Common Interview Surprise: Illegal Questions

More than half of job seekers report being asked an illegal question during a job interview.

That eye-opener comes from a Yahoo! HotJobs online poll, in which 62% of respondents reported being on the receiving end of a question about a verboten topic, such as one's religion or marital status. Almost a third (32%) had not been asked such a question, and 7% said they didn't know.

The numbers surprised me and several of my colleagues, so it's worth reviewing what's permissible and not.  Interviewers are not allowed to ask about:

  • Your age
  • Your race or ethnic background
  • Gender or sex
  • Marital status
  • Country of national origin or birthplace
  • Whether you have children (or plan to)


If you find yourself being asked a question you believe may be illegal, you can handle it in a variety of ways.

You can answer the question. This option may work if you're not offended by the question and you really want the job.

You can tactfully point out that the question is illegal.  Your interviewer may not even know that he or she has crossed a line. However, you also run the risk of putting your interviewer on the defensive, which won't work in your favor. 

You can side-step the question and bridge to something relevant.  Respond with something like: "I'm sorry, but I don't think that is pertinent to the job we're discussing, but I can tell you about [insert segue topic here]."

Avoid letting loose with indignation — unless you really don't want the job and want to make an unpleasant scene.

Check out these three articles for more tips:


On the lighter side, check out one of the funniest depictions of an interview with illegal questions: it's in the first episode of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show." (You can fast-forward to minute 6 to get the interview scene.)  What a classic!

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