Whether you’re looking for part-time work while you study or you’re applying for full-time work after graduation, it’s important to understand what you can and can’t be asked in a job interview in Australia.

Here are some questions employers shouldn’t be asking:

1. Whether you have children, or are planning to

Prospective employers shouldn’t be asking whether you have children, or if you’re planning to, at a job interview. Whether this is under the guise of wondering about your life goals, or your childcare plans, it’s still not OK.

And, if they end up treating you less favourably because of your answer, it could be considered discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act.

2. Your marital or relationship status, or your sexuality or gender identity

Questions around whether or not you’re married or in a relationship, or issues relating to your sexuality or gender identity are completely irrelevant to job interviews and interviewers should not be asking them.

Decisions based on your answers to these questions could be considered discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act.

3. Your ethnic background

Questions about ethnic background are again irrelevant to your ability to carry out a job, and if employers make decisions on these grounds can again be considered discrimination.

However, it is perfectly reasonable for an employer to ask about your right to work in Australia and to ask to see proof of your visa.

4. Whether you have a physical or mental health condition or disability

Most employers can’t ask about your physical or mental health, and can’t make decisions based on your health.

However, some positions may require you to undergo a health check after you have been offered a position, and so long as the health check is confined to issues relevant to your job, this is perfectly legal.

Are there ever exceptions to these rules?

While the questions above are almost always unacceptable in job interviews, there may be some exceptions.

It is possible to apply for exemptions to the Equal Opportunity Act in certain circumstances. For example, organisations may sometimes have an exemption that allows them to only seek job applications from women, Indigenous Australians, or young people. If this is the case, the organisation must highlight this requirement in their job adverts and state what their exemption is under the law. You can find out more here.

It is also possible for organisations to ask questions relating to reasonable requirements of the job you are applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a role that requires a lot of heavy lifting, it is legal to ask you about any physical disabilities that might prevent you from carrying out the job requirements.

What should I do if I’m asked an illegal question in a job interview?

Being asked an illegal question can put you in a very tricky situation, especially if you really want the job.

Think carefully before you respond. If the question is being asked because it’s genuinely reasonable for the role you’re applying for, then usually illegal questions will become legal.

If you decide that the question is genuinely irrelevant to your ability to do the job, you can politely decline on this basis.

A final thing to keep in mind:

There’s nothing stopping an employer from asking to see your social media profiles, and most companies will already have looked you up on common social networking platforms before offering an interview.

However, there is no requirement for you to hand over your passwords – and in fact you probably shouldn’t.

Where can I find out more information about work rights in Australia?

  • FairWork has advice for International students here
  • Study Melbourne has advice here
  • You can seek advice on preparing for job interviews and learn more about working after graduation with UniMelb Careers here




Disclaimer: this information is correct at the time of writing. It may be subject to change and should not be treated as legally binding advice.