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Illegal Interview Questions--What Do I Do?

I can't believe the boss actually asked that question!  It's illegal!  

Are you gay?  --  Are you going to get pregnant?  ---  How old are you?  ---  Are you married?  The boss isn't supposed to ask, but he/she did, so what do you do about it?
First, realize interview questions themselves are not illegal.  An employer can ask whatever he/she likes.  What IS illegal is discriminating against someone in a protected category such as race, color, religion, gender, age, disability, or ethnic origin.  An astute employer will not ask questions that might raise suspicions of discrimination discriminating.  But let's face it:  they're not all astute about job interviewing.  Many bosses never get trained in how to conduct interviews. 

Here are strategies you can use to address the illegal questions:

1) Simply answer the question
You might say, "No, we're not planning to have children for the foreseeable future."  If you choose this route, you are giving information that is not job-related. You could harm your candidacy by giving the "wrong" answer.

2) Refuse to answer the question. You'll be within your rights, but you'll also run the risk of coming off as uncooperative or confrontational - hardly the words an employer would use to describe the "ideal" candidate.

3) Examine the intent behind the question and respond to the intent. For instance, if the interviewer asks, "Are you a U.S. citizen?" or "What country are you from?" you've been asked an question that could be discriminatory.  Instead of answering the question directly, you could respond, "I am authorized to work in the United States."

If your interviewer asks, "Who is going to take care of your children when you have to travel?" you might answer, "I will have no problem meeting the travel and work schedule that this job requires."

4) Raise Cain
If the employer is discriminating against you, you can contact your local federal Equal Employment Opportunity office and file a claim.   In another article (coming soon), I'll discuss this further.  For now, suffice to say that this is not always the best option.

Be sure you  Don't jump to conclusions.  If the employer asks if you're from Mexico, and the company has a high percentage of Mexicans on staff, chances are, there's no discriminatory intent.  The boss may be making (what he/she thinks is harmless) conversation with you. 

5) Let the interviewer know that the question was illegal
Employer says:  Are you Jewish?
Your response:  Look, I Don't want to get either of us in trouble with the EEOC by answering a question like that.  Can we get back to talking about the job?

The employer should be grateful that you kept him/her from getting into hot water.

6) Evade the question tactfully.  This is probably the best response. 
Suppose an employer asks, "Are you gay?"  
Your response, "Sometimes people think that.  Maybe it's because of my voice.  But tell me, does this have any impact on doing the job?  If not, can we talk about the job?"

Employer question:  How old are you?  
Your response:  I know a lot of times, people are wondering if I'm going to retire soon.  I love working, and I want to keep on as long as I'm able.  Unlike a lot of younger workers, I'm not going to be looking to jump ship the first chance I get.  I'd like to find a place where I can sink some roots and make a real difference in a company. 

in any case, you are also interviewing the employer.  How they treat you during the interview is indicative of what will come next.  You may not want the job.  ###

Don't Blow That Interview! 
Call me about our Job Interview Training.  Learn about the five types of interview questions, and how to handle them so you build rapport, show you're a good fit, protect your weak spots, Don't get eliminated over salary issues, and get paid what you're worth!

Steve Frederick
Frederick Career Services
1on1 Coaching that Transforms Careers




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