During the interview, you’re striving to impress the hiring manager and make it clear that you’re the right person for the job. This means you’ll face a wide range of questions about your career, interests, experience and more. While difficult questions are part and parcel of an interview, there is a line that employers are not legally allowed to cross.
If your interviewer crosses this line, you need to understand how to respond to illegal interview questions. That’s why we compiled this list of off-limits questions and respectful answers you can utilize if you are asked them.
Illegal Interview Questions Employers Sometimes Ask
Several topics are off the table in job interviews and are indeed illegal questions. The questions are illegal to protect candidates from discrimination. Illegal job interview questions include any questions that are related to a candidate’s:
- Race, Ethnicity, or Color
- Gender or Sex
- Country of Natural Origin or Birth Place or Citizenship or Language
- Marital or Family Status
- Salary History (in California; Oregon in January 2019; Delaware; Massachusetts in July 2018; New York City; Puerto Rico; and Philadelphia)
Questions around these areas are not typical interview questions and are considered unfair according to laws across the country. Read on for some examples of illegal interview questions and how to answer them.
13 Illegal Job Interview Questions
Though the topics above are not permitted to be discussed, a hiring manager may try to weave them into the conversation. If you have a solid knowledge of what questions are illegal to ask in an interview, then you can identify them and proceed with confidence.
- What arrangements are you able to make for childcare/eldercare while you work?
- Do you plan to have children?
- When did you graduate from high school?
- Are you a US citizen?
- Are you married?
- What does your spouse do for a living?
- Where did you live while you were growing up?
- Will you need to take personal time for particular religious holidays?
- Are you comfortable working for a female boss?
- There is a large disparity between your age and that of the position’s coworkers. Is this a problem for you?
- How long do you plan to work until you retire?
- Have you experienced any serious illnesses in the past year?
- What is your salary history? (Illegal in parts of the U.S. – see above for cities/states)
How to Respond to Illegal Interview Questions
If you are ever asked one of these illegal questions, it’s good to know how to respond. The best approach is to:
- Determine why the interviewer is asking the question and whether the interviewer has a legitimate concern they are trying to address.
- Then, tailor your answer to speak to that concern, gracefully avoid the illegal part of the question, and move the conversation back to your job-related strengths.
Knowing how to answer illegal interview questions will help you navigate tricky parts of the conversation without coming off as defensive or rude. Read on for specific answers you can give when facing these questions.
For gender-related questions, the best approach is to answer the question but without referencing gender.
For example, if you’re asked, “How would you handle managing a team of all men?”, drop the last part of the question and focus on your leadership skills instead. You could say: “I am very comfortable in a management role. In fact, in my last position, the department I led exceeded its annual sales goals for three straight years.”
Family Status Questions
An appropriate answer to family status types of questions — such as, “Are you going to keep working after you have kids?” — would be: “You know, while it is unlawful to answer that question, what is more important is that I am very interested in this position and the career paths at your company. Can you tell me more about that?”
This assures the interviewer that you’re committed to your professional growth but doesn’t promise them anything in terms of your future — and lets you steer the conversation back to a job-related topic.
U.S. employers can get in big trouble for hiring people not legally allowed to work in the country. You can gracefully dodge this type of question by saying, “I’ve lived in a lot of places. But I am legally allowed to work in the U.S. if that’s what you are asking.”
A good answer for age discrimination type of questions would be to return to your job-related skills, highlighting specific accomplishments and how your experience can benefit the company.
An employer may be curious about your religious practices to plan their weekend or holiday schedules. You can assure them of your availability by saying something like: “I’m certain that I will be able to work the schedule you need for this position.”
Deflect salary questions early in the interview process or in those cities and states where asking salary history questions is illegal. Try to put off this conversation until there is a firm offer on the table. But if you’re asked before then, refrain from giving a direct answer. Instead, drop the question back in the interviewer’s court. You can say something like: “I’d like to know more about the position and its responsibilities before I consider compensation.”
It’s to your advantage to get the interviewer to reveal the position’s salary range before you divulge any information! You now have the upper hand as far as the negotiation is concerned.
Other Illegal Job Interview Questions
When confronted with an inappropriate question, don’t panic. Instead, if you feel that a question is inappropriate, ask the interviewer to clarify how it relates to the job. You are also within your rights to tell the interviewer that you’re not willing to answer a question that makes you uncomfortable. In most cases, the interviewer will be understanding and move on to the next question.
Unlock Your Full Interview Potential with InterviewFocus
You know how to respond to illegal interview questions. Now, it’s time to practice answering other interview questions that will come your way. InterviewFocus is a one-of-a-kind interview preparation software designed with ambitious job seekers in mind.