Career Development Center

How to Address Illegal Interview Questions

Knowing what an employer can and can’t ask

Employers should be aware of employment law as it relates to interviewing potential employees. But that doesn’t stop them from asking illegal questions. Some do it intentionally hoping you won’t know any better, and to illicit answers that can bias their hiring decision against you. Others are simply ignorant of the law.

So, what are your options if asked an illegal question?

  • Examine the intent behind the question.
  • Respond with an answer as it may apply to the job. For instance, the interviewer may ask, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” You could say, “I am authorized to work in the United States.”
  • Ask the interviewer how the question relates to the position.
  • Answer the question, knowing that you are giving information that is not job-related.
  • Refuse to answer the question. You’ll be within your rights but may be perceived as uncooperative or confrontational.

The following table shows some common areas of inquiry and the related illegal questions asked by employers. It also provides the legal questions they can ask related to each area of inquiry.

Area of Inquiry Illegal Questions Legal Questions
National origin
  • Are you a US citizen?
  • Where were you/your parents born?
  • What is your “native tongue?”
  • Photos cannot be required as part of the hiring process.
  • Are you authorized to work in the US?
  • What languages to you read, speak or write fluently?
Age
  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate from college?
  • What is your birth date/year?
  • Do you meet the minimum age requirement for this position?
Personal/Family
  • What is your marital status?
  • With whom do you live?
  • Do you plan to have a family?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Would you be willing to relocate, if necessary?
  • Travel is an important part of this job, would you be willing to travel, if necessary?
Affiliations
  • What clubs or social organizations do you belong to?
  • Do you go to church?
  • Do you have a disability?
  • Have you ever collected disability or workers’ compensation?
  • List any professional trade groups or other organizations that you belong to, especially if they are relevant to your skills and qualifications.