There are a number of questions that are considered illegal for an interviewer to ask a job candidate. Basically, illegal interview questions are any questions that have to do with:
- national origin;
- marital/parental/family status;
In the U.S. and a number of other countries, it is against the law to discriminate against applicants based on any of the above points, so most experienced interviewers will know enough not to ask questions related to these factors.
So Why Are Illegal Questions Still Asked?
Particularly in the tech field, one of your interviewers may be a potential direct supervisor – someone who is used to dealing with day-to-day issues as they come up, has had negative experiences with certain types of candidates in the past, has therefore come up with a wishlist for the ideal candidate, and is furthermore not trained in the legal dos and don'ts of interviewing.
An illegal question may start off by sounding innocent enough, or may come up as part of an effort to make genuine, friendly small-talk – for example, "That's a beautiful ring – are you engaged?" But even in these seemingly casual situations, the interviewer is treading on dangerous ground.
How To Differentiate Between Illegal and Legal Interview Questions
Note that interviewers can, however, ask questions that are directly related to the job or legal requirements. It all depends on the wording. For example:
- "How long has your family been in this country?" is inappropriate, but it is ok to ask, "Are you eligible to work in this country?" as it would be illegal for the employer to hire someone who isn't eligible.
- Likewise, interviewers can't ask, "What are your arrangements for child care?" but they can ask, "Are you able to work a nine-to-five schedule?" if that's what the job requires, and if every applicant is asked the same thing.
Responding to Illegal Interview Questions
If you're ever asked anything that sounds illegal, or at the very minimum inappropriate, you really want to be as diplomatic as possible in your response. Getting all uptight and immediately pointing out that the question is illegal will probably ensure that you don't get hired. Interviewers want to see how you handle delicate situations, and this is the perfect chance for you to demonstrate your professionalism and tact.
You have a couple of other options:
- The first one would be to answer the question, but in a brief manner. If the interviewer continues pressing you with additional inappropriate questions, you can then politely mention something to them about how you'd be happy to answer their question, but you're not sure how that relates to the job you're applying for. That gives them a chance to explain themselves.
- Another option would be to redirect your response so that you're addressing the "question behind the question" - in other words, what you think the employer is actually trying to find out. For example, if you're asked, "Do you have any children?" you can tell the employer that there is nothing that would get in the way of you working the necessary hours in order to meet your job obligations.
Of course, if the employer asks you something that you find incredibly offensive, you may want to reconsider whether you want to work for this company at all.