Sure, recruiters can’t outright ask your age—but it’s human nature to be curious about the personal details of those you’re getting to know.
As such, you might want to prepare answers for sneaky questions that recruiters or hiring managers might try to slip into the conversation.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most often asked questions that will give away your age—and some outta-left-field questions that are surprisingly common despite their irrelevance to your interview (how recruiters fit these into the conversation we have no idea).
Keep in mind that you don’t have to share your age—but you might want to consider brushing up on pop culture and keeping your social media private if you don’t want recruiters jumping to any conclusions based on your emoji use on Instagram or the minion memes on your Facebook page.
1. What email address do you use?
According to Jodi Branstetter, Author of Hire By Design, you should never use your birth year in your email address. “If I used [email protected], for example, an employer will guess that I was born in 1979 and assume I am 41 or 42 years old!”
What’s more, if you’re still using a hotmail or msn address, recruiters will likely assume you’re older—even if you made the account when you were a kid. The best way to avoid giving away your age is to create a clean gmail account—first name and last name will do just fine.
2. What’s your Chinese zodiac sign?
“A really sneaky way I’ve seen employers pinpoint an age is asking candidates what their Chinese zodiac animal is (rat, dragon, rabbit, etc.),” says Janelle Owens, HR Director at Test Prep Insight. “For those that don’t know, these are the animals and years you’ve probably seen on placemats at Chinese restaurants.”
Each animal only comes up every 12 years, so given the potential timespan, you can typically use this info, with other questions about pop culture, to back into their birth year.
3. Are you looking forward to retirement?
According to Andrew Fennell, former recruiter and director at StandOut CV, they may ask if you are looking forward to retirement, and how long you’ve got left until you retire. You are by no means obligated to answer these types of questions—but if your eyes get glossy as you conjure up images of palm trees and cocktails by the pool, you might be giving yourself a way, just a little.
4. When did you get your COVID vaccine?
Although there’s no vaccine passport in place for most fields of employment at the moment, the topic of COVID vaccines might very well come up anyway.
According to Fennell, in the current climate, they could ask if and when you’ve had your COVID vaccine to determine your age group.
5. Did you go to school with anyone I know?
According to Henry Dalziel, recruiter at Growth Hackers Hong Kong, a sneaky way he has seen recruiters try to guess someone’s age is by pretending to know someone at the same college or university as the prospective employee.
“The interviewee will try to answer as best they can, and then the recruiter will just ask, ‘well, when did you graduate?’—and just like that they’ll have the answer to your age.”
6. Are you able to work with a certain technology?
According to Ben Lamarche, tech savviness (or a lack of it) might not tell you someone’s exact age. But asking this question could help determine whether an older applicant is a good fit for a position that requires the use of a certain type of technology.
If you’re worried about a recruiter trying to write you off based on your tech savviness, try to make sure you’re familiar with all the day-to-day office tech—Zoom, Slack, and Asana are key here.
7. Did you see this movie when it was released?
“This tactic has served me quite well,” says William Cannon, founder of Uplead.
“Whenever I am intending to know a candidate, or more difficult, an employee’s age, I follow this method and statement: Ah! This reminds me of a favorite movie (like “Back to the Future”)! Did you see it when it was released?”
8. What would I see if I Googled your name?
People love to overshare on social media, and employers take advantage of that fact to find out your age without asking you directly. Even if you set your accounts to private, your friends have probably posted photos of you that aren’t private.
“Employers can Google your name, and there’s a good chance a picture of your last birthday party will show up. Then all they have to do is count the candles on your cake,” says Aaron Case, career counselor and resume writer at Resume Genius.
Creepy? Yes. Illegal? No.
9. What was your favorite video game?
“Employers can also casually drop a question about current pop culture to get an idea of how old you are,” says Case.
“For example, they could ask, ‘What was your favorite video game when you were a kid?’”
Hint: Answering Pong, Pac-Man, or Computer Space are probably not going to work in your favor. If you’re not big into video games, a simple Mario Kart reference will do just fine.
10. Humming songs from different eras
Yet another way employers can sneakily discern your age is by humming songs from different eras during the interview to see how you react.
“If a few bars of the latest Lil Nas X joint doesn’t evoke a response but the melody of TLC’s “Waterfalls” does, they have you pegged as a ’90s kid,” says Case.