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10 Illegal Interview Questions: [With Sample Answers]

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A standard interview lasts roughly 45 to 90 minutes, but a lot can happen in such a window! One concern many interviewees have is dealing with illegal interview questions. But what questions are illegal, and how should you respond?

If you’re concerned about illegal interview questions, we’re here to help. Read on to learn more about illegal lines of questioning during your interview and how best to handle the situation.

10 Common Illegal Interview Questions

To start, what makes an interview question illegal? Interview questions seek to learn more about the interviewee, but they’re supposed to stay relevant to the job. If you’re applying to serve tables in a restaurant, why is your sexual orientation relevant?

As a note, illegal interview questions are common. You’ll often find these sorts of questions asked during an interview. Employers often purposely ask uncomfortable questions to see how you’ll respond.

Here is a brief rundown of some common illegal interview questions. Stay tuned, as afterward, we’ll hop into a deeper explanation of these questions.

Illegal Interview Questions (Summary)

We’ve included an overview of our top picks below. For detailed information on each pick, scroll down.

  1. Do you own your home? This question often feels like prying into someone’s financial or living situation. These sorts of questions aren’t relevant to someone’s employment. Interview questions should remain focused on the job.
  2. When did you graduate high school? Questions such as this are common in cases of age discrimination. They also sometimes pry into education that wasn’t listed on a resume.
  3. What is your sexual orientation? There are few, if any, jobs in which someone’s sexual orientation should matter. It’s rarely necessary to know and almost always comes across as looking for something to disqualify an employee.
  4. What is your religion? As with sexual orientation, one’s religion shouldn’t matter. An interviewee may volunteer this information, but knowing someone’s denomination rarely is important in a workplace.
  5. Can you work weekends? While this question seems harmless, many find it to fit into prying into someone’s religion. Some ask this question to see if someone will request every Sunday off due to religious observation.
  6. What country are your parents from? Questions of this style are often asked to pry into someone’s family life. The interviewer may be seeking to know if you’re an illegal immigrant or the child of one. It also comes across as an insensitive way to pry into one’s race.
  7. Do you have a bank account? As with asking about someone’s home, asking about someone’s bank account is their personal financial information. The question also is used to disguise prying into someone’s citizenship.
  8. Who is your emergency contact? Someone’s emergency contact is their personal information. An emergency contact should only become relevant once someone is hired.
  9. Are you single? There are no situations in which someone’s romantic life is relevant to a job. Interviewers asking this often seem as if they’re flirting.
  10. What gender do you identify as? As with orientation and religion, the details of someone’s personal life are not the business of an interviewee. Questions of this nature tend to feel as if they’re seeking to disqualify members of the LGBT+ community.

What Skills Are Interviewers Looking For When Asking Illegal Questions?

Interviewers are fishing to see how an interviewee will react. It’s a good reading of someone’s personality to see how they respond in difficult or uncomfortable situations.

  • Honesty: If you’re seen as being dishonest in your interview, they may not want to have you in their workplace. However, a good way to deal with this is to ask about the relevance of prying conversations, such as into your personal life.
  • Sternness: Another important trait that interviewers look for is your ability to stand up for yourself. Is your interviewer prying into details they have no business knowing? In many cases, the interviewer knows this and is expecting to see how you respond to such pressure.
  • Knowledge: Depending on the situation, interviewers may ask these questions to see if you know what sorts of questions are off-limits.
  • Composure: Being asked these questions is uncomfortable and off-putting. Your interviewer may ask them to see how you’ll react.
  • Quick Thinking: Finally, your interviewer may be seeing how quick you are to adapt.

What Traits Are Interviewers Looking to Avoid in a Candidate When Asking Illegal  Questions?

Interviewers are also often looking at traits to avoid. Here are the three traits that an employer may be trying to avoid when asking you illegal questions.

  • Dishonesty: There’s a chance that an employer may already know the answer. For example, what if your application showed you were available to work weekends? Asking if you can work weekends may not be prying into your religion but seeking consistency. Staying consistent and honest throughout your interview process is crucial. It isn’t illegal to lie on a resume, but you’re unlikely to land the job if you’re caught. Make sure you have your answers thought out beforehand!
  • Quick Temper: Regardless of the situation, snapping at an interviewer is a good way to disqualify yourself. The interviewer may ask an uncomfortable question to see your temperament. If you respond harshly, you can expect not to hear a callback
  • Misunderstanding: Another thing your interviewer may be looking for is whether you understand the questions being asked. In a way, this is also testing your knowledge.

Sample Illegal Interview Questions and Answers

Now that we’ve looked at why these questions may be asked, it’s time to get into the questions themselves. Here are our ten interview questions to ask candidates with a deeper dive.

