Hey You Can’t Ask That! Questions interviewers are not supposed to ask

By Janice Burch, Co-founder, Pro Resume Center, LLC

Character David Brent in the hit comedy series The Office has conducted legendary terrible (and hilarious) job interviews, helping illustrate to employers how NOT to act and what NOT to ask…

Now that you are in job search mode, you (hopefully) are getting called in for interviews. If newer to the job search market or a recent graduate, you might be wondering what kinds of questions a hiring manager can and cannot ask while conducting an interview.

We spoke with a few labor law attorneys who shed some light on what questions interviewers are not supposed to ask – and also found out what questions are within their rights to ask, in order to see if you are a match for the open position.

As you likely know, there are laws regulating the kinds of questions a prospective employer can ask; however, the potential employer can ask you questions related to your health, ability, and availability –  provided these are asked in a certain way and related to the position for which you are applying.

The risk with answering illegal questions

Know that you are free to answer any questions, however, if you choose to do so, realize you may be giving up information that is not job-related and could harm your chances at getting the job. You can also refuse to answer any question. But, while you would be well within your rights to not answer, you also run the risk of coming off as uncooperative and the interviewer could consider you to be a less-than-ideal candidate.

You also have the option of taking any illegal line of interview questioning to a higher authority at the company or to a legal advocate, but of course, that would also mean you have no intention of getting hired at the company. Because – duh – they won’t hire someone who decides to take them to court.

A few things to consider if you find yourself in this situation.

First, consider if taking the position with a company that would ask these illegal questions is worth it – to your career and potential work/life balance. If they are looking for people who don’t have small children because they don’t want to ‘deal with’ someone who has child care concerns, you probably don’t want to work for them. Why would you? If your priority is your children and one gets sick, you can bet they probably won’t be very understanding. Take your talents elsewhere as there are plenty of companies out there who understand and value employees who do make their family a priority.

Second, if asked any of these questions during the interview, decide how you are going to handle it if you really want the position.

Third, be aware that there are ways employers can ask questions that get them closer to the answers they want without asking the illegal questions.

Employers can ask the questions, in a legal way

If you still want to work for a company that asks the questions, take a moment and examine the intent behind the question and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job.

For instance, if the interviewer asks, “So, are you a U.S. citizen?” or “What country are you from?” – yep – you have been asked an illegal question.

Instead of answering the question directly, you could respond, “I am authorized to work in the United States.” Or, if your interviewer asks, “Who is going to take care of your children when you have to travel?” you might answer, “I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires.” No need to give up any further information.

To help you out as you begin the job interview circuit, below are the kinds of questions a hiring manager is not supposed to ask during the job interview and the kinds of related questions they CAN legally ask of you:

NATIONALITY
Illegal:

  • Are you a U.S. citizen
  • Where were you/your parents born?
  • What is your “native tongue?

Legal:

  • Are you authorized to work in the United States?
  • What languages do you read, speak or write fluently? (This question is okay, as long as this ability is relevant to the performance of the job.)

PERSONAL
Illegal:

  • How tall are you?
  • How much do you weigh?

Legal: Are you able to lift a 50-pound weight and carry it 100 yards, as that is part of the job? (Questions about height and weight are not acceptable unless minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job).

 

 

AGE
Illegal:

  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate from college?
  • What is your birthday?

Legal: Are you over the age of 18?

MARITAL/FAMILY STATUS
Illegal:

  • What’s your marital status?
  • Who do you live with?
  • Do you plan to have a family?
  • When? How many kids do you have?
  • What are your child care arrangements?

Legal:

  • Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?
  • Travel is an important part of the job. Would you be willing to travel as needed by the job (This question is okay, as long as all applicants for the job are asked)
  • This job sometimes requires overtime. Would you be willing to work overtime as necessary? (Again, this question is okay as long as they are asking all applicants for the job this question.)

AFFILIATIONS
Illegal: To what clubs or social organizations do you belong?
Legal: Do you belong to any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job?

DISABILITIES
Illegal:

  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Please complete the following medical history.
  • Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? If yes, list and give dates.
  • What was the date of your last physical exam?
  • How’s your family’s health?
  • When/how did you lose your eyesight?

Legal: Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations? (This question is okay if the interviewer thoroughly described the job.)

(NOTE: As part of the hiring process, after a job offer has been made you will be required to undergo a medical exam. Exam results must be kept strictly confidential, except medical/safety personnel may be informed if emergency medical treatment is required. Supervisors may be informed about necessary job accommodations, based on exam results)

ARREST RECORD
Illegal: Have you ever been arrested?
Legal: Have you ever been convicted of _____? (The crime should be reasonably related to the performance of the job in question.

MILITARY
Illegal:

  • If you’ve been in the military, were you honorably discharged?
  • In what branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?

Legal: What type of training or education did you receive in the military?

And for entertainment purposes…

We cannot finish this article without sharing with you a collection of some of the most wrong, illegal and stupid questions asked in an interview – and yes – we have been asked some of these, as have some of our business contacts!

  • How do you feel about attending conferences with (men) (women)?
  • Would you be open to sharing a hotel room with a colleague on travel?
  • This job has always been handled by a man. Do you think you can handle it?
  • What are your views on feminism?
  • Would you mind telling me – how old are you?
  • How do you define sexual harassment?
  • Are you married, divorced, separated, or single?
  • Are you living with someone?
  • Are you seeing someone?
  • What holidays do you celebrate?
  • Are you on any medications?
  • How often do you use alcohol or drugs?
  • Would you say you like to party?
  • How much are you willing to give up to get ahead here?
  • We do like our men to dress in suits and women in heels and skirts. Is that a problem?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Do you plan to have more children?
  • What church do you attend?
  • Would you say you are a religious person?
  • What sort of debts do you have?
  • Do you own or rent?
  • What kind of credit do you have?
  • Have you ever filed for worker’s comp?
  • What are your views on office romance?
  • Do you have plans to get married?

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2 Comments

  • Jeanna

    Reply Reply June 15, 2015

    I truly admire your work, excellent post.

    • Janice Burch

      Reply Reply June 15, 2015

      Thanks Jeanna, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Janice

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