Illegal interview questions are one of the trickiest issues one can run into when applying for a job. Under most circumstances, an interviewer is not legally allowed to ask questions which are designed to reveal personal information such as your religion, marital status, or your age, just for a few examples. Unless the question has a strict basis in occupational qualifications (and sometimes even if it does), it’s quite likely that it violates state and/or federal laws.
Interviewers are not permitted to probe for this type of information as it is not legal to use as part of a hiring decision. In fact, employers may not turn down an applicant based on any of the following factors:
Unfortunately, not all interviewers abide by these rules, for one reason or another. It may be a matter of inexperience, lack of awareness, or simple disregard for the rules as they are set in place. Ultimately, though, the responsibility rests with you as the interviewee to determine the purpose behind the question and respond gracefully.
It’s important not to jump to conclusions or assume the worst if faced with a question that seems like it could be illegal. Wording is everything when it comes to sensitive subjects and the last thing you want to do is come across as the type of person who’s looking for problems. Consider the following two examples:
These two questions are obviously quite different on the surface, but could be asked for the same reason. The first of the two is technically illegal by most standards, although you can still respond effectively without calling out your interviewer simply by responding as though you were asked the latter question instead. This allows you to provide the information that the interviewer was likely to be seeking without appearing confrontational.
While you shouldn’t feel obligated to continually submit to illegal questions during any job interview, keep in mind that there’s always potential for misunderstandings. An interviewer who has asked only for appropriate job-related information but then inquires about your military service might not realize that it’s an off-limits subject; he or she might’ve simply been asking a casual question out of personal interest.
Regardless, bluntly halting the interview by asserting that a question is illegal to ask can make it difficult to continue comfortably. You have a few options at your disposal, but they really must be utilized on a case-by-case basis. It’s important to use your best judgment to gauge the purpose of what’s being asked, and consider employing one of the following types of responses:
Think of your job interview as a general test of your ability to think on your feet. Just as you might have to respond to questions which just seem strange or unrelated to the work itself, you might be faced with questions which catch you off-guard because they appear to be illegal. Since you can’t know whether your interviewer is fully aware, assuming that the question was simply a misstep will likely put you in a better position to succeed.