Potential employers often ask a variety of questions in a job interview. As a candidate, you want to have the correct answer for every question. However, there are specific questions you should not answer because they are, in fact, against the law to ask job candidates.
Unlawful interview questions to watch out for
It is illegal to ask questions that might lead to discrimination or the appearance of discrimination against a job candidate. Therefore, the following questions can be unlawful, even if they seem harmless.
- When did you graduate high school? Discriminating against a candidate based on age is unlawful. This question – and others similar to it – can be a way to find out how old you are.
- Do you have kids, or do you want kids? Some employers use this question to determine if a candidate, often a woman, will become pregnant or need to take time off to care for her family. If they ask you this, they may not hire you based on your response, which, again, is unlawful.
- What is your salary history? New York recently banned this question in job interviews, as it perpetuates the gender wage gap cycle. By asking about salary history, employers could justify continuing to pay women less than men.
- Where were you born? Employers might use this question and others like it to discriminate against a person on the basis of their race, religion or national origin. However, employers can ask you if you are legally eligible to work in the U.S. or if you can speak, write and read English.
These questions may not seem intrusive or illegal, but employers cannot ask them. In some cases, employers might phrase them differently or use other ways of getting to the same information, but questions asking about your possible membership in a protected class can raise some red flags.
How to respond if these questions come up
If questions like these do come up, you can respectfully decline to answer them. Likewise, you can respond by keeping your answer focused on the job, position or company. Depending on the tone of the interview, you could also deflect the question with humor.
Employers may or may not know these questions are illegal, but you should know so you can protect your rights.