Did you know that there is such a thing as an illegal interview question? In order to level the playing field, it’s important to be able to identify prohibited questions throughout the interview process, as disclosing answers to these questions could reduce your opportunity to secure the job.
Be prepared before your interview
The first piece of information that all potential employees should familiarize themselves with is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This prohibits employees from asking questions about protected categories including race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
In addition to these categories, employers are also prohibited from asking questions pertaining to pregnancy, disability, age, marital status, and children. The reason these categories are protected is that they have nothing to do with the job itself and focus on the candidate’s personal background.
What makes these questions illegal?
Asking a candidate if he or she plans to start a family soon could be gauging to see if time off will be required or how long-term the employment will be. Asking a candidate about age could be gauging the time span until retirement leading the employer to determine if it’s worthwhile to hire someone that would be retiring within a set number of years. Asking a candidate about marital status could be gauging how expensive the employer’s contribution to insurance would be as well as other spousal benefits offered by the company.
Questions that delve into these categories are illegal since they serve no purpose in determining how the candidate would perform on the job. A candidate hoping to start a family soon won’t necessarily disengage from the job, just like a candidate from a specific national origin wouldn’t clash culturally with other employees.
What should you do if these questions are asked?
If a protected category is mentioned during the interview process, you are not required to answer it. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends that you simply ask how the question relates to the position, and reply to the intent of the question.
For example, if asked about children and family responsibilities, one may choose to ask how it relates to the position and then reiterate how committed and punctual he or she plans to be without revealing family status. You can also check out this article.
Interviewers who have the experience, education, or certification in Human Resources will know the questions to avoid, but interview panels that include individuals from other departments may not be as knowledgeable about which questions are considered illegal. For this reason, it’s important to educate yourself as a candidate in order to identify the intent behind the questions. If you need assistance preparing for your next interview, contact our team for interview coaching here.