Job interview questions should only focus on your ability to do the job. In most cases, questions about your personal life are considered illegal. Regardless, illegal questions are asked. Sometimes it happens by chance, and sometimes it happens on purpose.
These questions can make you feel uneasy and harm your interview performance.
Avoid becoming upset or uncomfortable because your ability to convert interviews into offers is probably not one of your strongest suits. And being upset will only make things worse.
What Are the Illegal Interview Questions?
Federal and state laws prohibit prospective employers from asking specific unrelated questions to the job they are hiring. Employers should not inquire about any of the following topics unless they are directly related to the job requirements, as refusing to hire a candidate because of any of them is discriminatory:
- National origin
- Marital/family status
How do you find out if a question is inappropriate or illegal?
All questions should focus on your work abilities and experience. Interview questions that do not pertain to your ability to perform the job are generally considered off-limits.
Commonly asked inappropriate or illegal questions include those about your age, gender, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, country of origin, health status, and other topics unrelated to your ability to perform the job duties.
Specific questions are considered inappropriate or illegal because they can lead an interviewer to discriminate against you as a candidate, whether on purpose or unintentionally. If you say yes when asked if you are married, an interviewer will presume that you are less likely to travel for a job, even if this is not the case.
The basic rule of thumb for determining whether a question is appropriate is: Does it have anything to do with your work skills or experience for the applied job?
If not, you should answer without presenting details that might influence your interviewer’s personal opinion of you, enabling him or her to concentrate on your qualifications.
How to respond?
You may always stop the interview or refuse to answer a question if you are asked an illegal interview question or if the questions begin to follow a criminal pattern. It may be challenging to do, but you must be at ease at work. If the interview questions are representative of the company’s practices, you may be better off learning about them now.
When an interviewer asks an inappropriate question by accident, you should respond politely, avoiding the core of the question but addressing the intent.
Fortunately, there are ways to respond to these questions without appearing evasive or offensive. Here are some methods:
- Avoid the question gracefully and redirect the conversation elsewhere.
- Keep your responses brief, broad, and general.
- Forward a question to your interviewer.
- Inquire with the interviewer about the relevance of the question to your job.
Remember that these questions are sometimes asked inadvertently when the interviewer has a conversation and hasn’t been adequately trained on what questions to avoid—going straight to “I’d prefer not to answer that” in this case can lead to unnecessary awkwardness. First, try to avoid the question as diplomatically as possible.
Questions that are inappropriate or illegal
An employer may need to determine an applicant’s age in some cases. A young interviewee can be asked if he has appropriate working papers by the interviewer. If the job requires that an applicant is of the minimum legal age for the position (for example, a bartender), the interviewer can request proof of age as a condition of employment. If the company has a standard retirement age, they may ask if the applicant is under that age. However, an interviewer cannot directly ask your age:
What is your age?
When did you get your diploma?
What is your birthday?
If you are asked these questions, you can choose to ignore them or respond with the truthful, if ambiguous, “My age is not an issue for my performance in this job.”
Only a few legal ancestry and race questions can be asked in the context of employment. During an interview, you may be legally asked, “How many languages do you speak fluently?” ” or “Are you legally authorized to work in the US?”
“Is English your national language?” “Are you a US Citizen?” “Were your parents born in the US?” and “What race do you identify as?” are illegal questions to ask during an employment interview. When confronted with such questions, you can easily refuse to respond, stating, “This question has no bearing on my ability to perform the job.”
During an interview, a prospective employer cannot inquire about your financial situation or credit rating. There are a few exceptions if you are applying for financial or banking positions. Employers can also check job aspirants’ credit with the candidate’s permission.
An interviewer has the legal right to inquire about any convicted crimes related to the job duties. For example, if you are interviewing for a job that requires you to handle money or merchandise, you may be legally asked if you have ever been convicted of theft.
You cannot be asked about arrests without convictions or involvement in political demonstrations during an interview. You could tell the interviewer, “There is nothing in my past that would impair my ability to perform the duties of this job.”
