There’s nothing like being asked an illegal question during a job interview to raise the stress level up a few thousand notches. In theory, there is a laundry list of questions that you cannot be asked. Yet, you will be. You will be asked by interviewers who do not know any better, and unfortunately, by those who do know better.
In theory, you could simply state that they asked an inappropriate question and that you decline to answer. You have every right to point out that this is an issue for the Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
And I recommend that – if they ask or continue to be coy in asking illegal questions throughout the interview. Yet, assuming the interviewer did not mean to violate your privacy, how do you answer these kinds of questions without jeopardizing your chances?
I don’t know. I am not some job guru that has the answers. Still, if I were asked these questions, I might answer as following:
1. How old are you? I’m 49, and I think it’s a good age for this position. Not only do I have skills and experience to do this job well- being 49 gives you a person with maturity and a keen sense of responsibility. Becoming a part of your organization, a productive part of your organization, without the hand holding is something that I think you all will appreciate.
2. Are you married? Yes I am. A part of my past success has come from having a stable family life and spouse committed to my doing well. When I first got married, I stressed a bit over how to balance work and family, as though it were a juggling act. Not so. Having family has taught me to be mindful of others and work within the context of a team, my family. That approach helps me to be a stronger supporter and enabler at work. Of course, having a spouse that supports me and wants me to do well is always a plus, for me and where I work.
3. Well, any disabilities we should know about? I think I’m a great fit for this position and you’ll be the happy beneficiary of the talents and experience that I bring to the table. So, in every way, your needs will be resolved by bringing me on.
4. Are you a native born US Citizen, or where are you from? With all due respects, is that relevant to this job? My family is originally from Colombia, but I am proud to be an American for whatever that’s worth.
5. Are you pregnant? With all due respect, is that relevant to this job? As we discussed and agreed, your needs for a business analyst is a great match for my skills and experience. As I understand it, as I am sure you are aware, being pregnant does not disqualify me for this or any position. It’s not a problem, is it?
But there are questions that are legal to ask, yet are vague enough to cause problems for you.
1. There’s a 2-year gap here, what happened? The company I worked for went under. The owner was a good man but he was overextended, and evidently, when the bills came due, he was unable to meet his obligations. Basically, we were all let go without much warning. Since then, I’ve been doing 3 things. First, I’ve been working at a temp position to help pay the bills. Second, I have been taking night courses in financial management at our local community college. And I do volunteer for the local museum, raising funds. All of which makes me a great fit for this sales position.
2. So, tell me what are your weaknesses? There’s that old saying, “where angels fear to tread…” I’ve always gotten high marks for being proactive and really seeking out responsibility. That said, I understand that the flip side of that is being foolhardy. At this point, though, having matured, having made some mistakes, I feel I am in a position, now, to better balance taking the initiative with caution. And I’ve turned that into one of the strengths I will bring to this position. Also, my Achilles heel is Ho-ho’s, but it’s much better now.
I am obviously not trying to say that these are the answers, rather, I just wanted to give you some examples to think about in formulating your approach. And you must formulate your approaches before you go to the interview.
I think it’s important to understand that the vast majority of interviewers are good people and would not intentionally ask an illegal question. Their objective is to simply find the best fit for the opening that they have.
But, regardless of the motives, you have your rights. And you have a right not be asked questions that are illegal, that violate your privacy, that discriminate against you. If you believe you are victim of such questions, by all means, you should contact your local Equal Employment Opportunity Office.