'I just went to an interview and they asked me if I had children. I didn't know what to say but I didn't want to jeopardise my chances of getting the job. I told them the truth. Is it ok to be asked these sorts of questions?'

I just went to an interview and they asked me if I had children. I didn’t know what to say but I didn’t want to jeopardise my chances of getting the job. I told them the truth. Is it ok to be asked these sorts of questions?

Jenny, PA, WA

In a nutshell, NO – it is not ok for an employer to ask this question. Federal and state anti-discrimination legislation actually prohibits discrimination in determining who should or shouldn’t be offered employment. People who conduct interviews should only ask questions that are relevant to the skills, abilities, experience and knowledge required to do the job.


Other questions that should never be asked include:
How old are you?
Are you married?
Do you live with another person?
Are you gay or lesbian?
Do you want children?
What does your dad/mum do?

It is very difficult as a job seeker when you are faced with an illegal question or a question that makes you uncomfortable. Don’t beat yourself up about being honest – it is ok to be upfront and to tell the truth. However, next time if you are in that situation and have the courage, you could use it is an opportunity to show an employer how you handle a delicate situation in a diplomatic and professional manner.

Here are some suggestions for how you could respond:

  • You could tell the employer you would be happy to answer the question but need some clarification of why this information is relevant to the job.
  • The other option is to think about why they are asking the question. For example, if they are asking if you have children, they are often trying to ascertain if there is anything that might adversely affect your ability to be at work (children being sick, school holidays, etc). Rather than answering the question directly you could take the upper hand by tactfully stating, ‘There is nothing that would get in the way of me doing my job’.

You need to consider that if you are being asked questions such as this, it may be reflective of the organisation’s culture, or it might be that you had an ignorant interviewer. If you think it is the former you might decide you really do not want to work for them anyway!

Have a look at the suggested resources from the pregnancy question for where to go if you feel you have been discriminated against or treated unfairly.

Have you ever been asked an inappropriate question in an interview? Share your story!

Jo Messer

Jo Messer is a Career Development Specialist who has many years of experience in supporting and guiding students and graduates of some of Australia’s most respected universities, as well as mature-aged clients, across all facets of their career. She is a Professional Member of CDAA and an active member of NAGCAS. Whether you have a specific question about how to achieve your career goal or something more general, Jo is available to provide you with up-to-date advice.




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