10 Questions Employers Can't Ask You In A Job Interview

04/09/2015 04:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2015
  • Jenny Che Associate Business Editor, The Huffington Post
HSS AOL

If you’ve ever been asked your age in a job interview, that’s an immediate red flag.

Answers to that questions could ruin a job candidate's chances at getting the position, and the hiring manager could be putting the company at risk for legal action. In fact, an interviewer should never ask a question that could reveal personal details about a candidate, but these kinds of questions still continue to pop up in interviews.

It turns out that 20 percent of hiring managers have asked an off-limits question in a job interview, only to realize their mistake afterward, according to a survey by CareerBuilder. What's more, a third of the 2,100 hiring and human resources managers polled said they were unsure of the legality of these kinds of questions.

Here are the questions interviewers should never ask but sometimes do anyway:

  1. What is your religious affiliation?
  2. Are you pregnant?
  3. What is your political affiliation?
  4. What is your race, color or ethnicity?
  5. How old are you?
  6. Are you disabled?
  7. Are you married?
  8. Do you have children or plan to?
  9. Are you in debt?
  10. Do you social drink or smoke?

While these questions are not explicitly illegal, they imply an illegal motive, said Rebecca Pontikes, a solo practitioner who represents individual employees at Boston firm Pontikes Law.

Title VII doesn’t have a list of questions thou shalt not ask,” she said, referring to a portion of the federal Civil Rights Act that prohibits employment discrimination. Still, she added, anti-discrimination agencies and companies often issue guidelines about questions that are impermissible in interviews.

“It’s just a bad idea to ask those questions,” said Peter Moser, a labor attorney and partner at Hirsch Roberts Weinstein, a Boston-based law firm. “It can be used as evidence of discrimination, and why would you ask that if it’s not relevant to the job?”

So what should someone do if they're being interviewed and one of these problematic questions comes up?

Let's say a hiring manager asks a female candidate if she has children. One way to address the issue is to tackle it head-on.

“Think about what’s really being communicated,” Pontikes said. “You can say, ‘If you guys are concerned about my availability or my dedication to the firm, please be assured I plan to be very dedicated. I’ll put in long hours, I’ll work from home if I have to, and here’s what I did at other places while I had children.'”

Another option is to turn the conversation toward your qualifications for the position.

“Don’t be disapproving of the question,” Pontikes said. “You’re being evaluated and, to be frank, that person has the power. Redirecting to your qualifications is a good way to address the awkwardness.”

Moser told HuffPost that he's not surprised these kinds of questions get asked.

“People chit chat in interviews, and it’s natural to talk about things that might give you information that’s not job-related, but could be used to discriminate against a person,” he said.

CONVERSATIONS