How to recognize and answer illegal interview questions
In the United States job seekers are protected by a myriad of anti-discrimination laws. Despite these laws many potential employers still want employees that fit a narrow profile and they may ask probing questions to find out if you fit. Here is how you can recognize which questions are potentially illegal for an employer to ask, and what you can do if you encounter these questions.
Generally, interviewers cannot ask you anything pertaining to your race, birthplace, religion, age, sexual preference, marital and family status, or health. For example, an interviewer cannot ask you how many kids you have or if you plan to have kids because that pertains to family status. They also cannot ask you how old you are during the interview process. You will probably have to provide your birthdate to human resournces after you are hired, but during interviews it is illegal to ask someone their age.
Sometimes interviewers can be sneaky and ask you questions that would give them the answer to illegal questions. For example, instead of asking you your age, they may ask what year you graduated college and make an estimate. Also, instead of asking straight up if you drink or smoke, an interviewer could ask if you have been disciplined for tobacco use in the past.
You should be able to recognize these personal questions because most of the time they probably sound unrelated to the job you are applying for and they can be very prying. Generally, if a question sounds too personal you should avoid answering it, or answer it in a way that relates to the job. For example, if an employer asks you if you have kids, you should probably say something to the effect that that you will be able to perform your job with or without kids.If you are asked about your age, then you can say that you are of legal working age. Basically, you should steer the conversation back to the job you are applying for. If an employer is insistent on asking you things you know is discriminatory, then you should state that you are uncomfortable answering these questions, and perhaps you should look for someone else to work for. An interview goes both ways, and if an interviewer makes you uncomfortable on a first meeting then working with him or her might be uncomfortable in the long term.
As a rule of thumb if your personal life does not relate to the job you are applying for then you probably should not volunteer too much information. A little bit of small talk is okay, but you never know what strangers may be offended by, and keeping the focus of the interview on the job you want may be the best way to secure the job.
Have you been asked probing or sneaky personal questions during an interview? How did you deal with it?