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Interviewing Questions that Employers Can't Ask

First Evaluate if the Questions is Related to the Job


When you’ve had very little experience interviewing it can be tough to know which questions that employers ask are appropriate and which ones are not. As a student interested in applying for an internship, you may think that you need to answer every question and that you will not get the internship if you don’t.

The truth is that there are federal and state laws that protect applicants from having to answer certain interviewing questions that are deemed to be illegal. For those entering the workforce it is important to know what these questions are. Even on resumes, I see students who have included all kinds of information that is really illegal for employers to ask and that students do not need to include in order to get an internship.

What are some of the questions that employers can legally ask an applicant?

The main way to distinguish if a question is legal or not for an employer to ask is to ask yourself if this question is relevant to your ability to do the job. Certain questions can be asked in a specific way but relevance is still a key issue when deciding if the question is legal or not. Basically federal and state laws have been enacted to protect applicants from various types of discrimination.

For example, an employer cannot ask you your age, ethnicity, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, citizenship, marital status, arrest or conviction record, disabilities, or health status. Since none of these relate to how well you can do the job, they are considered illegal and not relevant in the hiring process. An employer can ask if you are over the age of 18, if this would be considered a definite requirement when hiring appropriate people to fill a specific job.

What can you do if an employer asks you an illegal question during an interview?

  1. You may decide to answer the question.

    You may elect to answer the question because it just seems easier to do so. Of course if you answer the question it may help you get hired for the internship if you provide the “right” answer. If your answer is “wrong”, the answer you give could hurt your chances of getting hired. By answering the question the employer may think that you are not familiar with the laws surrounding interviewing or they may decide that you are more passive than assertive when confronted with difficult situations.

  2. You may elect to not answer the question.

    Not answering the questions could definitely hurt your chances of getting the internship. If the internship is something you really want and if you decide that the employer is someone that you would really want to work for, it’s important to be careful in what you say when refusing to answer a specific question.

  3. You might decide to look at a specific question and think about why the employer is asking it and what it has to do with the job.

For example, an employer may ask if you if you are a U.S. citizen and your response could be that you are authorized to work in the United States. With this response you are focusing on what the employer needs to know about your qualifications to do the job but you are also not responding directly to an illegal question.

At times it may be important to indicate that a question is illegal and then provide the best response you can focusing on the qualifications to do the job but not providing a direct answer to the illegal question. This can be very difficult especially if you want the internship but one thing you will want to consider is if this is the type of work environment you will want to work in if the employer discriminates based on personal characteristics that have nothing to do with the job.

There may be times when the interview becomes so uncomfortable that you might decide that you want to end it early. In that case you may get up and say that this position does not seem to be the right position for you and thank the interviewer for his/her time and then leave promptly to avoid any further uncomfortable moments.

Some Questons You May Want to Avoid When Interviewing: >p>

  • What is your age?

  • Are you a United States citizen?

  • Do you have any recent health problems?

  • What religious holidays do you observe?

  • Where does your wife/husband work?

  • How many children do you have?

    Although many of these questions seem rather innocent, the answers reveal information about the applicant that has nothing to do with their ability to do the job and consequently they do not need to be part of the interviewing process.

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