When you interview for a job, your prospective employer will ask questions—on the job application, in the interview, and/or during the testing process—that are related to the job you are seeking.
Federal, state, and local laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on certain characteristics protected by law, such as race, sex, disability, age, and so on, however, many of these laws do not ban specific interview questions.
The focus of interview questions should be: What does the employer need to know to decide whether you can perform the functions of the job?
If asked an improper question, you have a few options:
- You are free to answer the question. However, keep in mind that if you provide this information, you may jeopardize your chances of getting hired, in the event you provide the “wrong” answer. There may be a legal recourse available to you, but this is not the preferred outcome for most job applicants.
- You can refuse to answer the question. Unfortunately, depending on how the refusal is phrased, you run the risk of appearing uncooperative or confrontational, and losing the job. Again, there may be legal recourse, but this is hardly an ideal situation.
- 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 U.S. citizen?” or “What country are you from?,” you have been asked an improper question. You could respond, however, with “I am authorized to work in the United States.” Similarly, if the interviewer asks, “Who is going to take care of your children when you have to travel for the job?” your answer could be, “I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires.”
Following is a synopsis of various federal laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, with examples of improper questions and the questions employers may ask. You can use your answer to the “proper questions” to answer an improper question.
Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.