Job Seeker Blog - Spark Hire

When an Interviewer Asks You Illegal Interview Questions

With the job market still recovering, jobs are still a bit difficult to come by. You will find job seekers settling for jobs they may not necessarily want and settling for hours that are below their expectations. After all, a job with less hours is better than a job with no hours. Unfortunately, many companies are taking advantage of the desperation some job seekers may have. In fact, some job seekers may reconsider what they are willing to deal with in order to get a sound paycheck and maintain a healthy income. But when does it become too much? When companies start asking for passwords to your Facebook, personal information and networks, it may be time for job seekers to take a stand.

While the jury is still out on whether or not asking for your Facebook password is illegal, there are a number of questions that are off limits for employers. In fact, there are a number of questions that are completely illegal for employers to ask job seekers. As a job seeker looking for work, it is important for you to know what kind of questions are just uncomfortable and which ones are downright illegal. Take a look at the list of illegal interview questions and how you can deal with it if an employer dares to ask them.

According to Justine Lisser, a senior attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are two things that are completely off limits for employers to inquire: disability and genetic/family medical history. If an employer asks you if you have some kind of disability, or really inquires about your health at all, this can mean two things: 1. They are unaware that this question is illegal and probably wouldn’t be a very great employer or 2. they are aware it is illegal and simply don’t care, meaning you probably don’t want to work for them. Either way, if an employer asks you this question, it can be a big sign that they will not be a great employer.

Though these two topics or questions are completely off limits and illegal, there are other questions or topics that are not as clear-cut as these two. For instance, an article posted by AOL points out that an employer has the right to ask you about your conviction record and your eligibility to work in the United States, but it is illegal for them to ask you your arrest record or the status of your citizenship. Take a look:

It is illegal for employers to inquire about your living arrangements, but they can ask you how they can contact you. It is illegal for employers to ask if you have any disabilities, but they can ask you about your ability to lift heavy objects.
It is illegal for employers to ask you your age, but they can ask if you are over the age of 18.
It is illegal for employers to ask if you are married or have a permanent spouse.
It is illegal for employers to ask you if you are pregnant, but they can ask you if you expect to have any extended absences.
Going along with these questions, when an employer inquires about religion or race it can be a red flag. There isn’t much of a reason for an employer to ask you about these topics since they are not pertinent to business.

So, how do you deal with these awkward, somewhat illegal situations? First off, you need to consider the fact that the employer asking you these personal questions may not mean they are trying to discriminate against you. They may just be trying to make small talk. However, if they had read my article on how to make small talk count, they would know these topics are off limits. Either way, don’t take immediate offense. Deal with it as elegantly as possible. On the other hand, they could be asking you these questions only to gain personal information from you. In the event that this happens, AOL gives some great tips to follow.

1. Rephrase the Question
If an employer asks you how old your kids are or if you have any kids, respond with a question like, “if you are asking whether or not I can commit fully to this position, the answer is yes.” In relation to kids, be honest and talk about how you have handled work and kids in previous positions.

2. Respond With a Question
Say the interviewer asks you about social or drinking habits, as AOL points out. You can respond with a question asking, “Did your company have an issue with this before?” If so, ask them to share the experience and respond accordingly.

3. Bring Up Legality Issues
If an interviewer asks you a question you are uncomfortable answering and know is illegal, it’s not the best idea to say outright, “I’m not answering that because I know it is an illegal question.” Unless, of course, you realize mid-interview that this is not the job you want. If not though, you can instead say that you are happy to discuss the topic but then ask them if they know that question is illegal. It’s not defensive and it lightly brings it to their attention that they are in the wrong.

No matter how difficult it is to find a job today, it doesn’t mean you should be subjected to illegal interview questions. Know your rights and understand when an interviewer is in the wrong. If they are, keep your composure and deal with it elegantly. Keep in mind that these rules apply both for in-person interviews and online interviews like the ones conducted on Spark Hire. If you are asked these illegal questions in an online interview, you should handle them the same way you would if you were in an in-person interview. Just because it is online does not make it any less illegal.

Have you ever had this kind of situation? Has an interviewer ever asked you illegal questions? Share your experience with me.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Omnia

Nicole Nicholson

Nicole is the Content Editor for Spark Hire and mainly writes for and edits the work for the Spark News blog. She graduated in 2010 with a BA in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has a passion for writing, editing, and pretty much anything to do with content. In her free time she frequents the Chicago music scene and writes reviews on shows for her own personal blog. Connect with Nicole and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter

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