We know to expect certain questions. Most interviewers will ask you straightforward questions about your background and job experience, questions about your behavior in specific circumstances in the past, situational questions that will test how you would react to a situation, and possibly questions or skill tests that are designed to show what you know and can do.
However, in addition to these four types of questions, you also might face certain oddball queries that are unique to a particular employer or interviewer. What you shouldn’t hear asked includes a long list of questions that are off-limits to interviewers. Some questions are illegal, and others are just inappropriate and probably shouldn’t be asked. Unfortunately, it will be your job if you are being interviewed to determine which questions are unacceptable. What you choose to do from there is up to you.
1. Questions about children
An employer usually can’t make a hiring decision based on whether a candidate has children, and interviewers shouldn’t ask about your children at all (although, depending on how they do it, the question itself might not be illegal). Unfortunately, this is the type of question that some interviewers will work in as if it were just a conversational question and not an interview question. Some employers may make comments about children in general and wait to see if you respond.
This is a tricky way that interviewers can find out if you have children who might possibly distract you from your work without actually asking. If you are concerned that an employer is using this tactic, try to bring the conversation back to the job itself. As proud of your kids as you might be, the interviewer might not have innocent intentions when directing the conversation toward children.
2. Questions about your origin
Although an employer has a right to know if you can legally work in the United States, he or she should not ask where you were born or where your parents were born. If your interviewer is asking anything that might be discriminatory, that is a red flag that you need to watch out.
While the questions might be harmless chit-chat, they also might indicate that the interviewer has an underlying issue you don’t want to be involved with. You also may not want to work at a place that condones or allows interview questions that are tricky or potentially upsetting. Interviewers should also avoid asking any questions about other languages you speak, or which language is your native one, unless the job requires additional language proficiency. Questions about your race are also not appropriate.
3. Questions about your age
Employers can’t make hiring decisions based on age, so it seems like they shouldn’t ask how old you are. However, once employers bring you in for an interview, they can usually tell how old you are. In addition, they can sometimes guess by looking at your resume and seeing how long your work history is. Finally, if they do a background check, speak to references, and look at your educational history, they can probably figure out about how old you are.
The point is, if an employer cares about your age, they can probably figure it out without asking about it. Some jobs do require applicants to be a certain age, and in that case, the employer will need to know how old you are, but in general, hiring decisions should be based on your ability to do the job, not your age.
4. Questions about your religion
This is another question that can seem like it arises as part of a casual conversation. It’s common for interviewers to ask about your hobbies and outside interests, but they should never ask you where you go to church or what religion you belong to. There is no valid reason for an interviewer to ask about these things because they don’t affect your job performance – the only exception would be a religious organization. If an interviewer asks you about your religious practices, you will have to decide if you want to answer the question. Your best bet might be to simply tell the interviewer that you don’t have any religious obligations that will take away from your job performance.
5. Other personal questions
An employer can ask if you currently use illegal drugs but should not ask about your history of drug use or alcohol use; what you did in the past should have no influence over a hiring decision. Employers also shouldn’t ask if you have ever been arrested, but of course, they can verify that you have never been convicted of a crime. Interviewers should also avoid asking about which clubs and social organizations you belong to, although these topics might come up if you allow the conversation to become very informal. Employers can ask about your professional association memberships, and sharing these can be an asset during your interview at times. Employers should also avoid asking questions about any debt you have, although, depending on which state you live in, your employer might be able to check your credit history.
The line between legal and illegal interview questions can be unclear, but interviewers should avoid asking questions that even come close to being grounds for a discrimination claim. Since employers can’t make hiring decisions based on your age, marital status, religion, disabilities, and so on, they shouldn’t need to ask you about these things in an interview. Unfortunately, you might get asked these questions, and then you will have to decide how you want to proceed. Calling out an interviewer regarding an inappropriate question will probably not help you get the job, but on the other hand, you may not want to work for someone who asks off-limit interview questions.