Advising & Career Services

Handling Illegal Interview Questions

From Rochelle Kaplan, Legal Counsel, National Association for Colleges & Employers


Various federal, state, and local laws regulate the questions a prospective employer can ask you as a job candidate. 

An employer's questions--whether on job applications, in the interview, or during the testing process--must be related to the job you're seeking. For the employer, the focus must be: "What do I need to know to decide whether this person can perform the functions of this job?"


If you are asked an illegal question, you have three options:

You can answer the question--you're free to do so, if you wish.

However, if you choose to answer an illegal question, remember that you are giving information that is not related to the job; in fact, you might be giving the "wrong" answer which could harm your chances of getting the job.


You can refuse to answer the question which is well within your rights. 

Unfortunately, depending on how you phrase your refusal, you run the risk of appearing uncooperative or confrontational--hardly words an employer would use to describe the "ideal" candidate.


You can examine the question for its intent and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job.

For example, if the interviewer asks, "Are you a US citizen?" or "What country are you from?" you've been asked an illegal question. You could respond, however, with "I am authorized to work in the United States." 


Similarly, let's say the employer asks, "Who is going to take care of your children when you have to travel for the job?" You might answer, "I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires."


Remember that during an interview you are on your "best" behavior, and one hopes the employer is, as well. If this is "best" for the employer, what behavior will you see when it's an ordinary day in the office? 

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