Educate Yourself: What Are Unlawful Interview Questions?

Daily inspiration and advice for the ambitious savvy young professional
Educate Yourself: What Are Unlawful Interview Questions? blog image

Educate Yourself: What Are Unlawful Interview Questions?

Job or internship interviews can cause anxiety and stress for everybody, even for those who have already gone on countless interviews. The best way to reduce anxiety is to be prepared and take the time to research the company, this way you are able to provide knowledgeable answers to questions that specifically relate to the company and/or position. Read through and review common interview questions as well as sample answers and advice on how to respond to these questions. But did you know there are some questions an interviewer cannot legally ask? Are you aware of what these questions are? And that you don’t have to respond?

During an interview, an employer is trying to gather as much about you as possible, which is often why unlawful questions may be asked. Typically, when an illegal question is asked, it’s not intentional, but happens more than we would like to believe. Employers shouldn’t ask about age, race, sex, religion, national origin, marital status or disability. The following are some more specific examples:

• How old are you?

Age discrimination is clearly illegal. Employer may even try to get this information by asking when you graduated/ will graduate from college.

• Where were you born?

CAN ask: Are you authorized to work in the United States?

• What religious holidays do you practice?


• Are you married?


• Do you have any children? Are you pregnant?

CAN ask: Do you have any other responsibilities or commitments that may conflict with your work schedule?

• Do you have any debts?

They also can’t ask how well you balance your personal finances.

• Do you socially drink?


• Do you have any disabilities that affect your work?


• Have you ever been arrested?

CAN ask: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

In the case you are asked an illegal question, you can answer the question if you feel comfortable, but there are other ways to respond. Don’t get defensive and don’t embarrass the interviewer by calling them out and saying, “That’s an illegal question!” Instead, politely state you prefer to not answer. You can also say things like, “That doesn’t relate back to the job position I am applying for,” or “Help me understand why this matters, because I want to better understand the job I’m interviewing for.”

Good luck at your next interview, you’ve got this!

This blog post was written by Brooke Wodnicki, our Campus Ambassador from The Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago.