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Home » This job interview question is dividing the internet: How to know when personal questions cross the line

This job interview question is dividing the internet: How to know when personal questions cross the line

There are a series of routine questions that job seekers know to expect at a job interview.

Most people can perfectly recite a time they had to handle stress on the job, or blag their greatest strengths without coming across as overly cocky. 

But one interview question shocked a candidate so much that she shared it on social media—and the internet is equally astonished (and often, outraged) by it. 

“How do you feel life has worked out for you so far?” Salem Pierce was asked as part of her application for a visual design lead position at an unnamed company online.

The application also asked that she “record a short, roughly 2-5 minute video response and paste the link here,” the 30-year-old graphic designer revealed on Twitter.

Pierce described the demand as a “new level of job application hell” and many others online agreed. 

The tweet went viral—this is what users had to say 

The notion that hiring managers would ask job candidates to go through the efforts of preparing, filming, and uploading a video—and ask such a personal question—didn’t go down well with most people.

One user simply concluded: “Omg definitely not worth it.” 

“Both the question and the requirement for a video response are causing internal screaming,” wrote another user. “If I tried to do it, it would probably be 2-5 minutes of external screaming.”

A number of Twitter users were also concerned that the question is at best intrusive, and at worst, discriminatory.

One user commented that the question seemed like a “sneaky way to screen out people who have had hardship” while adding “being asked to make a vid is bad enough but the question to answer seems intrusive & questionable.” 

“I can’t think of a way where this couldn’t be used to discriminate,” someone else agreed

Another turned to satire and commented, “I’d just drop my therapist’s email and tell them she will give them the Reader’s Digest version.” 

Despite the general consensus that the question is inappropriate, a small number of people welcomed the chance to open up about their life so far and explain any gaps in their CV.

‘This is interesting. Sometimes I wish I had the opportunity to expand on my obstacles in life versus trying to make things make sense on my resume. For me, I think I would use this time to explain why my career trajectory looks how it does. But [I don’t know] what their end goal is here,” one person wrote.

Do such personal questions cross the line? 

Job hunters can expect to be asked some personal questions, but timing and wording are key to keeping things professional, recruiters tell Fortune.

“I understand why the question was asked as I think overcoming obstacles really shapes a person and can make you stronger, smarter, and really grow,” Victoria Naughton, a senior associate at u&u Recruitment Partners says. 

But she warns employers that such information isn’t appropriate to ask at an early stage of an interview before even having met the candidate in person.

“Job applications need to be based on skills. Anything other than that can leave space for discrimination and bias. Which this is an example of,” agrees Zahra Amiry, Omnicom Media Group’s talent attraction associate director.

Personal questions can indeed be asked later on in an interview setting, but she cautions that they must be “professional and noninvasive” to avoid crossing the line. 

Amiry suggests leaning on classic questions like “How would you overcome a challenge?” or “Tell me about something you have achieved that you’re proud of?” because they enable candidates to “be candid and pull from personal experience—if they would like to.”

How job hunters can dodge personal questions—and toxic companies

Whether or not a hiring manager intends to be intrusive when asking a personal question, these things can happen. And, the line between what’s offensive and acceptable at an interview is completely subjective.

So instead of getting bothered by a question, first breathe. 

“My biggest tip in any interview is always to take a few seconds before any question, take your time to formulate an answer,” Amiry says.

That way you can think, if the question does make you uncomfortable, how can you answer it in a way that brings the conversation back to your career? 

But if the question is beyond outrageous, then don’t forget that it’s not only you in the hot seat: As much as an employer is judging you, you’re equally considering whether the role and the company are right for you. 

“An interview is a window into a company culture,” Amiry adds. “So remember if the interview doesn’t reflect well there may well be another role elsewhere that is a better fit for you.”

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