Did you know there are some questions interviewers aren’t allowed to ask when you’re being vetted for a job? Questions about your age, family and general lifestyle are considered discriminatory, and interviewers are not supposed to ask those questions.
Knowing what questions are illegal to ask can help you skirt them during an interview, or avoid answering them unwittingly when an interviewer asks you to talk about yourself.
Many interviewers don’t intentionally ask illegal interview questions. They may not know that they aren’t allowed to ask certain questions, or they may just be trying to make small talk during the interview. Plus, some questions only border on illegal because they may take the interview into territory that an interviewer isn’t supposed to ask about.
Understanding which questions interviewers aren’t supposed to ask – and a few that border on out-of-bounds – can help you decide ahead of time whether and how to answer questions like these.
1. Are you a U.S. citizen?
Interviewers are allowed to ask if you are authorized to work in the United States, but they aren’t allowed to ask if you’re a citizen. They also should avoid questions about your nationality or your parents’, or about your native language (though they can ask what languages you speak fluently, if that’s related to the job).
2. How old are you?
Employers can ask if you’re older than 18 because underage workers can cause problems for employers. But other than that, they don’t need to know your age.
3. Are you married?
Marital status has nothing to do with your job performance, so employers aren’t allowed to ask about this.
4. Do you plan to have children?/How many children do you have?
Again, how many children you have isn’t relevant to the job, and the answer to this question could be used against you.
5. What are your child-care arrangements?
Employers can ask if you’d be able to travel or work overtime (but only if all applicants for the job are asked these questions), but they can’t ask about the specifics of making travel/overtime work with your family or personal life.
6. When did you graduate from college?
This is one of those questions that isn’t actually illegal, as in some professions it could be pertinent information. Plus, your graduation date is probably included on your resume. But if interviewers are using your graduation date to fish for information on your age, which they might use to discriminate against you, they’re pushing the envelope.
7. What kinds of clubs or organizations do you belong to?
Employers can ask about affiliations with professional or trade groups that could boost your job performance. Otherwise, questions of personal affiliations are off-limits.
8. What’s your height and weight?
The only time an interviewer can ask this question is if the job has height and/or weight restrictions for specific safety reasons. Also, employers can ask about your physical ability to perform certain job-related tasks, like lifting a certain amount of weight, etc.
9. Have you had any illnesses or operations?
Interviewers concerned about their company’s insurance payments may raise this illegal question. But unless you need out of the ordinary accommodations to perform the job at hand, the employer shouldn’t be asking about your medical history.
10. When did you last have a physical exam?
If you’re offered a job, you may be required to undergo a physical exam before you get the job. In this case, though, only details relevant to safety on the job will be revealed to certain personnel.
11. Have you ever been arrested?
Employers can ask if you’ve been convicted of a particular crime that relates to your job (i.e., child-care facilities will nearly always ask about child-related crimes), but they can only ask about specific, relevant convictions, not arrest records.
12. If you were ever in the military, were you honorably discharged?
Interviewers are allowed to ask how your military experience makes you a better job candidate, but they can’t ask how you were discharged or even what branch of the military you served in.
13. What holidays do you celebrate?
This can be a sneaky way to find out your religion, so it’s illegal.
14. Are you on any medications?
Again, interviewers don’t need to be nosing into your medical history, especially if you’re on medications. As long as you can do the job, all other medical-related questions are off-limits.
15. Do you attend church?
Obviously churches and other religious institutions with a “ministerial exemption” can ask specific questions about religion. But non-religious workplaces have no right to this information, even if they may need to make reasonable allowances to protect your right to practice your religion (like giving you certain holidays off, etc.).
16. Do you have any debt?
Employers can run a credit check to see if you’re good at paying your bills on time, but they can’t ask about specific debts.
17. Do you rent or own your home?
Some employers might ask this question because they’re concerned about a possible need to relocate, but it’s not a legal question to ask. Instead, they should ask if you’re willing to relocate for the job in question.
18. Have you ever filed for workers’ compensation?
You can see that this is a pretty self-serving question for employers, so they’re not allowed to ask it.
19. What are your opinions on office romance?
The interviewer can outline the company’s policies on office relationships and ask if you could abide by them, but the interviewer can’t feel around for your opinion with a question like this one.
20. Anything personal and not-job-related
Basically, if a question delves into your personal life but doesn’t have anything directly to do with your job, the interviewer is probably not allowed to ask it.
Unfortunately, many interviewers ask illegal job interview questions, often because they aren’t well-informed about what they can and can’t ask.
If you’re asked an illegal question or one that makes you uncomfortable, you can always answer it, or simply refuse to answer the question (which could, understandably, end the job interview right there).
But a third option is to think about why the interviewer is asking the question and to answer the question they’re really trying to get at.
For instance, for a job that involves a lot of travel, an interviewer might ask about your child-care arrangements. Rather than answering directly, you could simply state: “I’m prepared to travel as much as necessary for this job, and my personal life won’t get in the way of that.”
In some instances, interviewers may just be making small talk — asking about your home life, interests, etc. — but if there’s even a possibility that a straightforward answer would harm your chances of getting the job, it’s best not to answer these questions directly.
38 Illegal, Sensitive, and Stupid Interview Questions … And How to Respond by The Washington Post