Job Seekers: 6 Illegal Interview Questions To Watch For

illegal interview questions

The process of an interview can be nerve-racking enough, but when you get an interview question that throws you off, it can turn up the pressure.  Additionally, you may not even realize that a question being asked of you is actually illegal.  With the recent passage of new laws regarding what an employer is allowed to ask in an interview, it’s important to know your rights if you’re not sure about answering a question.  While an illegal question could simply be the mistake of an inexperienced hiring manager, or perhaps you don’t mind answering the question, you still have a right to know what kind of interview questions are against the law.

For questions that are truly baffling, be sure that you clarify and ask how it is related to the position at hand.  Additionally, you always have the option of filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Read on below to discover the illegal questions you should watch for in an interview, as well as how you can answer them.

Are you comfortable managing an all-male team?

This type of question could come in many forms, but any question that relates to gender is illegal to ask.  Under this umbrella are also questions like, “Are you comfortable reporting to a female manager?” or, “As a single mom, do you think you can balance caring for your children with your work responsibilities?”

How to answer: In your answer, be sure to leave out anything about gender.  To answer the above question, you might say, “I’m very comfortable in a management role,” and follow it up with an example of how your team excelled.

Where are you from?

While this seems like an innocent conversation starter, this question may be hinting at your citizenship status or your country of origin, which is illegal to ask about in a job interview.  In addition to a question like this, any questions about your race or ethnicity are also off-limits.

How to answer: A response like, “I grew up in Connecticut,” or “I’ve lived in Florida for many years,” can answer the question politely without revealing unnecessary informationIf you don’t feel like that’s enough, you can also add that you are legally allowed to work in the United States.

What year did you graduate high school?

While this may also seem like a harmless question, it is often asked to try to pinpoint your age.  Because age discrimination for both younger and older job seekers is an issue, employers cannot legally inquire about your age.

How to answer: Instead of focusing on your age, answer with the information they are really trying to learn: do you have the experience for this role?  For younger job seekers, you can pick out your relevant skills and experience.  For older job seekers, you may want to focus on your experience with new programs or technology that you may be expected to know.

Are you planning to have children in the future?

Any questions regarding your marital or family status are illegal because they often discriminate against those planning to start a family.  This might include questions like, “Have you made arrangements for childcare during work hours?” or “What does your spouse do for a living?” 

How to answer: Rather than answering this question directly, you may want to consider an answer like, “I don’t think my personal life is relevant, but I’d really like to know more about the career paths at your organization.”

Will you need personal time for any religious holidays?

While this may simply be asked for scheduling purposes, inquiring about your religion is against the law. This question may come in other forms, such as, “Do you attend church on Sundays?”

How to answer: Clarify by asking a question like, “What is the schedule like for this position?” or “Does this position require working on religious holidays?” Or, simply reassure them by saying “I’m positive that I will be able to meet the needs of your schedule.”

What is your current salary?

While this question isn’t illegal everywhere, the New York City Council recently passed a law banning employers from asking this question.  This can give job seekers the opportunity to be paid the market value for a position, rather than continuing to get underpaid based on their salary history.

How to answer: Even if you aren’t looking for jobs in New York City, you can still redirect this question by saying, “I’m not comfortable disclosing my current salary, but I can tell you that I’m looking for a salary in this range for my next position.”  To find a realistic salary range, be sure to research ahead of time what others in the market with a similar background and experience level are paid.

DISCLAIMER: The Execu|Search Group has made every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information provided in this article. If you have any questions about these laws, please reach out to your legal counsel.