Wednesday, February 24, 2021 Gerald Moore/Workforce Development Team

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Interviewing for a job can be scary.  Job Interviews make even the most prepared candidates uncomfortable.  As the interviewee, you might experience a bit of nervousness or anxiety attempting to sell yourself to a prospective employer.  Anticipating tough interview questions is a good first step in being prepared.  After all, the employer is asking questions to try and determine if you are the right person for the job.  But what if the hiring manager asks a question that is off limits?  Would you be able to spot an illegal interview question? Would you know how to reply if you are asked an illegal question?

Illegal interview questions are usually rooted in the interviewer’s attempt to learn personal information in the following areas:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Family Life
  • Living Situation
  • Health
  • Military Service

The hiring manager simply may have concerns about your (the applicant’s) ability to perform the job, flexibility to do the job, dependability on the job and whether you (the individual) are a good fit for their organization. Whether or not the interviewer intended to ask an illegal question does not give them permission to ask a question that you should not have to answer.  You should never feel forced to respond during a job interview.  The interview is the opportunity for you to prove yourself and showcase your ability for the job.  An interview should not give the perspective employer a reason to discriminate against you.

Visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website for information on employment discrimination and employee rights in the workplace.

Watch out for these illegal questions and learn how to reply if you are asked any of these.  Here are a few types of illegal questions:

AGE

  • How old are you? 
  • What year were you born?

HEALTH

  • Do you have any physical or mental disabilities?
  • Do you experience any chronic health issues?
  • Do you anticipate your height/weight becoming a problem?
  • What prescription drugs are you currently taking?
  • Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?

RELIGION

  • What religion do you practice?
  • What holidays do you observe?
  • Will you need paid time off for religious holidays?

FAMILY LIFE

  • Are you married?
  • Do you plan to have kids?
  • What kind of childcare arrangements do you have in place?
  • What are your plans if you get pregnant?
  • Do you have a partner?  What is his/her name?

CITIZENSHIP STATUS/NATIONALITY

  • Are you a U.S. Citizen?
  • You have a strong accent.  Where are you from?
  • Where are you from originally?
  • You have an interesting last name. What’s your ethnicity?

GENDER

  • As a woman, do you think you would be able to manage a team of all men?
  • The vast majority of employees in our organization are women.  Are you sure you would be comfortable as one of the only men working here?

MILITARY SERVICE

  • Were you honorably discharged?
  • What type of discharge did you receive from the military?
  • How often are you deployed for Reserve Training?
  • Will you be deployed any time soon?

It is important to take a variety of factors into consideration when deciding how to respond to an illegal or inappropriate interview question.  Pause for a moment to gather your thoughts.  Consider the underlying concern in the question that is being asked.  It could be that the employer is trying to gauge something specific from you to understand your availability or willingness to be flexible on the job.  Or it could be that they are trying to ‘break the ice’ and get to know you.

Here are a few tips on how to answer an illegal interview question:

Try to reframe the question and give a general answer that addresses the concern.

  • Example, “I believe that my experience is a great fit for the requirements of this position” or “That does not affect my ability to perform the job.”; or “I can assure you that I am completely capable of meeting the needs of the work schedule for the position.”

Refocus the conversation back to your qualities and what you bring to the table.

  • Example, “These are my qualifications.  As you can see, they are a good fit for both the position and the organization.”

Address the illegal interview question

  • Example, “Could you repeat the question, please, and explain how that is relevant to the job?” or “I am not really comfortable answering that question.”

It is important to take a variety of factors into consideration when deciding how to respond to an illegal or inappropriate interview question.   Try to decide on the best response in the moment.  Factor in the intent of the question and how your answer might affect your ability to land the job.  However, you should never feel like you need to disclose information against your better judgment.  The interview session is also a strong indicator of what your experience will be like with the company. If you feel the potential employer has crossed a line, you have the right to end the interview and leave.  Of course, if you really want or need the job, this would be a difficult thing to do. As a job seeker, you want to be able to spot red flags that could indicate you are not being treated fairly. How you respond is entirely based on your comfort level.

With a little bit of practice and self-patience, you will be ready to take on the next steps in your future career.  If you would like more information about how to apply for jobs online, assistance in finding resources, tips on how to get the job-hunting process started or more, please reach out to us at CCPL by email, chat, or text. Remember, you are not alone.