There are certain questions an interviewer cannot ask during a job interview. Specifically, these questions are sometimes seen as “illegal or discriminatory interview questions”, so, seasoned recruiters and hiring managers avoid them.
What are illegal or discriminatory interview questions?
In this context, Illegal or discriminatory questions are questions an interviewer cannot ask during a job interview. Firstly, they have no way of contributing to an interviewers hiring decision. Secondly, illegal questions tend to pry into an interviewee’s private life, which leaves them feeling uncomfortable. Lastly, these questions could be interpreted as discriminatory, hence paint a bad image of the company.
Let’s consider an example.
“If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”
When an interviewer asks a question like this, it throws the interviewee off balance. As a result, some get resentful and offended to be asked such a question. More so, the question doesn’t have an answer and has no way of contributing to an interviewee’s success. Therefore, seasoned interviewers avoid these kinds of questions and focus on discovering areas where a talent fits into their plan.
Some questions on this list may be legal for some interviews and illegal for others.
A perfect example is a question; “What ethnic group are you?“
This question is illegal and discriminatory for a general interview. But when recruiting for an ethnic or native position, then an interviewer can ask you this question.
Therefore, context and intent is the base for judging questions an interviewer can ask or cannot ask.
Situations when interviewers can ask illegal or discriminatory interview questions
There are certain situations when an interviewer can ask a question from this list;
When it is obvious that the question has a direct impact on the final decision-making process for the role. To illustrate, a child care company can ask questions about convictions to ensure safety for their children.
When the job specification from the advert clearly stated the requirement i.e. a particular age bracket for a job.
Here is the list of some illegal or discriminatory interview questions an interviewer cannot ask
Categories for illegal or discriminatory interview questions
Questions an interviewer cannot ask
What are your opinions on office romance relationships/romance?
When asked a question like this in an interview, here’s a perfect answer; Ans.: My opinion is that I’ll be willing to abide by the company’s policy on office relationships. Can you tell me about the company’s policy on office relationships?
What tribe are you? What is your native language? All questions about colour and race.
Racial or ethnic discrimination has no place in our society. For instance, a company could face legal charges if they are found to discriminate against race or tribe. In another note, if a position requires people of a particular language, nationality or ethnicity, then these questions become legal. Another case is when recruiting for a Federal agency in a country that uses geographic quota system for employment. The quota system provides that equal numbers of people are employed in the various geographic zones of the state. In that case, questions about state of origin, native language, etc. could be asked
How old are you? When did you graduate from secondary or tertiary education? How much longer do you plan to work before you retire? When did you first start working?
When hiring for positions that are open to all age brackets, interviewers avoid these questions as they may send signals of age discrimination.
How often did you take sick days in your last position? Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? Are you on any medications? Do you have a disability? Have you ever suffered a workplace injury?
Are you (married, pregnant, single, trying to have a family)? Do you have any children? What is your childcare arrangement? Do you have any kids/plan on having kids? Can you get a babysitter on short notice for overtime or travel?
These questions appear as a bias against people who are married or with family especially the female gender. If it doesn’t affect your ability to deliver in a particular role, an interviewer will prefer not to ask it.
How far is your commute? Do you live nearby? Do you own your own home or rent? Whom do you live with? How are you related to the people you live with?
If asked an illegal question about your address/location, you could use diplomacy to answer it. E.g.: How far is your commute? Ans: If your concern is about my ability to show up on time for work, you have nothing to worry about. I live close enough to resume early for work. Any other question about your residence or address that is not focused on finding out your ability to resume for work in time is irrelevant and can be avoided.
Do you own a home or rent? Have your wages ever been garnished? Were you ever declared bankrupt? Do you have any debt?
Your personal finance has nothing to do with your ability to deliver on the role.
Have you ever been arrested?
Interviewers avoid questions relating to arrests if it is not directly related to the job. The candidate has not been convicted yet so could be innocent. However, there are cases when this question is paramount for the recruiter to ask. For example, when hiring for a position that will require a candidate to handle huge sums of money. In that case, a recruiter could ask if a candidate has been convicted for any finance-related issue.
What is your current salary? What’s the Lowest Salary You Would Accept?
If this question is to uncover salary expectations for a particular role, a seasoned interviewer will go straight and enquire about it.
What is your religion? What denomination are you? Who is your pastor? What holidays do you celebrate?
Religion is a very sensitive issue. Interviewers stay away from questions about religion unless they are interviewing for a faith-based organization or position.
We’ve always had a man/woman do this job, how do you think you will stack up? How do you feel about supervising men/women?
Your qualification and experience to deliver trumps your gender. An interviewer may seem crass to bring up questions that question your status as a man or woman so they don’t bring it up.
Do you take drugs? Do you socially drink or smoke?
Are you a member of any club or society? What sorority did you join?
What is your height? How much do you weigh?
A certain minimum and/or maximum height or weight is essential for some positions. But recruiters must not make assumptions about your abilities based on your height or weight. Therefore, they are careful about discrimination towards applicants of a particular height or weight.
Unnecessary Brain Teasers
If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
Though an interviewer may mean no harm with these kinds of questions; they mostly throw interviewees off balance. At worst, the questions are interpreted as offensive. Because of those reasons, interviewers avoid them and focus on finding out how qualified an applicant is for the position.
What Other Companies Are You Interviewing With? Where Are You in Each of Those Recruiting Pipelines? Can My Client Talk to Your Current Boss? What Did You Hate About Your Last Job?
Illegal or Discriminatory Interview Questions an Interviewer Cannot Ask
FAQ on illegal or discriminatory interviewer questions
What do I do if I am asked an illegal or discriminatory question?
Consequently, when asked a question outside your ability to deliver on a particular position, here’s what you can do;
Politely answer the question.
Point out that the question is illegal or discriminatory. Therefore, you shouldn’t be getting such questions as it doesn’t help you explore your qualification for the role.
You could simply refuse to answer.
What is an equal opportunity employment (EOE)?
An equal opportunity employment is a provision for fair career opportunity for anyone who applies for a job regardless of gender, religion, status, race, etc.
What is pre-employment discrimination?
Pre-employment discrimination happens when a potential employer discriminates against a candidate during the hiring process. Mostly, this discrimination is based on age, race, religion, and sexual orientation. This still counts as discrimination, even if an employment relationship has not started.
To avoid “questions an interviewer cannot ask in an interview“, interviewers prefer to focus on the needs of the job. That is to say, they focus on the skills and qualities that an employee needs to possess for a job.