Bet you never thought some of the rules of dodgeball could apply to job interviews! Consider an interview in which you were asked a really personal question–perhaps even one that could be illegal. How do you respond?
Before even going on an interview, familiarize yourself with the questions that are considered illegal. In a nutshell, any questions that ask a candidate to reveal information about national origin, citizenship, race, marital status, pregnancy, sexual preference, age, gender, disabilities, arrest and conviction record, or military discharge status can be considered off-limits. However, the lines blur when questions asked in the guise of making small talk or showing genuine interest in the candidate’s life can actually reveal information from one of the “protected classes” topic areas. For example, if an interviewer says, “Oh, you graduated from NYU. So did my aunt–when were you there?” there is the chance that he or she will be using your response to guess your age. While your interviewer did not ask outright what your age is, there is the potential for an estimation to be made.
So what do you do when you are faced with one of those questions?
You can dive right in and respond to the question if you feel comfortable doing so, but remember that it is your right to choose not to respond.
You can dodge the question- avoid it by changing the subject or answering it with another question. For example, one way of answering a question with a question would be, “What are the limits to overtime hours on the job?” if asked a question about childcare or familial responsibilities.
You can decline to answer the question. Some interviewees may fear that by not answering the question they are ruining their chances of being selected, but consider this: if your candidacy weighs upon your responses to potentially illegal questions, the interviewer is already in breach of the law, and a company that resorts to these tactics might not be one in which you want to work anyway.
If you opt to not answer, you can state that you don’t find the question to be relevant in assessing your ability to do the job. You can also add that you believe the question can be considered illegal and recommend that your interviewer consider withdrawing the question so that you can continue the interview appropriately.
Before responding, dip into the mind of your interview and consider it from his or her perspective–what does he or she really want to know from the question? For example, an interviewer who asks your country of origin might actually want to know whether you are legally authorized to work here. If that is the case and you don’t believe your interviewer to truly have discriminatory intentions, you can respond by saying something like: “If you are asking whether I am legally authorized to work for you, yes I am.”
All in all, while the basics of illegal interview questions can be easy to identify, the nuances can become tricky. While you don’t want to be suspicious of the intention behind every interview question, it is important to educate yourself on the questions that are legally permissible to ask in a job setting.
Victoria Crispo, Career Coach