year’s Resolution is to land your dream job this year, then you’ve come to the right place! Here at kununu, we have 3,898,626 authentic company reviews on personal experience, salary, company climate, and application processes for 929,442 companies. So, you can not only find the perfect job, but also gain real insights into your potential employer too! 


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