Illegal Interview Questions: How To Handle Them

Legal interview questions come in all shapes in sizes and local employment laws will dicate which ones are illegal. Typically, the following topics are off limits for interviews and are not considered to be legal interview questions:
Age

Marital Status

Information about your spouse or significant other

Race

Sexual orientation

Religion

Political affiliation

Country of birth

Physical disabilities

Your plans to have children

Other personal information that does not directly relate to the job

You should only be asked legal interview questions during an interview but let’s face it, chances are good that you will run into an interviewer at some point that will ask you one of more of these not-so legal interview questions. You can choose to answer the question(s) in one of three ways:

1. You could choose not to answer the question which will probably ruin your chances at the job.

No, this isn’t fair but it is often the reality if you choose this route. I’m not sure I’d want to work for a company that hires managers who treat people this way anyways to be honest.

2. You could choose to answer the question.

In other words, you tell the interviewer the honest answer to the question.

3. You could choose to ignore the question and handle the possible reason for asking such a question.

If for example you were asked your age and you are young, you might respond by saying that you are experienced beyond your years if you suspect the interviewer feels you are too young for the position.

If you are more experienced and feel that the interviewer might believe you to be too old for the position, you might suggest that your experience brings a unique insight to the role that a less experienced candidate couldn’t bring.

In other words, you politely let the interviewer know that whatever concern they might have is not a valid one.

One thing to keep in mind when handling these sorts of questions:

Not all interviewers who ask not-so legal interview questions are doing it for insincere reasons.

Interviewers are human, too!

No, it is not right to ask you about your country of origin (for example) but they might be genuinely interested to learn more about you. If you meet someone on the street and are casually talking, it probably wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary to ask each other such questions and sometimes it is hard for an interviewer to remember that some questions are simply not ones they should include in an interview setting.

If they are simply trying to make conversation with you, it can be difficult to consistently stick to asking legal interview questions and they might not intentionally mean to do something wrong so be careful how you react to such questions. Use common sense when responding.

Just ensure that you are aware what possible questions you would not feel comfortable answering and be certain that you know how you’ll handle each question should one arise.

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Are You Asking Legal Interview Questions?

Illegal interview questions are the bane of employers and Human Resources departments. Often, without thinking, curiosity leads an interviewer to ask questions that are not legal. Sometimes the interviewer thinks he has good questions and just is not aware some of them are illegal. Sometimes the interviewer has not taken the time to check out his questions with a lawyer or counsel. In any case, illegal questions can get an organization in a boat load of trouble. Here are some questions that often get interviewers out of legal territory – check yourself to see if you are asking legal questions.

You will need to attend a number of out-of-town weekend conferences in this job. Does weekend travel present a problem for you?
You need to be at work everyday at 8am sharp. How will you arrange child care?
This is an out-of-town job. Will your spouse relocate?
What kind of “reasonable accommodation” will you need to do this job?
How many days did you miss last year because of illness?
Are you legally allowed to work in this country?
This job requires fluency in German. Are you fluent?
What does your spouse do for a living?
You have an unusual name. What nationality is it?
You will be in charge of large sums of money. Have you every been arrested for stealing?
You will need to lift heavy boxes of 35 pounds or more. Are you able to do that with or without reasonable accommodation?
Are you married?
Do you have children?
Have you ever filed a discrimination or whistle-blowing complaint against any of your former employers?
Do you plan on being out on pregnancy leave within the next two years?
Have you ever filed a Workers Compensation claim?
How healthy do you consider yourself to be?
Your resume says you are involved in lots of church activities. Will that keep you from working on occasional Sundays?
Have you ever been arrested?
What makes you the best candidate for this job?

There are only five legal questions in this whole list. They are numbers 1, 6, 7, 11 and 20. The rest either have no bearing in whether a person can do the job, require the candidate to reveal a disability or solicit information about a person’s religion, health or legal records. The big thing about interview questions is that they have to be directly job related – they have to solicit information that is required to do the job – known as bona fide job requirements. The best rule of thumb is to ask your human resources department. If that is not possible don’t ask the question if there is any doubt in your mind.

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Legal Interview Questions

I’d describe legal interview questions as ones that might appear a bit iffy but are actually acceptable depending on the specific job or industry you are interviewing for and depending on where you live and employment laws that apply.

Some of the legal interview questions you can be asked might be ones we’ve already discussed on this site. Some questions might simply be part of the interview process to help the employer gauge your suitability for the position and your suitability to join the company and will enquire about your:
Work experience and how it relates to the job
Education and/or relevant certifications or training
Ability and propensity to travel
Ability to work overtime, shift work and/or weekends
Ability to legally work in the country
Criminal record (if any).

