Leslie Stevens-Huffman, Dice Insights
February 28, 2022
Let’s face it: Some recruiters and hiring managers love asking interview questions that put job candidates on the spot. Sometimes, you might wonder if such questions are even legal. As you hunt for a new job in 2022, here’s an updated list of tricky interview questions, along with the best ways to respond.
“Have you been vaccinated?”
The EEOC allows employers to ask about your vaccine status, but they aren’t allowed to probe deeper into your medical history or disabilities.
“The best way to answer this question is with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” advised Angela Copeland, VP for Recruiter.com. “Avoid going down the backstory rabbit hole if you haven’t been vaccinated.”
If you are unvaccinated but willing to comply with a mandate, you may want to mention it, but leave it at that. Don’t digress into politics or religion in an interview.
“Do you have a dedicated distraction-free workspace?”
A hiring manager can’t specifically ask about your family, marital status or childcare arrangements, but they can try to determine if you can work from home without disruptions.
In addition to confirming that you have a dedicated workspace, explain that you have a backup plan to deal with everything from an extended internet outage to a potential school or daycare closure. Again, you want to show that you are well-prepared without sharing too many details.
“Are you willing to check email during vacation?”
Think carefully before responding to questions about how much you’re willing to work, especially during weekends or vacations, advised Pamela Skillings, chief career coach and co-founder of Big Interview.
Explain that you are always willing to go above and beyond (or respond to emergencies), she said. However, this might be the ideal time to ask the interviewer about any expectations regarding availability. Their answer will give you a good feel for the company’s culture.
Consider who is asking the question, Skillings said. If it’s a future team member, they may be looking for someone to share the workload; meanwhile, a manager may not care how the work gets done. But keep track of how often the topic of availability comes up during the interview process—if the company expects too much, it’s just one potential sign of a toxic work environment.
“Are you willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement before the interview?”
Requesting an NDA might be reasonable if you’re discussing proprietary information or interviewing with a startup that needs to keep their plans confidential, noted career counselor Wendy McWilliams.
However, the terms of the NDA need to be reasonable and free of red flags. For instance, you don’t want to sign something that would prevent you from interviewing with a competitor or has astronomical damages or a long timeframe. Presuming that all NDAs are the same can lead to significant surprises. Remember, they’re offering you a chance to interview, not a job.
“Are you willing to return to in-person work?”
If the job posting specified “fully remote,” but the interviewer starts talking about in-person work, this is definitely a red flag. One study found that job postings are more than twice as likely to mention remote work now as before the pandemic, in part because it expands the candidate pool.
It’s probably best to provide a non-committal answer, then clarify whether the company has a reopening plan in the works. Depending on their answer (and whether you’ll actually need to head into an office), you can opt to withdraw your application. The interviewer may also be testing the waters to see if you would be willing to accept a lower salary to work from home.
Before you participate in an interview, take the time to research salaries so you’re prepared to outline and justify your expectations and requirements.
“Why do you want to work from home?”
Be careful not to share too much personal information or come across as someone who is motivated by self-interests rather than contributing to the company’s growth.
Explain that you’ve learned that you can be more productive and a highly effective team member while working remotely, and that you’d rather spend more time focusing on your job than commuting. After all, your goal is to present yourself as the solution to the manager’s problems, not someone who isn’t ambitious or willing to work hard.
“What have you done to improve yourself while working remotely?”
Every manager is looking for motivated self-starters. Not investing time in self-improvement is a potential red flag. From online classes to open-source projects, exercise, reading or blogging, explain how you took the initiative to improve yourself.
“Do you have COVID symptoms?”
An employer is allowed to screen applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 before an onsite interview or after making a conditional job offer, as long as they do so for everyone in the same position. However, they are not allowed to ask if you’ve ever had COVID-19. If the interviewer inadvertently steps over the line, do your best to diplomatically dodge the question by saying that you feel fine and are up to the job, Skillings advised.