Prohibited Questions

Questions You Don’t Have to Answer

There’s a difference between personal questions aimed at learning more about you and how you might be able to do the job, and questions that are asked as a way of snooping into your private life.

Federal and state laws prohibit companies from asking you questions about age, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family matters and religion.

In other words, questions about what sports you played in high school (perhaps as a way of learning if you’re a team player) are perfectly reasonable.  Asking when you graduated is not.

For a well-meaning interviewer the line might get a bit gray sometimes, so don’t be too quick to leap up and proclaim your right to privacy.  Listen closely to every question, and evaluate it in the context of the entire interview.

Keep in mind that sometimes people make mistakes.  Sometimes the interviewer may be honestly curious about you, and simply not realize that a question has crossed the line.  Don’t assume malice if a question seems to be intruding on those protected topics.

As with so many other aspects of the interview, how you handle prohibited questions can either win you points or make you less attractive as a potential employee.  Take some time, read our list of typical prohibited questions below, and be ready with thoughtful, courteous responses that nonetheless protect your right to privacy.

Remember, too, that while the interviewer isn’t supposed to ask these questions, you certainly have the right to answer any of them if you choose to do so, or volunteer the information as part of the conversation.  A thoughtful response may give you the opportunity to highlight pertinent skills or experience, or relate some part of your background to the requirements of the position.

On the other hand, if the interviewer’s questions appear to have a common negative tone, or if you begin to feel uncomfortable about the number of those questions that are crossing the line, be prepared with a calm, courteous response that lets the interviewer know that you expect to be asked questions that focus on the position, and your qualifications for it.

When it’s all over, if you’re not comfortable about the way the interview went – think seriously if this is an organization where you would want to work.

This list covers many of the types of questions that the interviewer shouldn’t ask you:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • How many times have you been married?
  • Are you in a committed relationship right now?
  • How does your spouse feel about your working here?
  • Do you rent or own your home?
  • Whom do you live with?
  • What is your sexual orientation?
  • What’s your ethnicity/nationality?
  • What is your first language?
  • Were your parents born in this country?
  • What is your racial background?
  • Are you religious?
  • Do you attend church?
  • Do you intend to have children? How many?
  • Do you have children?
  • What are your child care arrangements?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Have you had any recent illnesses or surgeries?
  • Do you work out regularly?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Have you ever been addicted to drugs?
    • A pre-employment drug screening itself is, of course, legal
  • What is your political affiliation?
  • What organizations do you belong to?
  • Have you been injured on the job?
  • Have you ever filed for workers’ compensation before?
  • Have you ever declared bankruptcy?
  • Where do you bank?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
    • Questions about whether you’ve had any convictions are legal
    • This information is seen as necessary for security reasons
    • Similar questions may be part of a pre-employment check