Interview questions can be tricky. You certainly want to be pleasant and congenial, but what should you do if you are asked a question that you believe is inappropriate or one that makes you feel uncomfortable?
IT’S THE LAW
The US Labor Department division of Labor/Employee Relations website reminds employers that “it is illegal not to hire candidates because of their race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability or marital/family status.” Interviewers should not ask you questions that would elicit such information. However, even though most employers are aware of the law, prepare your answers to these questions:
Do you have a disability?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protections for disabled employees and job applicants. You do not have to answer a question regarding your disability unless you choose to disclose it. If you have an obvious disability (for example, you require a wheelchair) or if you choose to disclose your disability, your interviewer is allowed to ask what, if any, special requirements you need to fulfill the job requirements.
What’s your age?
If you are 40 years or older, you are protected against age discrimination by the Employment Act (ADEA). It is against the law for the interviewer to ask your age. Interviewers have the right to ask if a job candidate is 18 or older (verifying legal adult status) if this is an important factor in the candidate’s ability to do the job.
While it’s irrelevant and illegal to ask this during the interview, employers can ask this question for insurance purposes.
Do you have children?
Your interviewer should not ask you whether or not you have children. However, your employer has the right to ask questions about your dependents for insurance purposes.
What’s your race?
Any questions that inquire about your ethnic or racial identity are not allowed during the interview. You may be required to answer questions about your race or ethnic identity on your employer’s insurance forms.
Can you tell us about your nearest relative or next of kin? This is a question your interviewer should avoid asking. It is appropriate for your employer to ask once you are hired because this information is needed to provide you with employee benefits.
Are you a U.S. citizen?
Your interviewer is allowed to ask whether you are legally eligible to work in the United States (i.e., do you have a temporary visa, a green card, or citizenship). However, it is prohibited to ask direct questions about your national origin or immigration status.
Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
Your interviewer cannot ask you whether you ever filed for bankruptcy or any questions about your financial status. Your employer may ask for financial information as it relates to your employee benefits.
HOW TO RESPOND TO ILLEGAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
What are your options in this situation? Here are a few suggestions:
- Briefly answer the question, or if you are uncomfortable in doing so, respond to the intent of the question;
- Ignore the question and change the subject; or
- Refuse to answer the question.
It is best to be tactful but firm. Prepare your answers to these questions in advance by focusing on how to reply without disclosing any personal information.
DISCLOSING PERSONAL INFORMATION IS YOUR CHOICE
When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, this is your opportunity to decide what to self-disclose. For example, if you needed a specific accommodation for your disability or want to know about maternity leave.
If you choose NOT to disclose any personal information, you may come across as secretive. Disclosing too much information may make you appear “needy and high maintenance.” A recruiter can help prepare you for the interview, especially how much to disclose and how.
INAPPROPRIATE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Bizarre, inappropriate interview questions are another topic altogether. These are the questions that are not illegal. However, they make you think about the interviewer’s intentions. Questions that relate to your sexual orientation, personal relationships, political affiliation, or beliefs are off-limits.
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