Careers

5 illegal job interview questions (& what to do if you’re asked one)

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In my four years as a communication student, the class that still stands out to me as one of the most valuable was my interviewing class.

This class wasn't just about preparing students to go on the inevitable grownup job interviews we'd be headed out on as we crept towards graduation — it also gave us a lot of valuable information on how to conduct interviews.

Interviewing people isn't something I ever saw myself doing, and to be fair, the only time I've ever conducted an employment interview was while searching for a dog-sitter for my puppy. (And to be really fair, my only real questions were "Will you let my dog out?" and "What do you charge?")

But knowing how to effectively and properly interview a person is good for more than just actually being an interviewer — it also helps you, as the interviewee, to understand when your interviewer is being unethical or illegal.

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Believe it or not, there are a lot of rules when it comes to interviewing. Laws protect us from being discriminated against in job interview situations based on race, sex, religion, color and national origin, and a lot of questions that feel simply unethical may actually open companies up to Equal Opportunity Employment lawsuits.

It is important to know whether or not you are being discriminated against during an interview. You might be able to respond to it in a way that deflects the actual question and is sufficient without giving too many personal details or divulging private information.

If nothing else, the ability to notice the unethical question might have you leaving the interview with a bad taste in your mouth that shows you that the job you're applying for might not be the one for you.

In any case, I rounded up a list of commonly asked interview questions that are inappropriate, and in most cases, actually illegal.

You don't have to answer these questions if you are asked them in an interview — you certainly shouldn't feel pressured to. So, I've also included an alternative response to each question that doesn't require actually answering it.

1. The question: "Are you married/pregnant?"

It is not just weird for an interviewer to ask you if you're single, married, pregnant or planning on kids — it is illegal. They may ask questions such as these to assess your possible level of commitment to the position — but to be honest, it isn't really their business to know.

How to respond if you're asked this: "I prefer not to discuss details of my personal life, but I can assure you that I will fully commit and confidently meet the requirements of this position."

(Alternate response: Stop asking about my womb, weirdo.)

2. The question: "How many children do you have/how old are they?"

Similarly, an interviewer is not supposed to ask you questions about your children (or ask you if you have children), because an employer should not be able to discriminate against you based on whether or not you have kids.

How to respond if you're asked this: "I prefer not to discuss details of my family, but I can assure you they are all supportive of my commitment to my professional life."

3. The question: "Do you have any religious holidays you celebrate?"

This is inappropriate because it reveals your religion — something an employer cannot discriminate against you for, and therefore shouldn't know during the interview process. This question, in particular, is basically a weird way of asking about your availability and need for personal time to celebrate holidays.

How to respond if you're asked this: "I am always available to work Monday-Saturday — my religious beliefs and holidays I observe will not affect that." (Tell them whatever your actual availability is — it is honest, no one can fault you for it, and you don't have to disclose personal religious beliefs.)

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4. The question: "Do you have any disabilities/what are they?"

You've probably answered questions on online job applications that asked things like "Do you have the ability to stand/squat/lift up to 30 lbs?" And those are totally appropriate questions to ask — they help assess your ability to fulfill the exact physical requirements of the job. However, if you are point blank asked if you have any disabilities that will prevent you from being able to fulfill these requirements during your job interview, it is very much not okay.

How to respond if you're asked this: "I am very confident that I am capable of all physical requirements of this position." (You probably wouldn't be applying for it if you weren't, so tell them that.)

5. The question: "Were you/your parents born in the U.S.?"

It is okay for an interviewer to ask if you're legally able to work in the U.S. (although they probably shouldn't — that is a question that is better saved for the job application itself). They can't, however, ask you directly if you were or weren't born in the U.S.

How to respond if you're asked this: "I am legally able to work in the U.S." You probably wouldn't be applying for — and interviewing for — this job if you didn't know that you could legally accept it if an offer were extended to you. Be honest, and only honest.

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This article originally appeared in The Financial Diet.