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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Interview Preparation - Illegal Interview Questions

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During the interview process, recruiters will ask a variety of questions regarding your skills and abilities, education, and past work experience. It is important to be aware of questions that may be too personal, insensitive, or illegal. Illegal questions technically are not illegal. They are questions regarding your personal status that do not relate to the job, such as race, sexual orientation, and marital status. If you are asked such an illegal question, it is important to know that you do not have to respond to it. If you feel comfortable answering the question, you may. However, you may politely decline to answer it. Here are several ways you could address the question:

“May I ask why you are asking such a question?”

“I do not see the relevance of that question as it relates to the position. Could you explain as to why you are asking such a question?”

“I don’t see how that question relates to the position, so I am going to decline answering it.”

“Since the question is related to the position I will answer it, but please know that I normally would not reply to that question?”

It is important to note that recruiters are not always intentionally trying to ask you illegal questions. Sometimes they are not aware that they are asking such questions. They also may need to ask you an illegal question because it relates to the qualifications of the position. Being aware of illegal questions and how to handle them is your best defense. Listed below is a set of criteria from Georgetown Law that recruiters are not allowed to ask illegal questions about:

  • Original name or maiden name, if changed by court or other manner (May reveal race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, national origin)
  • Citizenship or citizenship of relatives (Although information about an employee's citizenship is required by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 when an employee starts work, it should not be requested during the pre-hire stage; however, an employer may advise an interviewee that the information will be required once employment commences)
  • National origin
  • Length of residency in the United States
  • Religion (Hiring lawyers because they belong to a particular religious group is as discriminatory as not hiring such lawyers)
  • Holidays observed (May reveal religion, political views, etc.)
  • Languages written, spoken, or read (May reveal ethnicity, national origin, race, or religion), unless an employer is seeking employees with expertise in a particular language
  • Membership in organizations: clubs, churches, lodges, fraternities (May reveal race, ethnicity, religion, national origin)
  • Names/addresses of relatives (May reveal race, ethnicity, religion, national origin)
  • Age
  • Arrest record
  • Type of military discharge
  • Status as a Vietnam veteran
  • Credit standing (Particularly offensive to blacks or others who may be thought to be from deprived social-economic backgrounds)
  • Physical handicaps (Including alcoholism and drug addiction)
  • Views on civil rights