25 Illegal Interview Questions

Many interviewers and interviewees alike are not aware that in the United States, there are some questions that cannot be asked during an interview because they can be discriminatory and are considered “Illegal Interview Questions“. You are not allowed to discriminate by age, race, religion, gender, marital status, family size, military history, US Citizenship and a number of other things. Some states also have additional laws regarding these illegal questions.

From an interviewer standpoint, the rule of thumb is to not ask the interviewer any questions that don’t pertain to the qualifications of the job. Now it’s okay to make small talk and ask what books or magazines the interviewee reads or what movies or TV shows he or she may watch. But stay away from anything too personal such as race, religion and family life. The potential danger of asking an illegal interview question could result in federal action if a number of candidates complain (or one complains loudly enough).

From an interviewee standpoint, you need to know when you’re asked an illegal question and how to handle it. If you feel the question may allow the employer to discriminate against you, then don’t answer it – try to dance around it by saying something like “I can assure you that my beliefs/situation/etc… won’t interfere in my ability to do a great job.”

Not sure what constitutes an illegal question, here are 25 examples:

  1. Are you married?
  2. How old are you?
  3. Are you a US Citizen?
  4. Where do you live?
  5. Do you have children?
  6. Where were you born?
  7. Are you pregnant or planning to have children?
  8. What religion are you?
  9. Are you in the National Guard?
  10. What is your native language?
  11. How tall are you?
  12. How much do you weigh?
  13. Do you have any disabilities?
  14. Have you had any operations?
  15. Have you ever been arrested?
  16. When did you graduate from high school?
  17. When do plan on retiring?
  18. Have you been sick recently?
  19. Do you drink alcohol?
  20. Do you smoke?
  21. When is your birthday?
  22. With whom do you live?
  23. When was your last physical?
  24. What clubs or organizations do you belong to?
  25. Do you go to church?

So as you can see, questions related to your health, citizenship and even clubs and affiliations are considered illegal. This is far from an exhaustive list – variations on these questions can also be considered illegal such as “are your kids in school?” or “which religious holidays do you celebrate?”

Remember that as an interviewer, asking any of these questions can potentially cause some problems for your employer. As an interviewee, you don’t need to answer it if you feel that it will prevent you from getting a job.

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4 thoughts on “25 Illegal Interview Questions

  1. delianeal

    I actually had a panel interview (7 people on it) during which I was asked:
    – will your husband mind if you have to work extra hours?
    – do you have children?

    I was so shocked, I answered. Part of my shock lay in the fact that none of the other panel members intervened. They all just waited for me to hurry up and answer!
    I was under the (apparently mistaken) assumption that EVERYONE knew about the “forbidden” questions. Silly me!

  2. James Post author

    Delia,

    Now that surprises me yet doesn’t surprise me.It’s amazing how so many interviewers have no idea that there are illegal questions. I think the problem is that very few companies take the time to properly train people on how to interview.

    Did you end up with an offer?

    James

  3. delianeal

    No. . . they ended up hiring yet another white male with an appropriate number of children. :-)

    actually, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I later learned that the job wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I did write a letter to the Big boss (who wasn’t part of the interviews) and told him about the interview. He promised to make some changes.
    Meanwhile, I guess I’m just glad I don’t work in that kind of culture!!

  4. Pingback: 20 Revealing Interview Questions | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

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