Whether you’re happily employed and looking for a better or more fulfilling option, or have been on the outskirts of the job market searching for an opportunity for some time, you’ve likely had the opportunity to prepare for a few interviews.
Interviews are important. They allow your potential employer to learn about who you are as a person and what qualifications you bring to the table. They also allow you to gauge whether a particular position is what you’re looking for or if you should continue the search for something else.
They’re also competitive. With more than 300 million online searches per month related to employment combined with the fact that 51 percent of professionals who are currently employed are also actively seeking new employment, you’re unlikely to be the only qualified candidate.
However, once you find that position, you’re all set. You’ve prepared for a long hiring process, you’ve perfected your résumé and cover letter and have practiced for the interview questions you’re likely to be asked once you’ve gotten your foot in the door. You’re good to go, right?
Maybe not. While you may have prepared for your upcoming interview – the wardrobe, the eye contact, the standard interview questions – you might not have considered the questions that are off limits, those that cannot be asked. If they come up, are you prepared with proper responses? Do you even know what the off-limit questions are? If not, the time to understand what’s OK and what’s not is now. Arm yourself with this important knowledge by taking a look at the 10 questions you should never be asked in an interview listed below.
- Questions Relating to Religion
An employer cannot ask:
- Your religion
- Which religious holidays you observe
- Whether or not you belong to a religious or social organization
If you are asked these questions, it likely relates to scheduling questions. Instead of answering directly, you can respond with something like, “I am available to work on the dates indicated on the employment calendar” or “my religion does not interfere with my ability to perform the listed job duties and responsibilities.” Religion is personal and cannot be used as a factor for employment.
- Personal Family Questions
During an interview, a potential employer must avoid questions relating to:
- Your marital status
- Whether or not you have children
- Your family’s schedule
- Your family’s financial standing
These questions do not relate to your ability to do a job. An employer may be asking because of a concern with last-minute schedule changes. Because of this, you can refer to the fact that you had a great attendance record at a previous position, or that you are flexible as it relates to scheduling.
- Your Age
Whether you look young or are nearing retirement age, an employer may be curious as to whether you are qualified to perform a certain role, or if you’ll be around for the long term. It doesn’t matter: He or she cannot ask your age.
They can ask whether you are at the minimum age to perform the listed position according to federal guidelines, but that is as far as it can go. If you’re asked about your age, refer to your résumé and employment history. Focus on your qualifications rather than a number.
- Anything Relating to Health or Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects those with disabilities from discrimination during the hiring process. This means that if you have a hidden or obvious disability, employers cannot ask questions that relate to it directly. This includes:
- Asking what your disability is
- How much work you missed in a previous role
- Whether you’ve filed or received workers’ compensation
An employer can ask whether you’re able to fully perform the roles and responsibilities required to perform a job. If a question relating to a disability comes up, it’s best to refer to the fact that you’re able to perform the tasks necessary for the job and to stay away from answering questions of this kind directly.
- If You’re Pregnant
Maybe you’ve just found out that you’re expecting, or maybe you have one month until delivery and are noticeably pregnant. In either case, employers are not allowed to ask and cannot discriminate based on this fact. You can choose simply not to answer this question or state that you’re uncomfortable with the question. It is up to you to disclose whether you are expecting or not, provided the employer has time to make proper arrangements prior to your leave.
- Race or Nationality
Your race or nationality plays no role in whether you’re able to perform a specific job. Because of this, the question is off limits. It is acceptable, however, for employers to leave a space on application forms for applicants to voluntarily share this information. You cannot be asked:
- How long you’ve been in the country
- Where you were born or your family comes from
- Whether you are a U.S. citizen or not
An employer can ask whether you are legally able to perform this job. Because of this, it’s best to refer to your employment standing in the U.S. if a question relating to nationality does come up.
- Your Location
You may have your home address listed on your résumé, or you may choose to keep that information private; this is your decision. Employers cannot ask:
- Where you live
- The distance of your commute
- Your mode of transportation
Like other invasive questions, if an employer does ask something relating to this topic, it’s likely intended to determine whether you can be at the job on time and whether you’ll be available on short notice, which is acceptable. It’s also permissible to ask whether you’re willing to relocate for a position. If you’re unsure of how to answer, sticking to your availability is your best bet.
- Your Political Affiliation
What you believe about the government or how it operates is your choice. Provided it does not impact your ability to perform a task, it is off limits. If asked about your standings or beliefs relating to a political matter, it’s best to move on or to make it clear that your political affiliation does not affect your ability to perform the job in question.
- Whether You Serve in the Armed Forces or Reserves
It’s understandable that an employer may be concerned about losing a new hire to military service; however, service and reserve members are protected under law. While your military service may bolster your ability to land a certain role, it could also be a hindrance in the eyes of an employer concerned about your time away from the office.
If asked about your status, focusing on short-term and upcoming commitments is best. While this may change, the information you volunteer is up to you.
- Questions Relating to Recreational Activities
Even if you’re applying for a position with a religious organization, you cannot be asked whether you drink or do drugs off the clock. Because drugs could relate to prescriptions and medical disabilities, the term is a gray area.
Instead, employers can ask whether you use illegal drugs, and can require a drug test prior to hiring. If one of the more unclear questions is asked, you can respond with the fact that you do not use illegal drugs and that your other recreational activities – like drinking – do not interfere with your professional responsibilities.
Interviews are important. They can make or break your chances of moving into a new role or starting a new career. However, when questions that are prohibited arise, it can be uncomfortable for all involved parties. If you’re asked one of the questions relating to the topics listed above, refer to the recommended responses.
It is also within your rights to simply say “I prefer to not answer that” or “my response to that question does not affect my ability to perform the job.” If you’re still interested in the position, maintaining a positive demeanor, even when questions that should never be asked are asked, could make the difference between receiving an offer and never hearing back.
If these questions arise and you feel as though you have been discriminated against, you can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. While difficult to prove, discrimination does happen and is an unfair aspect of the hiring process.
Remember, during an interview, you have rights. You are entitled to answer any questions that you feel comfortable answering, and you’re also entitled to choose not to answer questions that make you uncomfortable. Do not let one negative experience ruin the job search process. Your dream job is out there; arm yourself with information and proper preparation to be sure you’re ready when it becomes available.