Interview Tips

Interview Questions You Should NEVER (legally) Have to Answer

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By: Dora Segall
Aug 7, 2020 • 10 min read

Interview questions you should NEVER (legally) have to answer.

Recruiters sometimes throw you for a curveball during job interviews. When you are applying for a competitive position, your potential employers will want to see how well you think on your feet and respond to difficult circumstances. But there are specific topics that just are not appropriate for an interview. When you are a prospective employee, the power dynamic might make you feel obligated to answer questions that make you feel uncomfortable. However, it is illegal for any recruiter to ask you for personal information. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lists the identity markers which are protected against discrimination here. Though these may seem straight-forward, it can be somewhat challenging to tell when a seemingly simple interview question is actually a no-no. Read on to familiarize yourself with some of the less obvious, illegal interview questions and learn how to respond to them.

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ILLEGAL QUESTIONS:

Where are you from?

Even if you have a foreign accent, it is unlawful for a recruiter to ask anything that might allude to your ethnicity or nationality. This is because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination, including in the workplace, based on country of origin. It is out of bounds to ask where your family is from, either. Only if proficiency in a specific language is relevant to the job for which you are applying (for instance, a translator or administrative assistant). This is the only time when it’s appropriate for a recruiter to ask about it. If that is the case, still make sure that you are being asked how well you read and write. Steer clear if they are asking you where you learned to speak the language.

How old are you?

Anti-discrimination laws based on age are actually designed to protect employees over the age of 40. That said, do not be alarmed if a recruiter asks whether you are over a certain age, usually 18. Most jobs have a minimum age requirement for employees, with bars and other alcohol-serving venues enforcing such policies, especially closely. Keep in mind that if you are applying to a job where you may have to serve drinks, the minimum age can vary from 17 to 21 depending on the state.

Arrest records

UNLESS your arrest record legally limits the company’s ability to allow you to perform the job for which you are applying, this question is not appropriate. Be careful to note the difference between an arrest and actual conviction, which recruiters CAN ask you about during an interview.

Is there any chance you might be pregnant now or in the near future?

Similarly, “Do you have kids, and if so, do you have arrangements for childcare while you are working?” These questions can be used to determine whether you are a working parent, which is discriminatory for companies to factor into employment decisions.

Do you own or rent your current home?

Questions about housing can be used in a variety of potential discrimination situations. Asking how you pay for your house or apartment can reveal information about your credit, while asking who you live with, similar to questions about pregnancy and parental status, can be used to discriminate based on whether you have children. Keep in mind that it is perfectly legal for an employer to ask for your address and the number of years for which you have lived there, so long as they do not go on to probe for more personal information.

Can you work weekends and nights?

This is yet another question which can be used to discriminate against working parents, as well as religious employees. Whereas questions about any shifts you prefer or are unable to work are acceptable for the purposes of tailoring hiring decisions to any gaps in a company’s shift schedule, asking flat out whether you can work at times when children are generally out of school or when they think you might be attending a house of worship is a possible indicator that an employer is seeking to limit their hiring search by parental status or religious affiliation.

Do you have a disability, or have you ever suffered from a work-related injury?

Like race, ethnicity, sex, and age, factoring a physical or mental disability into one’s hiring decision is punishable by law. If you have a history of injury or congenital disorder that will not affect your ability to do the job for which you are interviewing, you have no obligation whatsoever to disclose it. This actually includes any history of drug use and whether you currently drink. Don’t sound the alarm if a recruiter asks whether you are physically and mentally capable of performing the tasks required of the position. This is a fair question that is vague enough to verify your ability to work. As long as they do so without targeting you for any irrelevant health conditions.

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Are you a member of any organizations outside of work?

This may seem like a relatively harmless get-to-know-you question. However, companies have been known in several legal cases to discriminate against potential employees. This could be because of religious affiliations or sexual orientation inferred from their participation in recreational groups and clubs. For that reason, you should be careful to distinguish this question from more general questions about your hobbies or interests. Also, whether you can balance your professional and personal life.

HOW TO RESPOND

If you are asked any of these questions during a job interview, whether to answer is up to you. Here are some of your options for responding to inappropriate interview questions.

Answer it

If you feel like your interviewer simply did not realize the question they asked was inappropriate, for instance, if they are an employer at a small business rather than a professional recruiter, feel free to answer if you feel comfortable doing so. For instance, you can partially answer questions about your affiliation with non-professional organizations. Start by saying you enjoy playing club soccer or doing community service. Rather than naming the LBTQ+ soccer league of which you are a member of the mosque at which you volunteer. 

Question the question

It is important to remember that you are under no obligation to answer an illegal interview question that makes you uncomfortable. If you prefer not to answer, that is okay! Consider asking the recruiter what the relevance of the question is for the job interview. They may have failed to screen out the inappropriate question prior to the interview. Then, they might realize the mistake and skip to the next one when you subtly point it out.

Refuse to answer

Try to say something along the lines of, “I don’t feel like that is the most relevant question”. Or, “I feel uncomfortable answering that. If, at any time, you get a bad feeling during a job interview, you are always free to excuse yourself and leave. This is just a preliminary step in potentially putting yourself into an environment where you will work for several years. If you feel uncomfortable during an interview, you will feel uncomfortable in the workplace. Knowing what interview questions to look out for is the first step in addressing and preventing workplace discrimination. So, do not be afraid to stand your ground in such an uncomfortable situation.

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