Home Career Services Know Your Rights!

Know Your Rights!


By Kristen Carter
Career Services Contributor

Landing an interview is a great accomplishment in the job search process, allowing job seekers the chance to demonstrate how and why they are the best candidates for certain positions. As exciting as an interview can be, it can prove to be a stressful time, particularly when employers complicate the process by inserting illegal questions. As a job seeker, your overall goal is to obtain a job offer, and a defensive reaction to such inappropriate questions may guarantee that you step out of an interview without a job offer in hand.  As a result, it is essential to be prepared for such questions and respond positively.

Author Martin Yate, in his book titled Knock ‘em Dead, lists some key discriminatory items an interviewer may not ask about:

  1. Your religion, church, synagogue, parish, the religious holidays you observe, or your political beliefs/affiliations. But, the interviewer may ask if you are available to work on weekends.
  2. Your ancestry, national origin, parentage, birthplace, or the naturalization status of your parents, spouse, or children. Yet, an interviewer may ask whether you are a U.S. citizen or a resident alien with the ability to work in the United States.
  3. Your native language, the language you speak at home, or how you acquired the ability to read, write, or speak a foreign language. But, it is appropriate for the interviewer to ask about the languages in which you are fluent if it is pertinent to the job.
  4. Your age, your date of birth, whether you are married or pregnant, or the ages of your children. However, he or she may ask if you are over 18.
  5. Your maiden name, your marital status, number of children or dependents, your spouse’s occupation, or how you wish to be addressed (i.e. “Miss,” “Mrs.,” or “Ms.”). Yet, the interviewer may ask whether or not you have worked for the company before under a different name.

In addition to the above mentioned areas, I would add questions related to physical disabilities, health, medical history, and criminal records to the list of items that should not be addressed by interviewers. Although these topics are off limits, this does not mean that employers do not utilize indirect methods to ask about these areas.

While the employer may not ask you directly, “Does your religion allow you to work on Saturdays and/or Sundays?” He or she may state, “This job requires work on Saturdays and/or Sundays. Is that a problem?”  In this instance, the employer’s question is acceptable, but what is an appropriate response? Yate (2010) provides a few suggestions in his book. First, if you do not actively practice a religion, you could say, “I have a set of personal beliefs that are important to me, but I do not attend any organized services. And I do not mix such beliefs with my work, if that’s what you mean.” On the flipside, an applicant might state, “I attend my church/synagogue/mosque regularly, but I am intentional about not making it my practice to involve my personal beliefs at my job. My career and work for the company are far too important for that.”

In the end, as you are pondering the legality of questions, keep in mind, not all interviewers will be asking them intentionally. Some may not be aware of the laws on the matter; however, this does not justify their behavior. As a result, Yate (2010) suggests that you should be polite and straightforward, while attempting to move the conversation to discuss your skills and abilities, rather than focusing on your status. In the end, you can always decide that a company is not for you, leaving no obligation to accept the position.

Yates, M. (2010). Knock ‘em dead: The ultimate job search guide. Avon, MA: Adams Media.