What Questions Are Illegal?

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In the hopes of reducing hiring discrimination, the government has stepped into the interview room and said essentially, “Before the job offer, it’s illegal for an interviewer to ask direct questions about issues that could lead to discrimination.” Here’s a handy list of some of those issues.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sexual preference
  • Health
  • Marital status
  • Children
  • Family planning
  • Religion
  • Political leanings
  • Substance abuse

Legal Answers to Illegal Questions
Even though it may be illegal for an interviewer to ask a certain question, it’s not illegal for you to answer it. So if you’re asked one of those hot button issues, think carefully before answering. Figure out whether it’s to your advantage to respond honestly or to hedge the issue.

Think about it: Answering honestly might be to your advantage. Let’s say you want to work at an elementary school and the interviewer wants to know if you have children. If you tell him you have two kids, he might see it as a plus.

But let’s say you want to work as a traveling sales person and the interviewer asks if you have kids? It would probably be better not to talk about your kids at that point.

If you don’t want to answer the question, whatever you do, don’t accuse the interviewer of having broken the law. Instead, take a minute to understand what’s behind the question. If he’s asked if you have kids, maybe he’s concerned that you’ll be pulled away from work a lot. In that case, you could answer, “I believe you're concerned about my attendance on the job. Let me assure you that my personal life won’t interfere with my work.”

Questions You're Afraid Of
Almost all of us have questions we'd rather not be asked. To avoid going into an interview with anxiety about the possibility of those questions emerging, do two things:

  1. Review your resume before you send it out to be sure it doesn't highlight anything that would instigate conversation about one of your "dark" issues.
  2. Make a list of the questions you're afraid of and practice how you'll answer them in a positive way.

Salary Negotiation Skills
Interview/Job Search Coach

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