10 Questions an Employer Should Never Ask You in the Job Interview

Man looking nervous during interview while woman reads his resume

You likely know that there are some types of questions that are off-limits in a job interview, but did you also know that many of these are basically illegal? And, while these may not be illegal in the sense that an interviewer could be arrested for asking them, they do put the interviewer and employer in danger of appearing discriminatory and facing litigation. Employers generally steer clear of these types of questions because they know they cannot use these answer to make any sort of hiring decisions, but occasionally they crop up unexpectedly or even unintentionally.

If you’re considering going on the job market or if you’re actively interviewing, it’s important to know your rights as a job seeker and to identify inappropriate interview questions in real time so that you can come prepared with a firm yet respectful response to guide the conversation back to your professional skills and experiences.

You know you’re stepping into a minefield and need to back away if your interviewer asks you about…

  • Your age
  • Your race, ethnicity, or place of birth
  • Your marital status
  • Whether or not you have children
  • Whether or not you’re planning on having children
  • Your religion
  • Your health
  • Your gender or sexual orientation
  • Your retirement plans
  • Your spouse or partner’s job
  • In some locations, your previous salary information

If you’re asked about any of these areas, first of all, remain calm and composed. Flying off the handle and immediately accusing your interviewer of discriminatory tactics or aggressively pointing out the error in their line of questioning can only escalate the situation. Plus, in some circumstances, the interviewer may truly not realize they’ve asked an inappropriate question, especially if the topic naturally comes up as “chit chat” where people often revert to more personal topics like home life, hobbies, or kids.

Instead, consider repeating the question back to them and asking how this might relate to your job duties or responsibilities. When they hear it put back to them this way, most interviewers will realize they’ve asked a question that falls outside the scope of what’s relevant (or even legal) and will pivot to a more appropriate topic. If they keep pushing for an answer to an obviously off-limits question, politely yet clearly and firmly state that you’d prefer not to answer the question.

Note: Employment laws can vary by state and by country. This article is not intended to give specific legal advice, so consult with your local, state, or federal laws and resources for specific information on discrimination or workplace laws.

Back to news