The employer may be able to check your criminal record as part of an employment background check, depending on your state and the type of job for which you are applying.
The interviewer can inquire about your ability to perform specific tasks, such as “Are you able to lift and carry items weighing up to 28 pounds safely?”
or “Are you able to stand for the duration of your shift comfortably?” or “Are you comfortable sitting for the duration of your shift?”
A prospective employer may not ask your height, weight, or any details about any physical or mental limitations you may have unless they are directly related to the job requirements. If you choose to respond, you can say something like, “I am confident that I will be able to handle the demands of this position.”
An interviewer may inquire about your ability to meet work schedules or travel for the position. He may inquire about how long you intend to stay at a specific job or with the prospective firm. You may also be asked if you anticipate any extended absences.
An interviewer cannot inquire about your marital status, whether you have children, what your childcare situation is, or whether you plan to have children (or more children). You are not permitted to be questioned about your spouse’s occupation or salary. If you choose to respond to a question like this, a graceful way to do so is to say that you can perform all of the duties that the position entails.
Although it is unlikely that an interviewer will not know your gender during a face-to-face interview, it is critical that your gender not be considered in her assessment of your ability to do the job. You cannot be asked about your gender during a job interview unless it is directly related to your qualifications, such as being an attendant in a gender-restricted restroom or locker room.
An interviewer may inquire about your service branch and rank. It is also permissible to probe about any relevant education or experience pertinent to your applying position.
You may not be asked about your discharge status or military records unless they are relevant to the job you are applying for, such as if the position requires a security clearance. When you respond to these questions, you can indicate that nothing in your records would jeopardize your ability to succeed on the job.
An interviewer may ask if you are available to work during the business’s regular business hours. An interviewer is not permitted to inquire about your religious beliefs or the holidays you observe. It is against the law to inquire about your place of worship or your religious beliefs. If you are asked such a question, you can respond that your faith will not interfere with your ability to do the job.
Tips for answering these questions
When you consider a question that appears to be illegal, keep in mind that the interviewer may be asking because he or she believes you can do the job and is interested in you as a person. Keep this in mind when responding so that you don’t overreact.
Remember that you are there to get a job offer, which is an essential survival skill. Responding angrily or aggressively will almost certainly result in the opportunity being lost to you.
Your best bet is to avoid displaying discomfort or anger. Response options include:
Respond to the question
The answer should be the quickest and simplest response, but it is not always the best.
For example, if you are asked about your religion, it is in your best interest to respond without taking obvious offence. You could say,
“I have a set of beliefs that are important to me, but I do not mix those beliefs with my work because I understand that employers do not want this interfering with their work.”
Many people have misconceptions about what it means to be agnostic or atheist, so that you might say something like,
“I am a Humanist who is ethical.”
Avoid answering the question.
If you don’t believe the question is being asked in a friendly manner, you can politely respond with your question to redirect the conversation.
If the question is about your age, you can turn it into a personal marketing opportunity by saying something like,
“I have noticed that the majority of the workforce is under the age of 35, so hiring anyone with more experience may be very valuable.”
You can express that you are aware that the question is illegal and are surprised that it is being asked by saying something like,
“I’m surprised you’d ask such a question. Have you had any serious issues with this?
Depending on the interviewer, this response may result in you losing the opportunity. Of course, they may be implying that they would be an unsuitable employer for you by asking the question.
Refuse to respond
To avoid answering an illegal question, for example, ask “Why do you ask?”
“How does that apply to this job?”
You may learn more about the job (which is beneficial), and then you can decide whether or not you want to respond if they continue to pursue an answer.
Interviewers who have received proper training are aware of the types of questions that should not be asked. However, not all interviewers are well-trained, and they may simply be making small talk to get to know you better.
Be cautious if a topic is brought up that is unrelated to your job skills and experience or that does not appear relevant to the job you’re applying for. Unfortunately, your response may influence an interviewer’s personal opinion of you, resulting in a callback or a cold shoulder.
If you can identify inappropriate or illegal questions, you’ll be better prepared to respond so that both you and your interviewer can avoid awkward silence and move on to the next question.