Candidate Interview Tips: Responding to Illegal Questions | Allegiance

January 29, 2018 | Career Blog

Getting a job interview is an exciting experience. You have likely researched the company, replayed potential interview questions in your head, determined how you want to answer those questions, and came up with questions of your own.

The day of the interview comes, and everything is going well. Then the interviewer asks a question that makes you a little uncomfortable. It might be something such as:

  • Are you married or in a romantic relationship? Is that a heterosexual or homosexual relationship?
  • Do you have any children? If not, do you plan to have children soon?
  • What is your religion?
  • Is English your native language?
  • How old are you?

Since these questions, as well as similar questions, are illegal for the interviewer to ask, you do not need to answer the question. You may wonder, though, how to handle the situation. Overall, you have three options when faced with illegal questions. You can answer the question, you can refuse to answer it, or you can determine what the interviewer really wants to know.

If you determine that the interviewer’s intentions are dishonorable or discriminatory, it is probably best to refuse to answer the question, and in some cases, to end the interview yourself and leave. Often, though, the person may have asked the question with innocent enough intentions. In that case, answer the question behind the question.

One example is an interviewer asking if you are married or have children because they want to determine if you will be available to work overtime or take extended out-of-town business trips. Your response might be something like, “I do not have any commitments that will cause a conflict with this job. I am willing to work overtime and participate in extended business trips. When possible, I would appreciate at least a three-day warning if I’m going to need to be out of town overnight.” If you have done your homework on the company, you will likely know that’s why they are asking the question.

Another example might be an editing or writing position in which the interviewer asks if English is your native language. Instead of saying, “I was born in Germany and grew up speaking German, but I am also fluent in English,” you might say, “If you have a paper you want me to edit, I can do that right now,” or “If you’ll give me a writing prompt, I can provide a short sample on the spot to demonstrate my writing skills.”

When planning for an interview, make sure you know how you will handle illegal questions. Do not be afraid to refuse to answer the question or to try to determine what information the interviewer is really seeking.

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