Articles on Writing Resumes, Careers
Getting Hired, & Job Searching:

Illegal Questions

   Article by Carole Martin

The female candidate was asked, "Do you plan to have children?" She was taken aback by the question and wasn't sure how to answer.

She had three choices:

  1. To answer the question honestly even though she did not want to.
  2. To tell the interviewer it is none of his business and the question is illegal.
  3. To deal with the concern behind the question, ignoring the illegal question itself.

How would you answer the question if you were the female candidate?

The best answer is "C."

An appropriate answer from the candidate might have been, "Whether or not I plan to have children in the future is not really relevant to my career. I plan to work and have a career no matter what happens in my personal life."

Why is this type of question asked in an interview? Why are interviewers concerned about your plans to reproduce, your marital status and your retirement plans? It's simple; they want to make sure you are the solution to a problem, not the source of more headaches.

When the female candidate was asked her plans regarding future motherhood, the interviewer may have been trying to determine whether she was in for the long-term or just until the company could pay for the birth of her firstborn. It is clearly a discriminatory question, one that would probably never be asked of a male candidate, and it is illegal!

Technically, it is illegal for an interviewer to ask anything personal that is not directly job-related. Off-limit questions include (but are not limited to): information regarding your age, marital status, country of origin, religion, sexual preference and health status. Almost any legal information about you is illegal in the job interview.

There are some exceptions to this rule, which might be confusing. Personal questions considered to be job-related usually are allowed in the interview or on the job application.

Legal Personal Questions:

Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

Depending on the type of job you are applying for, this could be critical.

Can you show proof of your eligibility to work in the US?

Every new employee, regardless of place of origin, must provide such documentation during the first days on the job.

Can you perform the job's essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation?

This question must be accompanied by a job description covering the essential functions.

The concerns behind these questions are relevant to the job's requirements and performance. As an example, if you have been convicted of embezzlement, you will probably not be considered for a job handling money. The concern is that you had a problem in your past that could be a problem again.

The interviewer wants to know if you can report to work and do the job. Any information that could be enlightening is important. But the interviewer's questions should focus on the job and your qualifications to do it.

By becoming aware of illegal questions, you will be prepared to deal with them if confronted in an interview. Pre-interview thinking and preparation can spare some embarrassing or uncomfortable moments during the interview.

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