A job interview is awkward enough as it is, but it can get really uncomfortable when an employer starts asking questions that don’t relate to your professional background or skills. How should you respond when an interviewer wants to know whether you have kids, whether you have a disability, or how long you’ve lived in the United States?
Knowing how to handle out-of-line, potentially illegal job interview questions begins with knowing which questions employers shouldn’t be asking in the first place. Employers are prohibited from discriminating during hiring based on a candidate’s race, national origin, or age. Although questions related to these topics aren’t technically illegal, employers that ask them open themselves up to charges of discrimination, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Many employers haven’t gotten the memo that some questions should be off limits, though. About one in five employers have inadvertently asked an illegal question in a job interview, a CareerBuilder survey found.
Unfortunately, there’s no ideal way for a job seeker to handle an inappropriate or illegal job interview question. Politely refusing to respond is one option, but it could take you out of the running for the position. Answering honestly is another option, but that could hurt you, too, because you might reveal information that also leads to a rejection.
Sometimes, the best option is to be as careful as possible in your answer. You can do your best to avoid sharing information an employer might use against you while attempting to provide the information the interviewer is really trying to get at. Questions about children, for example, might really be an inexperienced interviewer’s way of asking about your ability to work a set schedule. An interviewer who asks about disabilities might want to know whether you can perform certain necessary job tasks. Sometimes, an inappropriate question is a warning sign you should avoid the employer entirely.
Here are 16 illegal job interview questions and how to handle them.