1. Do you own your home?

Our first question relates to your home life. Here’s what to know about your employer asking about your living situation.

Why Is This Question Asked?

Questions about one’s home are often asked to pry into someone’s living situation. They may try to discover if you’re passing through town or will be a long-term employee.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

If you give this a full answer, it’s best to be honest. State whether you’re renting or living in an apartment.

However, if your interviewer continues prying, you should veer the subject back to the job. The interviewer doesn’t need to know who you live with, where, how many roommates, etc.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

Don’t volunteer information that makes you sound transient. Telling them that you’re looking to move away soon makes you seem like a temporary employee. If you’re mentioning a permanent residence, say that you intend to move closer to the local area.

2. When did you graduate high school?

Questions about high school are rarely relevant. However, keep the context in mind. Did your interviewer go to your high school? They may be trying to build a friendly rapport.

Why Is This Question Asked?

If asked in bad faith, asking about someone’s high school might look to disqualify them on ageism discrimination. If you graduated too recently, they may feel you’re too young or inexperienced. If you graduated too long ago, they may feel you’re too old or out of touch.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

You should immediately build this question into selling yourself. If you have education after high school, discuss graduating high school and then transition into discussing your other education.

If you went into the workforce or military, highlight how quickly you sought to join the professional world. Finally, if you’ve just graduated high school and are interviewing for your first job, insist on how excited you are to transition into the professional industries.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

You shouldn’t speak about high school with any shame or hesitation. Making yourself sound inexperienced or unsure can be the unofficial end of an interview.

3. What is your sexual orientation?

These questions are more common and are often hidden as needing demographic data. Your employer does not have a right to know anything about your sex life. These questions are more common in conservative areas.

Why Is This Question Asked?

The primary reason to know someone’s sexual orientation in the workplace is to disqualify them or to flirt with them. The only exceptions are if you’re applying for something that deals deeply with such subjects. Some psychology studies or similar positions may fit this rare description.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

If you feel the question is irrelevant to the position you’re applying for, you shouldn’t answer. It’s best to ask why they’re curious about such details and try to avoid the question.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

Ultimately, if they would disqualify you for your sexual orientation, you don’t want to work for them. It may be best to avoid the position entirely if you feel the question doesn’t pertain to your position.

4. What is your religion?

Looking into someone’s faith is rarely relevant. If you’re applying for a position in a religious school, a religious facility, or something similar, it may be relevant. Use your judgment to decide if it’s an acceptable question.

Why Is This Question Asked?

In a discriminatory sense, some employers may not want people of other faiths. Conservative workplaces may insist on members of one religion or dislike others.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

If you choose to answer, highlight what your faith has taught you. Focus on the values and principles instilled in you by your faith and how they can translate to the workplace.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

You shouldn’t seem unsure or as if you’re hesitant to answer. It’s best to either divert the question to a different topic or to answer outright. As with sexuality, if someone would disqualify you for your religion, you wouldn’t want to work for them.

Can you work weekends?

Of all the illegal questions, this is the most harmless. Many feel that this goes more into wanting to overwork someone.

Why Is This Question Asked?

This question is often used to try to suss out someone’s faith, as many holy days take place over the weekend. However, it also may be simply seeing someone’s available work hours. You likely said your availability when applying, so stay consistent.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

It’s best not to sound any alarms in your head over this question. Answer truthfully! If you can’t work weekends due to your faith, be honest as to why.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

You should remain honest and consistent. Don’t change your answer halfway through!

What country are your parents from?

Questions of this nature often come from a discriminatory nature. However, know your interviewer! Are they an immigrant from the same region as your parents? It may be an attempt at building rapport.

Why Is This Question Asked?

If asked in bad faith, the question is generally discriminatory. Many people of color have dealt with questions such as this. It’s often derogatory or condescending to ask someone “where they’re really from,” as it were.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

If you don’t feel comfortable answering, don’t answer! Do you feel that they may discriminate against you based on your parents’ immigration? It may be best to withdraw your application in that situation.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

There’s not much to worry about! Do you feel the question was asked in genuine curiosity, or to disqualify you? Answer truthfully or change the subject.

Do you have a bank account?

Questions of a personal or financial nature are rarely appropriate. Common questions such as this one are particularly unnecessary for your employer to know during the interview.

Why Is This Question Asked?

These sorts of questions often seek to suss out someone’s citizenship. It’s exceptionally difficult for non-citizens to open a bank account. They may also feel you’re too young, as youths often don’t have bank accounts.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

It’s best to answer truthfully regardless of the interviewer’s reasons. Consider saying “yes” and then attempting to transition to other questions, or turn the question on them. It may be worth asking what bank their company primarily deals with.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

You shouldn’t make yourself sound inexperienced or intimidated. If you have personal reasons for not having an account, don’t disclose them.

