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Ten illegal interview questions and how to respond to them

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Ten illegal interview questions and how to respond to them

Interviews can be an intimidating experience. Obviously, you want to impress the person who's interviewing you, and sometimes it's easy to forget that you, as a potential employee, also have the right to ask questions or raise concerns if a boundary has been crossed. You may not know this, but there are certain questions a potential employer is legally unable to ask you during an interview. That surely doesn't stop some folks from trying, though, so it's important to know what some of those questions are, and how you should respond if it happens during an interview!

Ten illegal interview questions you have every right not to answer

  1. Any questions regarding your sexual orientation or gender identity. This has no connection to your job skills, professional conduct, or work history, and it is completely inappropriate, illegal, and immoral to ask during an interview.
  2. Asking whether you are pregnant, trying to conceive or any other fertility questions. It's no one's business at a potential new office whether or not you're pregnant, or trying to have a baby, and you're not required to answer.
  3. Citizenship questions. Asking whether or not you're proficient in English is one thing considered acceptable, as it pertains to the job. However, asking where you come from, or what your country of origin is, is against the law.
  4. Religious beliefs. Again, this has no affiliation with your job skills, and you're not obligated to answer one way or the other. However, if there's a specific dress code you need to follow in order to maintain your religious practices, while they cannot ask you directly, it might be important to share if they fall within a violation; but again, it's not a requirement.
  5. Whether or not you're married. Your marital status is irrelevant to your job, and therefore unnecessary to be mentioned during an interview.
  6. Whether or not you have children. Sometimes potential employers will bring this up as a sort of 'small talk' either prior to or after an interview, but you're not required to discuss it as it's not pertinent to employment.
  7. Questions about your age. It's illegal to discriminate against a person due to their age, and some employers will try to do anything they can to get around this. Whether they think someone is too young, or maybe too old, if you're asked about your age, you don't have to respond. And they can't ding you for it!
  8. Questions about your spouse's employment. No one needs to know what your significant other does for a living, especially not a potential employer. It's an irrelevant question.
  9. Convictions and arrests. While these will indeed come up on a background check, they shouldn't arise during an interview. These are Human Resource issues to deal with, and not meant to be discussed on your first encounter with a potential employer.
  10. Asking about disabilities. No employer will admit it, but a lot of them would rather not hire people who need accommodation. During an interview, it's illegal for them to question you about whether or not you have disabilities, and they're not allowed to retract a job offer upon learning about one.

How to respond to these types of questions

There are a few different ways you can respond, and you want to make sure you maintain your professionalism should one of these questions come up.

  1. Bring the conversation back, politely, to your job qualifications. If they ask whether or not you're pregnant, turn it around and shine a light on how you're really happy to be so focused on your career at the moment. Feel no obligation to acknowledge the question.
  2. You have the right to say, in a straightforward manner, "I don't feel comfortable answering that question, and it's not pertinent to my potential employment."
  3. Let them know that the question is inappropriate, and politely bow out if you feel personally attacked or discriminated against.

If an interview was improperly handled and things got out of control, you have options. Click here to learn about federal job discrimination policies, and how you can become empowered to combat them. There's no law stating you have to stay silent about an inappropriate interview. You can also leave reviews on websites, such as Glassdoor, to alert other people to the experience you had with a specific company.

Know your rights, and utilize them through your job-seeking process!

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