Illegal interview questions and how to respond in 3 ways

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m very anti corporate. I think companies have way more power over people than they should.

I’m all for people’s rights and so as a potential employee, I think you should know your rights and what illegal interview questions are. These are questions companies can NOT ask you in your interview.

Illegal interview questions can come up casually in small talk during the interview or very officially in interview questions. Whether they come up casually or officially, you should decide how you want to navigate these questions.

If illegal interview questions come up in casual conversation, perhaps even before the official interview starts, it may be on accident. The interviewers may be just trying to bond or relate to you on a personal level. You can kindly respond in a vague and indirect way to sidestep it if you do not feel comfortable answering.

How to respond to illegal interview questions

If illegal interview questions come up officially as an interview question, you can answer a) directly if you’re comfortable or b) refuse to answer if you don’t feel comfortable, or c) answer indirectly

For instance

Illegal interview question example 1: If asked about age/gender/religion/race/etc

You can reply with:

a) A direct answer

b) A refusal to answer: “I prefer not to answer this question as it does not directly relate to my abilities to perform this job.”

c) An indirect answer: “My (age/gender/religion/race/etc) will not affect my job performance”

Illegal interview question example 2: If you are asked about children or pregnancy or if you’re planning to have children

a) A direct answer

b) A refusal to answer: “I’d much rather talk about role and how I can be of value to this company”

c) An indirect answer: “I have great time management skills and am dedicated to my job”

You should know that if you refuse to answer illegal interview questions – your candidacy may not sit well with the interviewer as these responses may seem harsh. No one wants to hire person who called them out and refuses to answer a question. You may be viewed as someone who will be a difficult employee and companies do not want that.

On the other hand, you may want to consider if you even want to work at a place where they are blatantly asking illegal interview questions and are not respecting your rights.

This maybe a sign of a toxic work environment. If they come up in casual conversation on accident, perhaps the interviewer was just trying to bond with you or be relatable, then I would probably let this pass and not consider it as a strike against the company.

Related: 3 signs you’re applying for a toxic job

In my personal experience, I have never been asked these illegal interview questions in an interview.

If I was asked these illegal interview questions, I think I would probably answer indirectly. I think an indirect answer would make it a little bit less awkward and soften the blow. A direct refusal may sit harshly with the interviewer as I’ve stated above.

The decision is up to you. As long as you are aware of your rights, you can make an informed decision for what is best for you – which is what I strive to do in my posts.

So here are some illegal interview questions that companies cannot ask you in an interview.

Anything related to the topics below are generally illegal. Very rarely are there exceptions to this rule.

Illegal interview questions and their legal alternatives

Country/place of origin and citizenship status

Illegal:  Where are you from? What’s your background? Are you a citizen?

Legal: They can ask if you are authorized to work in the country. They can ask if you are fluent in a language if it is a requirement for the job

Religion, faith or creed

Illegal: “What’s your religion?”

Legal: They can ask if you are able to work on evenings or shift work


Illegal: How old are you?

Legal: They can ask if you are legally of age to work

Family structure, children, or marital status

Illegal: Are you married? Do you have children? Do you plan to have kids?

Legal: They can ask if you are able and willing to relocate or travel for work

Appearance, height and weight

Illegal: How tall are you? How much do you weight?

Legal: They can ask if you are able to lift and carry XYZ kg of weight for XYZ distance if it is required for the job

Gender or sexual orientation

Race or ethnicity

Mental or physical health and disability

If you are in the United States, you can read more about this from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Pardoned offences

So there you have 9 illegal interview questions and 3 ways to deal with them in an interview.

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