What You Can And Cannot Be Asked At An Interview

Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2022 by Lydia SinclairNo comments

If you are hoping to start a career as an accountant or move into another role, your knowledge of recruitment practices may be as important as your understanding of accountancy itself.

While having the professional qualifications on your CV will get you interviews, it is in that room that the decisive moments will take place, as you will be among a number of candidates and it is the ones who shine who will get through.

Sometimes that means handling some tricky moments and while everyone has faced open-ended questions like “can you tell me about yourself?” and “Can you give an example of the time when you did (insert action here) in response to (insert situation here)?”, there are some questions that you cannot be asked.

These relate to what are listed as protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. These are listed as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. 

If anyone asks questions relating to these in an interview, alarm bells may sound and reasonably so; these are not legitimate lines of enquiry and if anyone is treated less favourable because of the answers they give to such questions they can give rise to an employment tribunal claim on the basis of unfair discrimination.

People looking for accounting jobs in Brighton may find employers there are especially aware of the need not to tread in these areas, given the city’s diverse communities and socially liberal attitudes. 

Nonetheless, such risks exist. The Big Four accountancy firms operate in multiple countries and KPMG has recently been called out for asking inappropriate questions in Australia, where the laws on what can and cannot be asked are similar to those in the UK. The Daily Mail’s Australian edition has noted this includes people being asked if via a form they are gay or have ‘an intersex variation’. 

While not mandatory to answer and asked on the basis of monitoring diversity, these questions have still raised concerns and employment lawyers have warned that the firm will be acting outside the law by posing them if they are in any way used to make hiring decisions.

While countries like the UK and Australia have such legal protections in place, it should be perfectly reasonable that candidates are not subjected to questions about them and even less to hiring decisions based on discrimination.

At the heart of equality legislation is the core principle that if people are able to do the job well, there should be no impediment placed in their way by aspects of their personal characteristics, choices or beliefs that are not directly relevant to the role. Ultimately, everyone should benefit as an economy works better when everyone gets the chance to fulfil their talents. 

Thankfully, the accountancy profession is mostly aware of this, which is what may make the claims arising from KPMG interviews in Australia all the more concerning. In most cases, in accountancy and other professions, the focus for the recruiter is on how well you can do the job.

This is important to note because you should not waste any time in your interview preparation considering how you might answer a question about a protected characteristic. Instead, focus on telling the interviewer why you will be great at the job.

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