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Illegal Interview Questions -- Be Prepared

By Nathan Newberger

This helpful and insightful article will keep you alert of illegal interview questions and strategies on how to best deal with them if they do arise. This information can help you when you are interviewing for a position and also when you conduct interviews yourself.

I'll quickly cover the following:

  1. Why Employer Ask Illegal Interview Questions.

  2. Examples of Illegal Interview Questions.

  3. Tips on How To Respond to Illegal Interview Questions.


U.S. law prohibits certain types of questions and you are by no means required or obligated to answer these questions. These questions are prohibited for a reason: to keep employers from unfairly trying to weed you out as a possible employee.


The interview is where you get your chance to sell yourself directly to the employer. During the interview the employer is obviously trying to learn more about you and how you may or may not fit in the company.

The main reason why an employer might purposely slip in some illegal questions is basically to try and get information to keep you from getting a job. Most illegal questions revolve around personal information and asking them is usually not related to the job and is often discriminatory in nature.

Another reason some employers ask illegal questions is because they just don't know any better. Many interviewers are not trained at all and simply don't know what is legal versus illegal. Please keep this in mind, it may just be a poorly trained, inexperienced or just curious interviewer and not meant to be harmful or discriminatory at all.


Illegal questions generally fall into 4 categories:

  1. Disabilities & Physical Skills

  2. Personal Background

  3. Race, Creed, or Color

  4. Family & Relationship Items

10 Sample Illegal Questions:

  1. How tall are you?

  2. Are you a US Citizen?

  3. How old are you?

  4. Are you really a man?

  5. Are you Chinese or Japanese?

  6. What religion are you?

  7. Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?

  8. Have you ever been arrested?

  9. Are you married?

  10. How many children do you have?


First and foremost, avoid reacting in a hostile fashion - remember that you can always decide later to decline the job offer. Your goal during the interview is to try and get the job offer.

Response 1:

Go ahead and answer the question. If you don't feel uncomfortable and you think your answer is in your favor, why worry? Go ahead and answer the question and make no mention that you think its improper or illegal. Just remember that you run the risk of harming your candidacy if you give an answer not favorable to what the interviewer has in mind.

Response 2:

Refuse to answer the question. You are within your rights but in a delicate and sensitive area with regards to the potential job offer. You can say politely that you don't feel comfortable answering the question and ask to move on. You may even want to mention to the interviewer that the question is illegal and doesn't pertain to the job. The key here is to be as tactful as possible. But keep in mind, you may come across as confrontational or not a "team player in the eyes of the interviewer.

Generally speaking, its better not to confront or debate the interviewer about the legality of a question. But if you have any uncertainty about the questions, you should be alert to any pattern of discrimination"especially if you notice several illegal questions. Try and remember the questions and speak the employer's HR director and get answers to what may have happened.


Nathan Newberger,

Managing Editor

"Helping You Find More Jobs Faster"

About The Author
Nathan Newberger is the job and career expert at Nathan has over 10 years experience as a both a recruiter and career counselor.

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