Who is your emergency contact?

An emergency contact shouldn’t be necessary until you’re hired. Your employer does not need this information while you’re only interviewing.

Why Is This Question Asked?

This question is mostly prying into a personal life. They may be trying to see if your emergency contact is a spouse or a family member.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

You can easily dodge this question. Tell them that you haven’t decided on one yet. If they pry in further, you can either say it’s a relative or ask why they’re curious.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

There’s nothing specific to avoid with this question. While prying, it’s relatively harmless.

Are you single?

Your employers rarely will need to know your relationship or marital status. The question may be for tax reasons, but the wording is important.

Why Is This Question Asked?

Generally, this question is for tax reasons. If your interviewer asks in a way that makes you uncomfortable, they may be prying into your romantic life. Use your judgment and don’t answer if the question feels uncomfortable.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

It’s best to answer truthfully. As with other questions, if your employer would reject you for not being single, it likely wasn’t somewhere you wanted to work. It’s a good idea to ask why they’re asking you the question.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

Try to avoid any answer that may come across as flirting. It’s best to ask why they’re asking the question and then answer truthfully.

What gender do you identify as?

This question is less likely to be encountered in an interview, as it’s often on the application. When it pops up, it’s usually a red flag.

Why Is This Question Asked?

The question shouldn’t be asked at all, as you’ve already likely answered on your application. If it does, it may be a flag that they’re seeking to discriminate against LGBT+ members.

What to Focus On When Answering This Question

It’s best to answer truthfully. If you’d like, you can innocently ask if that was covered on your application.

What to Avoid When Answering This Question

There’s nothing you need to avoid unless you feel the question was targeted. Consider asking why they’re asking such a question.

Other Questions You Could Be Asked

There are other questions, legal or not, that you should expect to find in an interview. Here are five categories you may encounter.

  • Behavioral Interview Questions: Behavioral interview questions seek to see how you behave in the workplace. An example is “Tell us a story of how you recently handled a difficult situation.”
  • Strategic Interview Questions: Strategic interview questions look into how you approach workplace challenges. These questions may sound like “How are you converting your known weaknesses into a strength?”
  • Tough Interview Questions: Tough interview questions are common and you can expect several in any interview. A good example is “What do you bring to our workforce?”
  • Problem-Solving Interview Questions: As you may suspect, problem-solving interview questions look at your ability to solve problems in the workplace. One example is “How do you intend to meet the challenges of this industry?”
  • Critical Thinking Interview Questions: Critical thinking interview questions test your ability to think outside the box. These may include asking how you would handle a hypothetical problem.

Additional Tips for Illegal Interviews

Now that we know some of what we’re looking out for, there’s always more to know. Here are some tips to handle illegal interview questions.

How Do You Prepare to Answer Illegal Interview Questions?

The best preparation is to anticipate your answers to anything you can think of. If you’re asked a tough question, think on the spot about the best way to answer.

What Questions Should You Ask at the End of an Interview With Illegal Questions?

There are a few questions you can ask at the end of any interview regardless of what you’ve been asked. Here are some examples.

1. What Do You Look For In an Employee?

Knowing what an employer is looking for can help you see if you fit the bill. It’s also a good way to measure what your interviewer finds important in a worker.

2. What Common Complaints Do Your Employees Have?

This is a bold question and not one you should always ask. However, it’s a great way to test your interviewer’s honesty and integrity.

There simply is not a workplace where no workers have a complaint. If your interviewer insists that they can’t think of any complaints, they aren’t being honest with you. If no one has ever voiced a complaint to them, they may be a very stern, possibly toxic manager.

3. How Long Do People Usually Work For You?

Knowing the turnover rate in your potential new job is crucial. If people consistently leave after a few months, there may be a problem with the workplace. Make sure you know what you’re getting into!

Frequently Asked Questions

With everything discussed, there are still a few questions to consider. Here are two of the most frequently asked questions regarding workplace interviews.

What 4 Things Can Get You Fired?

Depending on your state, there are plenty of ways to get fired. The four most common are incompetence, dishonesty, insubordination, and crime (assault, sexual assault, theft, etc.)

Can I Sue for Illegal Interview Questions?

Yes and no. If you feel like you’re being discriminated against, yes. However, you should consider the hassle and cost of a lawsuit to see if it’s worth your time.

Ending Your Interview

Managing illegal interview questions is a difficult part of an interview, but don’t let them intimate you. Focus on giving the best answers you can and keep an eye out for red flags. If you’re uncomfortable, consider other workplaces.

For more information on perfecting your interview, browse our site!

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