Interview questions taken too far

Should your mental history determine whether you get the job?

Angela Ouyang
Angela Ouyang

Published: 29 September 2016, 12:00 AM

The hiring process is often a tedious one. Employers have to make thorough background checks and question potential employees on their qualifications and work experience.

But questions do not stop there. Employers also often ask for criminal and medical records as well.

However, are such questions discriminatory?

What’s going on?

Earlier this week, The Straits Times reported that mental illness advocacy group Silver Ribbon called for employers to remove mental illness history as a question in job application forms.

Executive director of Silver Ribbon, Porsche Poh, said it has been a dilemma for job applicants who have records of mental illnesses.

Revealing their existing medical conditions during job interviews, which includes “mental illness”, might decrease their chances of employment. However, if they do not reveal their conditions beforehand, they risk “being judged later if they have a relapse”.

Some youths believe that employers should not probe about their potential employee’s past, as it may be sensitive. This includes Eleanor (not her real name), who suffered from social anxiety when she was 16.

The 24-year-old designer said: “I remember my previous employer asking me about my medical history, but I was too scared to mention it. I felt really bad lying about it for the two years I’ve been at the job.”

Yong Cindy, a 19-year-old student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said: “Employers shouldn’t force the employees to give them an outright answer if they are not comfortable about it.

“Personally, I feel that it’s okay for employers to ask potential employees during job interviews about their history of mental illnesses, only if it is a factor that will affect the work.”


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However, others believe employers have a right to know their employees’ physical and mental condition.

If applicants are comfortable with declaring their mental history, this might help the employer to better determine their suitability for the job.

Amanda Lim, a 19-year-old undergraduate, said: “Just like how [employers] will ask if potential employees have a history of other diseases, mental illness is just a condition to look out for and is not a basis for discrimination.”

Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Benjamin Chua, 19, added: “It’s fair for the employer to know, because it may affect one’s job performance.”

What is your take?

  1. Have you experienced any discrimination while applying for jobs? Why, and how did you react?
  2. Should the history of mental illnesses be considered when hiring someone for a job? Why?
  3. What else can employers do to help them determine an applicant’s suitability for the job?

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