Interviews can be incredibly stressful, especially if you don’t enjoy strangers asking you probing questions. Though it’s typical for interviewers to dig into your training, career goals and emotional IQ, some questions are off-limits.
Unfortunately, many employers continue to ask them. A recent CareerBuilder survey found that one-fifth of hiring managers have asked a potential employee a question in an interview and later found out it was illegal to ask, according to this Staffing Industry Analysts report.
Here are 10 questions you should never be asked in an interview:
- What is your religious affiliation?
- Are you pregnant?
- What is your political affiliation?
- What is your race, color or ethnicity?
- How old are you?
- Are you disabled?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children or plan to?
- Are you in debt?
- Do you social drink or smoke?
Understanding Equal Employment Opportunity Laws
Federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against job seekers based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, genetic information, marital status or age. Employers also cannot ask questions about political affiliation, pregnancy, children or criminal records.
However, job seekers can volunteer — and often do — information about their family, heritage and even their religious affiliation during an interview, especially if they feel comfortable having a conversation with the hiring manager. Employers should avoid these topics and steer the dialogue back to specific questions about the person’s job skills and desire for the position.
How to Protect Yourself During an Interview
Now that you know which questions are illegal for an employer to ask in an interview, follow these tips to protect yourself from an uncomfortable situation or the possibility of discrimination.
- Find ways to relax before your interview begins. If you tend to ramble or share too much information when you’re nervous, consider these tricks for calming down. Taking deep breaths, giving yourself a pep talk in the car before entering the office, or even wearing a pair of lucky socks can help you relax — and give yourself an extra boost of confidence.
- Be careful when asking the interviewer personal questions. It’s tempting to ask the hiring manager about herself to establish a connection, but stick to innocuous questions about her favorite parts of her job, career background or education. Don’t ask questions about her family or personal life, even if she has photos of her kids on her desk, for example, as she may then ask about yours without thinking.
- Avoid subjects that date you or reveal your age. Even if you joke about being old or out of touch, you can send a subtle message to an employer that you’re not in tune with current work trends or aren’t a good fit for working with a younger staff. Conversely, talking about your lack of experience or alluding to your youth can also be unimpressive to a hiring manager — and could possibly lead to discrimination.
- Answer the “question behind the question.” If you are asked an illegal question, such as whether you have children, figure out a way to address what the employer is really asking. For example, you could respond with “I don’t have any scheduling conflicts that would prevent me from working the necessary hours at this job.”
- Give employers a chance to correct themselves. Sometimes an interviewer has no idea he’s asking an illegal question and is simply trying to make conversation or find things in common with you. If you feel that’s the case when you’re asked a question you shouldn’t be, answer with a polite statement like “I’m happy to answer that question, but I don’t see how it relates to my qualifications for the job.” This allows the employer to realize his mistake or explain why he asked the question.
Interviewing for a new position doesn’t have to be stressful, and with these tips you’ll be better prepared to face unexpected or uncomfortable questions that may come your way. Get more suggestions in the Infographic Guide to a Great Physician Job Interview.