Ask the Law Mother: How Should I Respond to Illegal Job Interview Questions?

“Describe yourself in three words.” “What’s your greatest weakness?” “If I asked your current boss to describe you, what would he say about you that isn’t true?”

These are some of the awkward job interview questions Lex Mater readers submitted in response to my post last week about employers asking you how much you made in your last job.

Talk about putting you on edge in a job interview. Don’t you wish interviews were more like final exams where you got the questions and a study guide a week in advance?

I got this question from Brenda in Arlington:

“I am a dermatology P.A. with 15 years of experience. My husband and I recently relocated to Texas from California. I am in the process of interviewing with several doctor offices. I keep getting asked in job interviews if I have any children. The answer is yes, I have a son. It really bothers me that I keep getting asked that question because I know they are thinking “a mom, can’t rely on her.” Geez, I was in my last job for eight years and anyone else who worked there would tell you that I was always the first one in, the last one to leave, and the first one to volunteer for overtime. Isn’t this an illegal question to ask in a job interview? How should I respond to the question?”

Illegal Job Interview Questions

If we were playing Scattergories, and the category was “illegal interview questions,” the list we would come up with would be any questions related to a candidate’s race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability or marital/ family status.

Guess what, it’s not illegal to ask any of those questions. What is illegal is to reject you based on your answers to them. So smart interviewers don’t ask them.

I know what you are going you are going to say. You get asked these questions all of the time in job interviews.

So do I. These questions are also the small talk we all make to strangers. If I am out in public with all four of my girls, I always get asked if I am going to “try for a boy.” Yes, I always ready to talk about my sex life IN FRONT OF MY CHILDREN so the random person behind me in the check-out line has her curiosity satisfied.

So how should you respond to these questions? Threaten to sue for discrimination? Educate the interviewer on the finer points of employment law?

Not if you want to get the job.

The key is to figure out what the question is getting at, and answer that instead.

Back to Brenda’s question. If she gets asked in a job interview if she has children (or if she has made arrangements for childcare), she could say that there would be nothing that would interfere with her ability to work the hours needed and get the job done.

How to Respond to Illegal Job Interview Questions

Here are some more examples of questions you might get asked in a job interview, and how you can respond.

“How old are you?” “When did you graduate from high school?” “There would be a big disparity between your age and your co-workers. Is that a problem for you?” “How long do you plan to work before you retire?”

What the interviewer is really asking is how old you are. You could either decline to respond, or use the opportunity to emphasize your years of experience.

“Where did you live while you were growing up?” “Are you a U.S. citizen?” “Is English your first language?” “Where are you from?”

What the interviewer is really asking is your national origin. You could with respond with you are authorized to work in the U.S.

“How is your health?” “Any serious illnesses in the last year?” “Do you drink socially?”

What the interviewer is really asking is if you have a disability that would interfere with your ability to do the job. You could respond with a question regarding the physical requirements for the job and that you would be able to meet them.

What’s your go-to snappy come-back to an inappropriate question from a stranger? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Disclaimer: This website is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this website you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

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