Service of Unanswered Questions or None of Your Business

March 29th, 2021

Categories: Health, Health Screening, Job Hunt, Questions

I hate to admit how old I was before I could parry an unwelcome question. Before you could find out real estate sale prices online a friend asked me what we got for our co-op apartment. My answer: “We got what we asked.”  These days I reply bluntly to intrusive questions. I’ll say: “I don’t want to talk about it,” or I change the subject.

“Going on an interview?” you’d hear in the workplace if a colleague who usually wore casual clothes was dressed to the nines.

And then there’s the nag who starts every conversation with “Did you get that job yet?” It’s especially grating when you’ve told the person you’ll let them know and to please stay off the subject.

There’s a health question on some job applications: “Did you ever have cancer, epilepsy, mental health problems?” to name just a few of the listed diseases. The applicant’s choice of responses are “Yes,” “No,” and “I don’t want to answer.”

When a state adds to its list of vaccine-eligible citizens those at risk of Covid-19 due to underlying health conditions the nosy get to work. “Medical privacy has become the latest casualty of vaccination efforts, as friends, co-workers and even total strangers ask intrusive questions about personal health conditions,” Tara Parker-Pope wrote in a New York Times article, “‘How Did You Qualify?’ For the Young and Vaccinated, Rude Questions and Raised Eyebrows.”

If you check “I don’t want to answer ” to health questions on job applications will the reader assume that the answer is “Yes,” you have had one of the listed diseases? When you’re asked an intrusive question, do you feel obliged to answer? If not, what wording works best for you? What are other examples of questions you’d rather not answer?

8 Responses to “Service of Unanswered Questions or None of Your Business”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Perhaps some of these things really are no one’s business… But I would like to think that people don’t mean evil, they are just unaware of how they are coming across…

    Had this happen recently – I just said, “I’ll meet you up in the big sky one day!” And tried to joke it off. Oh, said it in a Funny Funny Way!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right: I don’t think my friend who asked how much money we got for the apartment meant badly. How was she to know that I don’t discuss such things? Other people do. She got the message and never again asked.

    But if you tell someone you don’t want to discuss something–as in the example of “did you get that job yet?”–and someone keeps after you…that’s another thing.

    Humor is tricky and these days worse than ever. Anyone who knows you is aware that you are not mean-spirited–actually you are the opposite. So if they took “I’ll meet you up in the big sky one day!” as something serious and nasty, then they need to lighten up.

  3. Deborah Brown Said:

    Your Blog this morning brought back job applications from decades ago; some things never change!

    I recall a friend applying for a job at a major NYC advertising agency in the 1970s or 80s where male applicants were handed a clipboard with the application on blue paper and female applicant’s form was in pink.

    The men were asked for their military service; the women, date of their last menstrual period. I can vouch for the last question as the company I ultimately joined and stayed for many years included that question!

    Guess the old adage of “the more things change the more they stay the same!”

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Wow. I never experienced any of those questions.

    But I was bonded at two jobs in the day and was asked at both whether I had any other sources of income and if so, what and how much? If the answer was “none,” and a single 23 year old with a tiny salary showed up at work with an ermine coat–they’d then inquire who gave it to her/where it came from. Doubt these questions are legal now.

    Friends who are looking for work are used to the question by the prospective employer: “What salary do you want?” One says she doesn’t mind because she doesn’t want to go after a job that pays too little. Another does mind. I would wonder, if I gave a figure, if they’d have been prepared to pay much more or if I really wanted the job if I’d be disqualified because I wanted too much but would be willing to consider less.

  5. MarthaTakayama Said:

    I have always found it difficult to brush aside intrusive and unwanted questions, but I have worked at it. I won’t answer questions about my age, but don’t lie. I avoid answering financial questions by feigning ignorance, making light of them or just trying to change the subject. I feel it easier to be firm about not responding to health question by indicating that I don’t like to discuss them. I try not to ask invasive questions in general. I have been uncomfortable over the years with questions on written-job applications, but did manage to answer enough to get a low level Department of Justice clearance many years ago. I don’t have any savvy advice,and would welcome it. I do wish as a society we were more sensitive as a whole. Our media coverage has become extremely invasive about inconsequential or personal matters. At the same time many people revel in revealing too much on social media which makes it harder to be discreet. It does not seem particularly likely , but hopefully in our the new political era schools and parents can encourage more restraint.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I knew a man years ago who worked for a NYC news radio station where he was asked to call the family whose son was the last man killed in the Vietnam war. He not only refused to do it he quit.

    Today I am in awe of family members of victims of violence who speak to media. It takes moxie not to respect their privacy and guts to speak. Some don’t but the camera captures grief and won’t move away.

  7. JBG Said:

    A woman I was speaking to on the phone for the first time–we’d met through an online dating site–asked me why my marriage had fallen apart. I told her that the information was personal and pointed out that we didn’t yet know each other.

    Another woman I met under similar circumstances asked, after one meeting, who got the house in the divorce and what I ended up with.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It’s amazing how inquisitive some people are. I’m terrific at thinking of questions when I interview someone in a business context. Personally, I am shy and generally don’t. I’ve been told that some people interpret my not asking as not caring. Who said communications were easy?

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