Illegal Interview Questions 

Illegal Interview Questions

Did you know that it is illegal to ask a job candidate anything that pertains to: 

  • Age or genetic information 
  • Birthplace, country of origin, or citizenship 
  • Disability 
  • Gender, sex, or sexual orientation 
  • Marital status, family, or pregnancy 
  • Race, color, or ethnicity 
  • Religion or religious affiliation 

Questions that fall into any of these categories are off-limits and should not be asked in an interview or any time during the hiring process.  

Unfortunately, illegal interview questions are still being asked in interviews every day. Although not always asked in malice, here are the most common illegal interview questions you need to be aware of during your job search:  

Are you married?  

Federal laws protect job applicants from answering any questions that do not relate to the job at hand. Being married or unmarried does not impact your ability to perform the duties related to the job description, and therefore is completely irrelevant.  

Do you have a family or kids?  

While this might feel like small talk or something to bond over, technically, a potential employer could be trying to determine if you can “handle” the job with your current home commitments. Family status and child care arrangements do not impact whether or not you can perform a job function, and therefore should not be part of the hiring decision.  

How old are you?  

In the best light, an interviewer may be trying to find a commonality. This could be true if someone asks when you graduated high school or what years you attended a certain university. In the worst light, the interviewer may be discriminating. Ageism runs rampant, whether an interviewer may have a conscious or unconscious bias towards older or younger individuals rather than who they think is the ideal candidate. Once again, your age does not impact your ability to perform essential job duties and should not be part of a job interview.  

Are you a U.S. Citizen? 

An employer can ask if you are legally allowed to work in the U.S. That is about it. Asking where you were born, questions about your birth certificate, or anything about your national origin is illegal and should not be part of the interview process.  

One of my favorite ways to think of this is, “None of these factors are job requirements, so there is no need to ask!” 

Why do hiring managers ask illegal interview questions?  

Most illegal interview questions are asked innocently. A prospective employer may just be trying to get to know you as the candidate or find some common ground and doesn’t fully understand the law. More often than not, the person asking simply doesn’t know that the question violates US EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) laws.  

What do you do when asked an illegal interview question?  

This can feel tricky, especially if you are excited about the job opportunity. If you genuinely feel the question was not asked in malice, you can decide whether or not you wish to answer. You do not have to answer any illegal interview questions. If you do not wish to answer, you can change the subject. Saying something to the effect of “I am looking forward to learning more about the opportunity at hand” or “I am looking forward to discussing some job-related questions you may have for me” can redirect the conversation back to business.  

If that doesn’t work, you may need to be more direct and simply say, “XYZ does not impact my ability to perform the duties described. Can we return to discussing the job opportunity?” 

If you do feel a hiring manager asked an illegal or inappropriate question intentionally, you may report it to your local  EEOC office or seek legal advice.

Seeking a partner in your job search? Goodwin can help! 

With over 20 years in the business and recognized as one of Forbes “America’s Best Recruiting Firms 2020”Goodwin Recruiting is a national recruiting firm here to help coach you, prepare you for interviews, and help you land your dream job.