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Ten Ways to Respond to Illegal Interview Questions

by Kay Bosworth, studioD

It’s against federal and state laws to ask job applicants certain questions based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or age. If you are asked such a question, you can ignore the illegality and answer it; you can remind the interviewer that the question is against the law and risk losing out on the job; or you could head off the issue by volunteering the information.


Interviewers are not allowed to ask an applicant’s age or sneaky questions like when he graduated high school, and they can’t ask an older applicant how long he plans to work before he retires. An older worker can avoid the questions by calling attention to his pertinent experience and updated skills and outlining his long-term career goals.

Marital Status

It may sound like casual conversation, but another illegal question, usually directed at women, is whether the applicant is married, single or divorced. The interviewer may be attempting to find out if she will be called away from work because of family emergencies. It is legal to ask if you will be available to travel or work overtime, and you should answer honestly. The question could also aim to determine the applicant’s sexual orientation; the applicant can avoid it by asking to stick to job-related topics.


The interviewer can’t ask a woman if she has a family or if she plans on having children. If you are asked this illegal question, you could answer it honestly by stating you have dependable childcare arrangements for your young children, or that your children are grown and away from home.


It also is illegal to ask a female applicant if she plans to get pregnant, if she will continue to work if she gets pregnant and if she would come back after maternity leave. You do not have to share your reproductive plans before there is actually good news to report.


It isn’t legal to ask a female candidate if she can do the job because of her sex or to ask if a male or female would feel comfortable supervising staff members of the opposite sex. You can get around such a question, if it is asked, by calling attention to your experience in those areas.


The interviewer can’t ask a candidate if he smokes or drinks, if he takes prescription drugs, how many sick days he took the previous year, or whether he has any disabilities. A candidate can volunteer information about a disability if he is seeking an accommodation to enable him to perform the task. Otherwise, all the interviewer needs to know is whether you can perform the job with or without accommodations.

Physical Attributes

It is illegal and rude to ask a candidate how much he or she weighs, or even how tall she is. The applicant can assure the interviewer that she is able to perform any required physical tasks.


Asking your religion is way out of line, unless it has some direct bearing on the job. Simply answer that you don’t see that the question is relevant. The interviewer can’t ask what religious holidays you observe, but you can volunteer that information if you wish.


Asking you your nationality is illegal, although the interviewer can ask if you are fluent in languages other than English. An applicant who is not a citizen should simply inform the interviewer that he has the credentials to work legally in the United States. An illegal question about ethnicity should be redirected to relevant job skills.


The interviewer can’t ask any questions about affiliations with political groups or social clubs, and you need not volunteer this information. He can, however, ask if you belong to any professional group related to the industry.

About the Author

As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.

Photo Credits

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