Few things compare to the excitement of receiving good news. When you finally get that call about the job you’ve been patiently waiting to hear about, you let out a sigh of relief. Now, with your foot in the door and your interview prep underway, you feel ready and better than ever to show your interviewers that you’re the right fit for the role.
It’s the day of the interview: You’re wearing your best suit, you’ve printed extra copies of your resume and you could recite the entire history of the company forward and backward. All is well until the moment your potential boss asks “So how old are you again?” or “Do you plan on having any children any time soon?” In that tense, uncomfortable spot, what do you do? Do you get flustered and change the topic or do you answer the question, unaware of its illegality? Hopefully, you’ll recognize that questions like these are not only uncomfortable but also illegal.
Is the question illegal or inappropriate?
There are many different questions that can catch us off guard or make us uneasy during an interview. However, unlike questions like “What is the biggest mistake you’ve made on the job?," "What is your religion?” is explicitly illegal.
Some questions fall in a grey area. Sometimes, it’s harder to distinguish whether a question is illegal or just inappropriate. Most illegal questions are also inappropriate but at times, a question like “How will your spouse feel about you working so many hours?” won’t necessarily fall under the illegal category.
Questions like these, that do not access your fit for the role or your ability to complete the duties of the job, should be red flags. If you’re ever asked a question like this during the interview, be sure to question if you’d like to work for this company and refer to the list below to double check if their question actually crosses the line into illegality.
While some employers will blatantly ask the illegal question, others will disguise it in another way to try to decipher the information they seek. First, here are some categories of inappropriate considerations for a job and the questions people ask to make them. Later in the article, we will discuss how to handle these different types of interview questions.
How old are you?
When did you graduate from high school?
Are you planning on retiring soon?
Are you at least 18 years old?
Religion or Creed
Are you religious?
What religion do you practice?
Will you need to take time off for any religious observances?
Will you be able to work nights and weekends depending on the demands of the role?
Race or Ethnicity
What is your race?
What is your spouse’s race?
Do you have experience working with others of different backgrounds than yours? *If appropriate for the role; E.g. if it entails extensive community engagement or public service
Sex, Orientation or Gender Identity
Do you have any disabilities?
How long have you been disabled?
Have you ever filed a workers’ compensation claim?
Will you be able to satisfy all of the requirements of the role?
This job requires some moderate to heavy lifting. Will you be able to do that?
Citizenship or National Origin
Where are you from?
Are you a citizen?
Is English your first language?
Are you authorized to work in the country?
How many languages do you speak?
Do you own or rent your home?
What part of town are you from?
Will you be able to work from the office as required?
Marital or Family Status
Have you ever been divorced?
How many children do you have?
Will you take maternity leave while working here?
Are you open to relocating?
Will you be able to work long hours and weekends?
Have you ever been accused of a crime?
Have you ever spent time in jail or prison?
Have you ever been convicted of a crime more serious than a traffic violation?
Will you be able to legally fulfill all of the demands of the role?
Do you have any loans?
Are you going through any economic hardship?
What are your salary expectations for this position?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission further outlines these categories and details the specific laws and regulations that employers are expected to abide by.
Can you sue for illegal interview questions?
If you ever find yourself with an interviewer who asks one of these questions, remember that you have options. While it might be time consuming or laborious to sue, that is an option — especially if you feel as though your answer or lack thereof affected your candidacy for the position. You may also file a charge with the EEOC against the company or organization. There are time limits however, so be sure that you consider your options shortly after the interview.
Questions the interviewee should avoid:
Typically, the interviewee is answering rather than asking questions during the application process. When it is your turn to ask questions, be sure to avoid any inappropriate questions that could potentially ruin your chances of getting the position.
How much do you get paid?
While you might be curious about what your future peer or supervisor is earning, do not ask this question. Compensation can be a touchy topic especially if either party realizes that the new hire or existing employee is receiving a higher rate of pay.
What are the requirements for this job?
This question is a red flag to the interviewer as it demonstrates your lack of research in the position. Be sure to come prepared to the interview and try to do enough research that asking easy to answer questions isn’t necessary.
Will I need to take a drug test to work here?
Employers aren’t allowed to ask about your drug use and whether or not you take any prescribed medications however, once you’re hired some may subject you to a drug test. Asking questions about drug tests shows apprehension and might signal your employer that you might not be fit for the role.
You should also be sure not to ask any of the illegal questions enumerated above. It may not be illegal for you as the interviewee to do so but it would be inappropriate.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it illegal to ask about employment gaps?
Gaps on your resume might be a touchy subject but employers are allowed to address them. Prepare for questions related to your lengthy gap(s) in your resume and deliver your response confidently.
Should you mention your salary requirements during your interview?
Depending on the stage of the interview process you are in, it might be acceptable to discuss salary requirements. Once you’ve entered the last stages of the process, you’ve received an offer for the role or your employer brings it up, it is reasonable to inform your interviewer of your expectations for the role.
What is pre-employment discrimination?
Pre-employment discrimination is when an employer asks or seeks answers to illegal or discriminatory questions in order to disqualify potential job candidates. This can happen at any stage of the employment process; it could be while the employer is looking through your resume and making is making assumptions about your identity and background or later in the process during the interview stage.
While most interviewees are prepared to be judged under a microscope and thoroughly vetted during the interview process, few are as critical of their potential employer as they should be. The interview process is equally about getting to know the company or organization you’ll be working with as it is about them getting to know you. If you’re ever asked an inappropriate or illegal interview question, don’t be afraid to respectfully decline to answer and move on. Hopefully, you won’t encounter this issue and instead, you can focus on following up and landing your dream job.