How to Set Boundaries in Interviews

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By Lexie Brada

When it comes to job-searching, most of us were probably told at one point or another how to make a resume, where to search to find jobs, and how to dress for an interview. Perhaps you were even told ‘this is how you do an interview’.

Sometimes, though, the idea of how to make sure that you are setting boundaries during an interview is woefully under-discussed. Therefore, we’ve compiled a few tips and tricks to make sure that you walk out of an interview feeling like you are comfortable and happy with the communication between you and your potential employer.

1.Be Comfortable With Saying No

No one is saying it isn’t scary to say ‘no’ in an interview. It doesn’t mean that you have to be rude about it. A ‘no thank you’ can go a long way. You could be saying no to a question you don’t want to answer or in regards to the position itself. If you know half-way through the interview that this is not going to be the job for you, you are under no obligation to stay. You can politely thank the interviewers for their time and leave. You also are not obligated to give an answer why.

2.Ask Questions

If at any time there is something you’re not understanding or something you’re confused on, ask about it! It’s better to be 100% sure than to go on assumptions. This could relate to many aspects of setting boundaries. Be confident in your questions as well! Never apologize for needing more information before making an informed decision.

Interviewing for a job position is a two-way street. While the company is asking questions of you to see if you’d be a good fit, you’re also assessing whether or not this will be a place that you could see yourself working. Usually, at the end of interviews, you are offered a time to ask questions. Always take this chance. If they are seemingly about to end an interview without giving you that moment, ask if you’re allowed to ask them some questions yourself.

If you don’t understand an interview question or if you don’t understand how a question asked relates to your job performance, feel free to ask ‘Can you elaborate on XYZ?’ or ‘What sort of information are you seeking from this question?’. If you, once again, feel like this question is asking for more information than you want to give, do not feel like you absolutely have to answer or give away more details than you are comfortable with. You might be able to ask them to phrase the question in a different way as well, and this may make clear what sort of answer the interview team is seeking.

3. Make Boundaries Clear from the Start

Being clear in your feelings and needs in any relationship- professional, working, romantic, familial - will always steer you in a good direction. The interview process is no different. These boundaries may come in many different forms.

You could put up boundaries for questions you feel are personal. You have a few different routes you can go if you’re asked a question that you don’t want to answer: state that you would prefer not to answer that question, give limited information, or think of a similar scenario that doesn’t feel like an invasion of your privacy.

Or, be clear about what you are expecting from this job. If you don’t want to work overtime or stay late most nights, this is good information to let your future bosses know. It sets a precedent for how you are expected to work and opens up that line of communication so that if there are problems down the road, you can refer back to this verbal agreement. Don’t feel the need to bend over backwards (unless you want to). You know what you’ll be able to work and reasonably deliver!

4. Become a Man (Or Woman) of Mystery

We all know that co-worker. The one that, within a day of knowing them, we already know their grandmother’s middle name and their street address and where they store their extra keys. While it’s up to you to decide how much personal information you want to share with coworkers, you should share even less with an interview team. If you think about it, it seems odd to be sharing personal information with a company you may not even work for, right?

One way to assure that your free time stays private is to become a locked box when it comes to what your life is like outside of work. This could include:

  • Questions about your relationships
  • Lifestyle choices (habits, religion, politics)
  • What you do in your free time
  • What your weekends look like
  • Medical issues

5. Know What Questions Cannot Be Asked During an Interview

There is a whole list of questions there are illegal to ask someone during ain interview, as it might lead to discriminatory hiring. If you are in the market for any job, it would do you well to know what questions an interviewer can and cannot ask. There are ways that an interviewer can skirt along a certain type of question, but outright asking in most of the cases below is a big ‘no’.

Some of the questions that cannot be asked may include:

  • Where were you born?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you have any children?
  • What is your religion?

This article here is a chart that will let you know the category of illegal questions, ways that an interviewer could ask that aren’t illegal, and questions that they would be outright unable to ask you. Take some time and read through it; and consider that it might be a red flag if a company does ask a question they shouldn’t.

6. Know Your Limits

You know how much time and effort you're willing to give to any given interview. You might be willing to give your all for this job, and that’s fine! But if you’re not, and the idea of the seemingly never-ending interview process makes you feel a bit anxious, here are some ways to assure you’re prepared for the interviews as well as some guides on where to say ‘no’.

First, you might want to ask if the interview you’re about to have will be technical or non-technical. Often, a first interview is question-based and a second or third expects you to show a skill or certain aptitude. It’s important to know to what extent you’ll have to prepare for each interview, and there’s no harm in asking!

If you don’t ask (or aren’t correctly informed), and you feel blindsided by having to perform tasks you were not prepared to, you might ask, “It was my understanding this was a non-technical interview, so I am not as prepared as I would like to be. Can we reschedule?”

Second, know from the start how much time and effort you want to give in the interview process. Perhaps you’ve completed three interviews and you might still have to go through a fourth or fifth interviewer. That’s a lot of time to give to one company, without a job offer. You are in your right to ask how much more is expected of you before a job offer is extended and put boundaries to how much more you’re willing to do. You could say something such as “Unfortunately, I am unable to attend more than X interviews, as I must focus on my other job applications. If you are open to extending an offer after X interviews, I would love to continue the process.”

Similarly, know how much time you want to put into an interview. It’s generally stated that you should do between half an hour to an hour of prep work before each interview. This may be taking notes, preparing answers, or researching the company, but anything past that may start to feel a bit like they’re taking advantage of you. Know how much time you would be willing to put into the interview process outside of the actual interviews before you’d want to be paid for your time.

Example: I was asked to create a new lesson plan from scratch for a job interview for a grade level I’d never worked with and was not going to be compensated for the three-four hours they expected it to take. I did not want to give that much time to a job I wasn’t thrilled about, so I ended the process. My sister, on the other hand, was asked to make some mock content for a job, but was offered $500 for her free time to create this, as her possible employers knew that they were asking beyond the usual job interview process.

Ask if you can be compensated if the recruiter asks for something more than an hour’s worth of time. If they say yes, great! If they say no, then this might be a good time to reflect on if this is going to be a job that will respect your boundaries and expectations.


At the end of the day, you know what you are willing to give to get a job or not. You also know what you feel comfortable with sharing with any employer. Stand true to your guns and don’t be pressured into sharing something you don’t want to! No job is worth giving away time you don’t want to give or working for someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries. It can feel daunting to stand up and do this in interviews, but you’ll be so glad that you stuck with it, and hopefully find a job that really aligns with what sort of work-life balance you want to achieve.

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