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 if 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, color, national origin, or age. While questions related to these topics aren’t technically illegal, employers that ask them open themselves up to charges of discrimination, says the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Many employers haven’t gotten the memo that some questions should be off-limits, though.
“It happens more than they would like you to think,” Justin Hirsch president of Job Plex, an executive search firm, told Fox Business. “Human resource leaders are typically more careful and more straightforward, but other executives in the company may ask something unscripted that’s just on the top of their mind.” One out of 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, since 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 if you can perform certain necessary job tasks.
Here are 12 illegal job interview questions and how to handle them.