9 Illegal Interview Questions to Avoid

Job interviews, more often than not, are a stressful ordeal and you are left in a cold sweat wondering if you are saying the right things, the things the interviewer wants to hear. You probably accept the fact that you will have to answer some tough questions and think quickly on your feet. But are you aware that there are some questions which are technically illegal and cannot be asked by interviewers? It is illegal to asking candidates about their race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability or marital status.

Women in job interviewImage Courtesy: photl.com

Here are some topics which are absolutely taboo for interviewers while conducting a job interview.

1. Religion:


Employers often make the mistake of asking questions like “Do you observe any religious days?” in order to find out if there are any complications in your lifestyle that will affect your working schedule. However, these questions are illegal as the interviewee will be forced to disclose his religion or religious practices.
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2. Race:

Stop RacismWhile the world has changed its views with regard to racism, there are still some cases where candidates are not considered for jobs because of their skin color or race. It is unacceptable for an interviewer to broach any topic regarding skin color, complexion or that may indirectly lead to the interviewee having to disclose his race.
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3. Ethnicity:

EthnicityA candidate’s ethnicity is off limits to an interviewer. It has close ties with other characteristics of an individual, such as religion or language and hence, can be considered an illegal interview topic.
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4. Disabilities:

DisabilitiesInterviewers often ask questions regarding physical condition to ensure that you are physically fit to take on the job. Some jobs may even require you to undergo a fitness test. While this is perfectly acceptable, an interviewer cannot ask you to disclose the reason for any physical disabilities you might have or question you about receipt of Worker’s Compensation.
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5. Age:

Age difference at wrokplaceWe have all heard of cases where young employees are discarded for older ones with more experience or older employees are not hired because the organization prefers youthful, enthusiastic workers. One thing you should be aware of is that only workers over the age of 40 are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Now while it is perfectly alright for an employer to ask you if you are of legal age to work, he cannot ask you directly if you have crossed the age of 40.
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6. Marital status:

Marital statusInterviewers may bring up your marital status because they wish to find out if you will be committed to your job, but this question is definitely illegal because it can disclose your sexual orientation, which is off limits. In the case of women, they often ask if you will continue to work after having kids. Again this is not a valid question and should never be asked during the course of an interview.
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7. Country of Origin/Citizenship:

CitizenshipEmployers have to be very careful that they only hire people who are legally certified to work in their countries. But the only way they can do this legally is to directly ask the question, “Can you legally work in this country?” and ask for proof of citizenship. They cannot ask you where you were born or which country your ancestors were from.
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8. Sex/Gender:

GenderInterviewers shouldn’t ask controversial questions like “Do you think a woman is fit to handle such a job?” or “The department consists of mostly men, will you be able to effectively lead it?” Gender in no way indicates whether a person is capable to do a job or not and there is no legal basis for asking such questions.
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9. Sexuality/Sexual Preference:

Sexual PreferenceA candidate for a job is not under any compulsion to disclose his sexuality as it is a very personal topic and not relevant to the job requirements. Under no circumstances can an interviewer directly ask “Are you gay/ lesbian/ bisexual/ transsexual?”
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All images taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Posted In: HR Tips, Interview Tips, Tips for Jobseeker

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  • Patty Tanji

    Its not the questions that are illegal….its the actions on the part of the employer that may be illegal. In other words, if a person is not hired because of his ethnicity, age, sex, religion….that’s illegal. I suppose the author is saying, hiring decisions must be free from bias especially when it comes to age, race, sex, religion, ethnicity.

  • sandra martinez

    Patty, Good comment. Employers can and do ask about these things. Questions are not illegal, but employers are advised not to ask them because they may get accused of discriminating in their employment decisions.

  • Maurice Xanthos

    Some roles require a person of a specific ethnicity or age because of the company’s clientele, so there may be extenuating circumstances to specify certain requirements for a job candidate. However, some agencies seem to have a problem with playing mind games, wasting an applicant’s invested time and efforts in making it to an interview.
    Okay, it may be illegal to ask certain questions, but agencies should be up front with the demands placed on their selection criteria, thereby giving a candidate some understanding of what opportunities they can take advantage of when preparing their applications, and not wasting their time when their interviews last 10m – 15 minutes before the interview is illogically terminated.

    What do you think?