Recognizing and Answering Unethical Interview Questions

Yes, you’re at an interview; yes, you want to make a good impression; but no, you don’t want to answer the interviewers question about if you have a disability. You don’t have to. There are some questions that interviewers are not allowed to ask you. Many will still ask, but you are not required to answer.

Illegal Questions

Employers can ask you all sorts of questions from normal to bizarre. However, there is a line they are not allowed to cross. In most circumstances, employers are prohibited from asking questions regarding your:

  • Age
  • Marital or family status
  • Race, place of origin, or ethnic origin
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Financial situation

These topics are off-limits during interviews to prevent discrimination. However, some employers will still ask them.

Inappropriate Questions

Some interviewers avoid asking outright illegal questions, but will instead reword the question so it is asked in a less direct way. Usually these questions are still discriminatory, but asked in a different way.

For example, an interviewer may ask you about what your spouse does, and what school your kids attend.

While this may be an innocent attempt to connect through small talk, it could also be fishing for information on your marital status, and whether or not you have a family, or will be looking to start one.

Any question that you consider too personal, or asks about your life outside of the job may be considered inappropriate, and you have the right to choose how you respond. There are three main options for what to do in this case.

Option A: Choosing Not To Answer

If you are asked a question that is too personal or may be illegal, you can choose not to answer.

Instead, you may respond by stating that the question makes you uncomfortable and you’d rather stick to questions related to the position you’re interviewing for. You can also politely indicate that law prohibits the question.

Option B: Telling the Truth

If you aren’t comfortable refusing to answer you can also choose to reply honestly. You may not care if the interviewer knows you marital status, religion, or sexual orientation.

Some of the answers to inappropriate questions will be revealed eventually. Many employers will perform background checks and will look at your social media. If you would rather they hear it from you first hand, go ahead and tell them.

Option C: Deflecting

Deflecting is a middle ground between refusing to answer and telling the truth. This can be a good option if you are not comfortable with Options A or B.

Say the interviewer asks when you graduated from college. While this may be a perfectly innocent question, it may also be because they are trying to determine your age. Age discrimination is not allowed, and you may want to deflect this question.

Instead of giving them the year you graduated, you could deflect by discussing how many years you had been in the field, and the experiences it has offered you. This avoids the inappropriate question, and also may give you an edge based on your experience.

Now that you are equipped to handle any illegal and inappropriate questions, you can get the interview back on track. If you have questions about other topics that may be illegal or inappropriate stop by the CPDC. The staff can give you advice on how to identify and answer questions that may be illegal or inappropriate. The CPDC staff are available for questions during drop in hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 9:00 am – 11:00 am and Tuesday, Thursday 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm.

By Liz DeNoncour
Liz DeNoncour