How to prepare for illegal interview questions

by Rich DeMatteo on August 20, 2009 · 4 comments

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While I believe ample time should be spent practicing popular interview questions, it’s also smart to know which questions are illegal and should never be asked.  Well trained HR folks have been brain washed into knowing every painful legality of interviewing, and pass that information over to hiring managers.  Sadly, some hiring managers just don’t get the message.  It’s possible they were sleeping during the illegal interview questions presentation, or maybe they just don’t believe in what HR has to offer.  No matter the reason, when interviewers are ignorant to laws surrounding illegal interview questions, it becomes very dangerous for the company.

Illegal interview questions come in a number of categories.  To help you remember these categories just think of DARN SCaR:

  • D isability
  • A ge
  • R eligion
  • N ational Origin
  • S ex or Sexual Orientation
  • C olor
  • R ace/Ethnicity

Interviewers should be trained to keep questions JOB-RELATED. That’s in bold because it’s crucial to the interview.  Keeping an interview job-related seems obvious, but far too many interviews utilize illegal questions.  Just last week I read a story from  COTJ fan through email.  She told me about a friend of hers that recently went on an interview.  The first questions out of the interviewers mouth were, “Are you married, single, and how many kids do you have?”  Holy pancakes, that hurts.  Those questions directly relate to the Sex or Sexual Orientation category, and are very well known illegal questions.  Not all illegal questions are as cut and dry, it can actually become quite confusing.  Here are more illegal questions from each category:

Disability

  • How did you get that scar?
  • When did you lose your leg?
  • Have you ever had a drug problem?
  • Do you have the HIV virus or AIDS?

Age

  • How old are you?
  • You seem to be in good shape for your age, are you?

Religion

  • Do you believe in God?
  • Do you go to church on Sundays?
  • What is a Bar Mitzvah?

National Origin

  • What kind of name is Kunis?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • Where were you born?
  • Can you show me your green card?

Sex or Sexual Orientation

  • Are you married or single?
  • Do you have children?
  • Do you live with a man or woman?

Color and Race

  • List all the clubs or organization to which you belong to
  • Please attach a photograph to your application
  • What is your race?
  • What is the name and address of a relative to be notified in case of an emergency?

99% of the time interviewers are simply ignorant to illegal questions.  Their objective is to screen out a candidate quickly by asking what they feel is a question relating to the job requirements.  Many times there is an even more direct way to find out if a candidate can meet these requirements.   Here are some examples:

  • Illegal – How old are you?  You seem to be in good shape for an old man, or woman.
  • Legal – This job requires you to lift 75 pounds daily.  Can you meet this requirement?
  • Illegal – Do you have children?
  • Legal – This job requires you to be at work by 7:30 each morning.  Can you meet this requirement?
  • Illegal – Show me your green card.
  • Legal – Are you authorized to work for any US employer?
  • Illegal – Do you go to church on Sundays?
  • Legal – This job may require some work on Saturdays and Sundays.  Can you meet this requirement?
  • Illegal – Have you ever been arrested?
  • Legal – Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

What to do if asked an illegal question?

Don’t answer the question.  Keep in mind that your interviewer may not have been properly trained and their intent is not to discriminate. Tell your interviewer in a polite way that the question might be illegal, or even try to change the subject.  Ask  your interviewer how the question relates to the job.  For instance, if you are asked if you have children.  Ask him/her why that question is important to the job, or how it relates to the position.  A common response might be, “I’d like to know if you can arrive at 7:00 each morning”.  Their response is now the question.  State if you can be in work by 7 AM each morning, and then move away from it completely.  If illegal questions persist, or if you feel you’ve being discriminated, then maybe you should file a claim against the company.

How do you file a claim?

If you feel you’ve been discriminated against in any of the categories listed in DARN SCaR, then you may file a charge of discrimination with the  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  To file a charge, contact your local EEOC office.  Click here to view local EEOC offices

If you have any questions surrounding illegal interview questions please contact me at CornOnTheJob@gmail.com

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