How to Handle These 10 Illegal Interview Questions

Image Credit:  Aila Images  on Stocksy

Image Credit: Aila Images on Stocksy

When you’re getting ready for an interview, you want to be as prepared as possible. That includes everything from practicing your personal intro by confidently crafting your elevator pitch and presenting yourself through body language to studying up on the company and role to dressing for interview success to creating a list of questions you can ask your interviewer.

Know how to talk about your weaknesses in ways that position them as strengths. Figure out how to best tell the story of your career that portrays your experience in the most positive light and strategic way possible to answer the common ask, “Tell me more about your background.” Think about how you’d answer “Tell me about a time that was challenging for you and how you worked through it,” and “What was a project you’re really proud of?” When it comes to talking about your accomplishments, you might feel awkward because it’s hard for us to sing our own praises, but if you tell your story with passion and authenticity, your interviewers will hang onto your every word.

You may also have an employer who will ask you questions to assess your level of Emotional Intelligence. Anticipate questions that will cover your impact on others, emotional and inner awareness, self-assessment, emotional expression, courage and assertiveness, resilience, awareness in the moment, and setting a tone. If you have a case interview, know what to expect and how to show the employer your best skills.

However, there are questions that are inappropriate for interviewers to ask, and others that are downright illegal.

10 Illegal Questions an Employer Cannot Ask

  • What is your religious affiliation?

  • Are you pregnant?

  • What is your political affiliation?

  • What is your race, color, or ethnicity?

  • How old are you?

  • Do you have a disability?

  • Are you married?

  • Do you have children or plan to?

  • Are you in debt?

  • Do you socially drink or smoke?

It is illegal for an employer to ask these questions because they solicit information about a candidate that could be used discriminatorily. By asking these questions, the employer is breaching Equal Opportunity Employment (EEO) guidelines and could open the company up to a lawsuit when particularly asking about race, religion, and gender because they are protected classes.

Employers may ask some these questions unknowingly to try to get to know you as the candidate better, but it’s entirely possible that they have ulterior motives. Any questions relating to family like asking if you’re pregnant, married, have kids or plan to have kids could tip an employer off if you’re anticipating taking leave or have priorities outside of work that could affect your schedule. If they choose to decline you for those reasons, that’s discrimination.

Questions surrounding age can be iffy—some jobs have minimum age requirements, but most do not. Employers implicitly attach ages to experience levels but many industries also champion youth culture and having a young workforce in tune with current trends. Some have even gone so far as to cap the number of years experience a qualified candidate can have for a role. All of this deeply perpetuates ageism. When asking about disabilities, an employer might be trying to see if you have any reasons why you would be unable to perform the functions of the role, or if they can get away with paying you at a lower wage. Regardless, asking about disability status is also discriminatory.

How To Answer When You’re Asked an Illegal Interview Question

If you are asked any of these questions, do your best to shift the interview back your qualifications for the position. An interview is about how your skills and experience fit the role—not your personal attributes and immutable characteristics.

You don’t have to answer these questions, and you should not. Pivot around the question in a way that ties back to the role. For example if you’re asked about your religion, you can answer with, “I’m not sure how religion relates to this role or my ability to do it. In terms of reasons I am qualified for this position, my sense of responsibility and consistent follow through on projects have been assets when working on teams and being transparent with clients.” If you’re asked about your age, you can say “Interestingly, my age is not related to my potential to succeed in this position. To be clear, I have X years of experience in this industry with a depth of knowledge I feel is well-suited to this role.”

If you are comfortable informing the interviewer that the question itself is inappropriate and that you have no obligation to answer it, voice your thoughts. In addition, be sure to notify Human Resources after the interview is complete.