Job Interviews   >   Questions 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99 and 100
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Illegal Job Interview Questions and How You Might Answer Them

Federal and state legislation prohibits employers from asking certain questions during the interview based on race, religion, creed, sex and age.  Not all employers are familiar with these laws, particularly small employers.   What should you do if you are asked one of these illegal questions?  Experts say if you want the job, you should ignore their illegality and answer the questions.  Others recommend that you very tactfully point out that the question is illegal.  Whatever you decide to do, keep in mind that if you offend the interviewer, you will not get the job offer. 

What should you do if asked an illegal question?  If you want the job it wouldn't be wise to point out to the interviewer that he has asked a bad question.  Instead, just answer it unless it offends you so much that you feel the need to point out the insult.  You can simply respond, "I'm sorry, but I don't feel that question is relevant to the position for which I'm interviewing."  Of course, if you do this, chances are you will offend the interviewer and you won't get the job.

Another tactic to win more job offers is to volunteer information that it is illegal for the interviewer to ask.  For example, if you're a young female you know that the interviewer is concerned that you're planning to start a family soon or already have a house full of young children that might interfere with your job.  Since he isn't supposed to ask you anything about children you can volunteer this information:  "I decided a long time ago that I do not want to have children, so I have no family obligations now or in the future that could prevent me from traveling extensively if offered this position" OR "My children are away at college now, so I can work late and on weekends if necessary."

Question 94: How old are you?

Employers are not allowed to ask age-related questions, such as your birth date or the year you graduated from high school in order to determine your age.  However, it isn't hard to guess a person's age from their appearance or from the work history that appears on a resume.  An employer can ask you to verify that you are at least 18 years old.  Why do employers ask age-related questions?  An employer might be concerned that you are either too young or too old to do the job, but usually, the discrimination is against the old rather than the young.  So, there are two ways you can answer this question:  (1) Tell them it is illegal to ask this question and you will be reporting them to the proper authorities (and not get the job offer); or (2) emphasize the positive without giving out your exact age.  Good answer:  "I assume you're asking me this question because you might be concerned that I am not up on the latest in computer science because of my age.  I am over 40 and know significantly more about computer software than I did when I graduated from college at the age of 22.  I have kept up with the latest developments in computer science, and in addition, I have considerable experience in the field."

Question 95: Are you married or single (separated or divorced)? 

Although it is illegal to do so, an employer asks this question to try to determine how much time you might be asking off from work in the future.  If you're married with three kids, the employer assumes you will want to take a two week vacation rather than just one week.  If you're a young woman of child-bearing age, you might be taking extended maternity leaves in the future.  You might need to take extra time off from work for your kids when they are sick, need to go to the doctor, or when they participate in school and sporting events.  All of this costs the employer money in one way or another; therefore, you might be discriminated against. 

If you feel that answering this question honestly will result in discrimination, then answer it but don't reveal any information that you don't have to reveal.  For example, if you're a young woman planning to have kids in the upcoming years, don't reveal this fact.  Instead, answer with "I am married" and say nothing more.

If you feel that answering this question honestly would give you a better chance of getting the job, then ignore the fact that it's illegal and offer a detailed answer:  "I became divorced last year. Before that, I was married for 20 years and have two grown children aged 20 and 18.  Both are away at college so I don't have any family obligations that would interfere with work." 

Question 96: How many children do you have?

Women with young children have two full-time jobs.  Being a mother often requires taking time off from work to meet the children's needs.  Asking this illegal question is a means to determine how much time you will be taking off from work and how much your kid will interfere with your work.  Employers who ask this question are looking to discriminate against women with young children.

Good answer:  "I have two small children ages 4 and 6.  My parents, who are retired, live less than a mile from me and care for them while I'm at work.  They are also able to care for them if the children get sick and can take them to doctors' appointments and such for me.  If I need to work late or go out of town as part of my job, they can care for them.  My children will not interfere with my work since I have such good, reliable child care."

Question 97: Are you planning to have (more) children?

This is also an illegal question.  The interviewer is concerned about the length of time you will be taking off in the future in the form of maternity leave, sick days, etc.  This question is usually asked of woman of childbearing age and is intended to discriminate.  If you answer this question honestly, "I plan to have six more children in the next six years" then you will not get the job.  If you answer with, "I do not plan to have any more children.  The two kids I have are 13 and 15 and I'm done having children", then you will not be discriminated against.

Question 98: What is your religion?

This is an illegal question and there is really no basis for asking it other than nosiness and discrimination.  If there is any one interview question you should answer with "I don't believe that question is relevant to the position" it would be this question.  Of course, if you live in a community where the vast majority of people are of the same religion as yourself, then there is no reason not to answer it if it doesn't offend you.

Question 99: Have you ever been arrested?

Generally, this question is illegal; however, there are a few jobs where this question is allowed (police officer, FBI agent).  Employers can ask whether you have been convicted.  In some states, employers can ask if you have been convicted of a felony (they can't ask about misdemeanors).  In other states, employers can ask if you've been convicted of a misdemeanor as well. 

How should you answer if you have been convicted of a felony?  If your conviction was a long time ago, a background search might not reveal it.  Many companies who perform background checks do not check older records.  Some background checkers who do locate felony convictions that occurred a long time ago, do not reveal them to the employer on the grounds that everyone should have a fresh start.  If you're concerned, you might hire a background checker to check yourself out and see what you discover.


Question 100: What is your nationality?

This is an illegal question, but many interviewers can determine your nationality by your race, accent, and name.  They are allowed to ask you this question: "What languages do you speak other than English", which might also reveal your nationality.  You can answer by telling the interviewer the question is illegal, but a better answer might be to just reveal your nationality and, if you are not a citizen, inform the interviewer that you are allowed to work in the United States, which is probably what the interviewer really wants to know.

THIS IS THE END OF THE INTERVIEW QUESTION AND ANSWER GUIDE
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