Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
You found a job that seems really exciting. At first glance, it appears to be custom-made for you. The skills align with your knowledge, and the description is an excellent fit for your career goals.
But when you click through the application, you’re dismayed by some of the questions. You feel like your privacy is being invaded, and you have yet to speak to anyone. What should you do? Of course, you could simply move on, looking for a different role. Or, you could take a step back, analyze what is off-putting about the application, and do some research into the company to get a feel for its culture.
Perhaps the company is outsourcing its recruiting efforts, or it’s an outdated application. Maybe the company doesn’t realize the implications of some of the questions. While those oversights don’t speak highly of its attention to detail, you might discover that the application isn’t indicative of the company’s overall culture.
You’re under no obligation to answer questions that you feel are invasive. However, if the company seems like it might be an excellent fit, it could be worth the effort to work around invasive application questions and make your decision after you’ve spoken to the hiring manager. Consider your options for moving forward. If you’re trying to figure out how to handle invasive application questions, we’ve got some tips for you below.
1. Accept When It’s Permissible
You already knew the employer would request an overview of your work history, but you didn’t realize the company would ask for a detailed account of every professional move you’ve made in your adult life.
Most employers are looking for gaps in your employment history, and it can feel like a bit much when you’re asked for additional details. The company wants specific dates and to know about every position you’ve ever held, including your starting and ending salary information.
At this point, consider giving a detailed account of the last role or two you held. Hiring managers might be looking for a steady career progression that makes sense when considering the job you’re applying for.
Another consideration to make is whether you’re applying for jobs that require security clearance, such as with an airline or a school district. If that’s the case, it’s likely a legal requirement for the employer to do its due diligence and dive deep into your background and identity. As such, you’ll need to give every detail if you want to be considered for the job.
On the other hand, if you encounter questions that don’t make sense in the context of the job you’re applying for, supply only the information you’re comfortable with and leave it at that.
2. Acknowledge When It’s Illegal
You might come across application questions that skirt around a legally protected demographic. The company might ask about the status of your medical history, pregnancies, age, disability, etc. Those are all questions that are off-limits under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If a company is asking a question that makes you feel as though it’s trying to indirectly gather protected information, take a moment to analyze its culture. If you do your research and get a good feel for the company, and the question is the only thing that feels off-brand, ask yourself if there could be other interpretations of the question. Perhaps it’s worded poorly?
Ask a trusted friend or family member to read over the question and give you their interpretation. If the consensus is that the question is invasive, move ahead with a vague answer or reach out to a recruiter to address it.
3. Reach Out to a Recruiter
Suppose you come across a question about disability accommodations. You know it’s illegal for a company to require you to disclose your disability. You also know you can’t legally be discriminated against because of it.
And yet, there is a space on the application requesting that you list any accommodations you might need to perform the job. If you’re feeling great about everything else but recognize this as invasive, you could reach out to a recruiter. Introduce yourself and briefly explain why you’re excited about the role. Then, move into clarification for the question.
You can politely state that you’re unsure how to answer a particular question and are wondering if, perhaps, there’s an error in the application. Reaffirm that you’re eager to learn more about the position, but note that it’s essential that you work for a company with values that mirror yours and you want to be sure the question isn’t indicative of the company’s culture. The response you get can help you determine if you’d like to move forward with your application or move on to a more inclusive company.
4. Hold Your Boundaries
When a question feels a bit invasive, but the rest of the culture and application give you a good vibe, your best option might be to simply write in “N/A” (not applicable) or “Prefer not to answer.”
Many companies ask for voluntary disclosure of specific demographics, such as gender, disability, veteran status, and race to support hiring practices. But you’re not obligated to answer questions that make you uncomfortable. You might not want to supply that information and should only feel obligated to share what is necessary to assess your qualifications for the role.
5. Push Back When You’re Eager To Pursue the Role
Refrain from assuming that simply going with the flow is the best way to land a job. If you’re eager to work with an employer that values constructive dialogue, you can use this opportunity to test the waters. When a question seems overly invasive, such as asking for excessive free work, you can push back a bit.
For example, if you’re asked for one sample of work in a creative field, that’s not necessarily out of the question. But if you’re asked to devote substantial time to creating multiple free samples, that might be a good place to draw the line.
In that situation, you might submit your application and, in your cover letter, include a link to your portfolio so the employer can assess your work. Add a note in your email that you’d be happy to provide one free sample, per industry standards, if the company can choose which sample it’d prefer. Continue with a statement that you’d be glad to provide additional samples at your standard rate and include a proposal for the cost.
Sure, the hiring manager may choose to move on to other applicants willing to work for less than they’re worth. On the other hand, the hiring manager might appreciate your honesty and self-confidence. Your note might be the wake-up call the hiring team needs to acknowledge the excessive nature of its requests.
Creating Job Search Success
Once you start your job search, you’ll inevitably run into various applications and questions. Refrain from getting pushed into answering an invasive question on a job application. If it feels uncomfortable, you need to analyze why it feels that way and whether it indicates a concern with the company as a whole.
When you feel the question is a one-off, you can address it head-on. On the other hand, if invasive application questions are one sign among many indicating that this company may not be a fit for you, you’re better off looking for a more inclusive and supportive company.