What is all of this talk about legal versus illegal interview questions? First, it's important to understand the concept of legal vs. illegal when it comes to interviewing. Asking an “illegal” question is not a reason to call the police, but it can land a company in a lot of legal trouble. Illegal interview question are potentially discriminating in nature and violates a candidate’s rights. These questions are extremely personal and have nothing to do with the job you are being interviewed for.
“Are you pregnant?”
“Who did you vote for in the last election?”
“What church do you belong to?”
“Your name is really pretty, what nationality is that?”
While the questions can be insulting, demoralizing, or just plain uncomfortable, there are ways you can respond instead of immediately losing your cool.
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that? You’re asking if I’m pregnant?” Sometimes, interviewers get caught up in the moment. Give them the benefit of the doubt. They may not realize what they just asked. Hopefully hearing the question repeated may trigger a warning. If not, and they continue, ask if it's important to the job.
“With all due respect, is my church affiliation important to the position?” The interviewer may catch your attitude, but they need to realize the inappropriate nature of the question.
What if they tie in a compliment in with the illegal question? “That’s a pretty name, what nationality is that?” Simply smile and redirect with a question of your own.
“Are you married?” “How many kids do you have?” Do not reply with specific details. Instead consider providing a general response such as, “I assure you, regardless of my status, I am fully capable of performing all functions of the job.”
The bottom line is that an interviewer cannot ask questions on matters relating to race, gender, age, marital status, sexual preference or ethnic background. Asking questions of this nature can result in candidates filing discrimination claims against the company.
Discrimination cases are often brought to court. Keep in mind, however, they can be costly in the event your case is unsuccessful. One fact that most candidates may not realize is that not every interviewer is actually proficient or knowledgeable regarding interview skills. While Human Resources may do the bulk of the work, they often rely on the hiring manager to interview the candidates. When this happens, candidates are sure to be asked questions which have nothing to do with the position or may be downright “illegal.”
So what do you do if they persist? This is when your own moral values and convictions should come into play. How desperate are you for the position? If the managers are like this in the interview, what does that say about the company culture? You may get the job, but you may end up miserable.