How to Respectfully Respond to Illegal Interview Questions

Job seekers who have been through their share of interviews probably have encountered some unusual questions along the way. Odds are that they’ve even been asked a question that is illegal at least once.


It happens. The interviewer may not even be aware that he or she is doing it. Often those conducting the interview are not human resource professionals and are not clear on the legal issues themselves.


Since you may encounter such a situation, you should know a little about what questions are illegal to ask so here’s a very brief summary: anything related to age, religion, gender, or race is illegal unless it specifically pertains to your ability to do the job in question.


It would be illegal for an interviewer to ask you what your age or birthdate is. Nor may he ask you about your religion; for example, what your religious beliefs are. These questions are considered discriminatory because they have no bearing on a person’s ability to do a job. The same is true for race. It is illegal to ask about it, because such questions are also considered discriminatory because it has no bearing on the job.


The same is true for questions about a person’s residence. It is perfectly fine for the employer to want to know your address, but it is off limits to ask whether you rent or own a home or who lives with you. It is also acceptable for the employer to want to know if you have any family responsibilities that may interfere with your good attendance at work or being able to undertake job-related travel. But it is not acceptable for the employer to ask about your marital status or whether you have children.


If an interviewer should wander into one of these off-limit areas, you can try to move the conversation back to something that is more job related or gently ask how, the question pertains to your ability to do the job. If you do this, the interviewer often will see the questionable legality of the question and will rescind it or apologize. As mentioned, often the interviewer is not even aware that he’s in forbidden territory and will probably be embarrassed and apologetic about the lapse.


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