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How to Handle Illegal Interview Questions

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, CareerOneStop is essentially a new Web site. It’s a virtual business center aimed at “hiring, training and retaining a strong workforce.”

The site looks like it’s geared toward hiring managers but we discovered their list of illegal interview questions and figured it’s worth noting.

While hiring managers need to be schooled on what’s appropriate, job seekers (especially those new to the game such as college grads) also need to know what they simply don’t need to answer. And sometimes it may be a bit unclear. For instance, employers are not allowed to ask if you are a U.S. citizen but they may inquire if you are authorized to work in the U.S.

It all goes back to the job. Is the question relevant to the job? While we included a list from their Web site below, it’s just a sample. If you’re being asked if you have any disabilities, that’s not cool. However, if you’re being asked a specific question as it relates to performing the essential responsibilities of the job with reasonable accomodation, that’s A-okay.

Again, everything needs to point back to the job. Whether you’re the manager or job seeker, keep the job description etched in your mind and ask yourself if the question you’re asking or answering relates to the job.

As for what to do if you are asked a taboo question during an interview? You have a few options. First, you can answer it but realize any information you reveal may be part of the evaluation process even though it’s not related to the job whatsoever. You can point out that it’s not relevant to the job (easier said than done) but then you may be viewed as uncooperative.

Another tactic is to tactfully deflect the inquiry. You have a right as a job seeker to not answer the question and say, “I’d rather not say. This isn’t particularly relevant to the job.” Or something similar to that. It may feel uncomfortable because you’re seeking their job in the first place but it’s important to know what you don’t need to answer. If it’s not relevant to the job and starts getting personal, you can skip it.

Illegal subject Sample illegal questions
Age How old are you? Are you a Baby Boomer?
Race or nationality You’re Hispanic (or other ethnic group), right?
Pregnancy (existing or planned) Are you planning to have a family in the next five years?
Disabilities Any disabilities we should know about?
Family and marital status Do you have kids? How many?
Household situation Do you have any grandparents living with you?
Spouse’s occupation What does your husband/wife do for a living?
Religion or church attendance Do you attend church regularly?
Arrest record Have you ever committed a crime? What did it involve?

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