Again, local laws might dictate what constitutes legal interview questions and which questions are off limits.

Some of these questions might be necessary depending on your industry and level of position.

If you are interviewing for a job in a different country, you will need to gain the legal ability to work in that country first so this is obviously a concern for a potential employer if gaining this status might take you months or years.

If you were interviewing for a position that involved security clearance, any criminal record would obviously be an important consideration for the hiring company.

These are just two legal interview questions that might be crucial to you getting a particular job or joining a particular company.

Before you attend an interview, try to have a clear idea of possible legal interview questions that you might be asked given the job you are applying for, and given the industry you work in.

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The Legal Interview Question: What Are They And How Do You Answer Them?

I’d describe a legal interview question as one that might appear a bit unusual but is actually acceptable. Depending on the specific job you are interviewing for, the industry you work in, and depending on the employment laws that apply in your country or region, the wording of such questions and the ability of the interviewer to ask these sorts of questions might differ.

Questions that you can typically be asked during interviews are certainly legal of course ie. questions related to your previous experience, skills, accomplishments.

But what if you are asked a question that you might not be sure how to answer but is actually quite legal and is one that you need to properly answer if you wish to get the job?

Here are some examples of subjects that I would classify as legal interview question material:

Your ability to legally work in the country

Depending on where you live, there might be some legalities regarding how an interviewer can actually word this question but in the cases I’ve seen, it is certainly a fair and legal interview question. The company wants to know if you are legally able to work in the country and if not, are they going to have to help get your work papers and if so, how much will it cost and how long will it take? If they need to hire someone in the next few weeks and your work visa will require 3 months to process, they may not wait around for you. In my experience, this is an important and legal interview question faced by people who have just moved to a new country to work or are planning on moving to a new country to work.

Questions about your educational achievements and/or relevant certifications or training

Asking about your education and/or certifications isn’t unusual of course but your future employer might actually ask to see proof of your degree or certification. I have seen some employers who will request a photocopy of educational achievements especially if the education is a specific requirement of the job and/or if they’ve been burned by people lying about their level of education in the past. If your educational achievements are from a foreign country, you may also be asked for proof.

Moral of the story?

If you are “a few credits short of a degree” then you don’t have a degree! Don’t state that you have a degree if you haven’t completed one. I have seen so many job candidates state in their resume that they have a degree but word it in such a way that makes me quickly realize they don’t actually have one. When I ask for clarification, they admit they are “a few credits short of a degree.”

If your degree is pending or if you are in the process of completing it, state the expected date of graduation so there is no risk of confusion as to your level of education at the time of applying for the job. Don’t get caught in a lie because when it’s found out, it will most likely ruin your chances at the job.

Your ability and propensity to travel

Some positions require a significant amount of travel and this is a typical reason why people burnout and quit jobs requiring their employers to hire a replacement. In other words, if travel is an important and significant part of the job, expect to field questions regarding your willingness to travel.

Be honest. If they tell that you travel is 75% of the job and you really only want to travel 25% or less, what is the point in saying that this level of travel is acceptable? I’ve seen people accept jobs where the high amount of travel tires them out quickly and causes them to quit.

Your ability to work overtime, shift work and/or weekends

Your work hours are certainly something that you want to get confirmed with an employer before you are hired without necessarily making it look like you are a clock-watcher and are trying to figure out exactly how many hours you’ll be in the office each day! Having said that, I have dealt with companies that do specify work hours that can be considered a little bit out of the ordinary, especially companies that work with divisions in other countries and/or time zones and might require you to work outside of the “typical” 9am-5pm work hours.

Your criminal record (if any).

This is certainly a very important question if you work for (or would like to work for) a company where security clearance is part and parcel of the position. Again, depending on where you live, there might be legalities regarding how the question can be worded but in my experience, this is a perfectly legal interview question.

Local laws might dictate what constitutes a legal interview question and which questions are off limits.

Some of these questions might be necessary depending on your industry and level of position.

If you are interviewing for a job in a different country, you will need to gain the legal ability to work in that country first so this is obviously a concern for a potential employer if gaining this status might take you months or more.

If you were interviewing for a position that involved security clearance, any criminal record would obviously be an important consideration for the hiring company.

Before you attend an interview, try to have a clear idea of any possible legal interview question that you might be asked given the job you are applying for, and given the industry you work in.

Carl Mueller is an Internet entrepreneur and professional recruiter. Carl has helped many job searchers find their dream career and would like to help clear up some of the job search myths that exist while helping job searchers avoid common job search mistakes that cost them jobs.

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