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Five Illegal Job Interview Questions in the US

In this November 2013 file photo, job seekers line up at a job fair at Tianjin University. According to local media, more than 6,000 people rushed to the job fair for openings from 300 companies. (REUTERS)

In this November 2013 file photo, job seekers line up at a job fair at Tianjin University. According to local media, more than 6,000 people rushed to the job fair for openings from 300 companies. (REUTERS)

The three most stressful situations in life are said to be ending a marriage, dealing with death and moving to a new home. Many people would add one more experience to that list – a job interview.

Finding a good job is difficult enough. Add to that the fact that employers may ask some very personal questions during a job interview. In the United States, it is illegal for employers to raise some of these issues.

See how they compare to job interviews in your country.

In a job interview, you must show your best side. You must sell yourself and show the interviewer that you are the best candidate for the job.

To do this you must answer question after question. A prospective employer will want to know about your skills, qualifications, past work experiences, and goals.

The interviewer is the person asking the questions. Interviewers want to learn as much as they can about the interviewee, the person seeking employment. This can cause an uneven balance of power and lead to some difficult questions. In the United States, a few of those questions are not just difficult, they are illegal.

There are many websites that offer advice on careers and how to prepare for a job interview. You may have used some of these sites, such as and LinkedIn.

The following five areas showed up in all the reports and lists I examined during my recent searches. All of these areas of questioning are considered illegal in the United States.

1. Sex questions are off limits.

It is very easy for an interviewer to discriminate based on a person’s gender or sex. If you are a woman, you may be asked, “Are you comfortable managing a team of men?” If you are man you may be asked, “Would you feel comfortable having a woman as a boss?”

In the United States, any question related to gender should not be raised during the job interview. But if gender does come up, answer the question by stating your past work experiences that show you can do the job, regardless of whether you are a woman or a man.

2. Questions about marriage and children are illegal.

People with children love talking about them. But during a job interview it's not the time. Questions such as, “Do you have children?” or “Do you plan to work after having children?” are not legal to ask.

Naturally, future employers want to know how long you plan to be with them if you are hired. Hiring people takes time and, as they say, time is money. But it is illegal to not hire someone because they have children or are planning on having a child in the future.

It is legal for a prospective employer to ask, “What hours can you work?” or “Do you have responsibilities that might keep you from doing your job?” These questions are legal because they are directly related to the job and not tied to your personal life.

Any question related to your marital status, whether you are married, is considered illegal in the U.S. But they are common. Asking someone, “Are you married?” is a loaded question, a question looking for more than what is simply asked. A question about marriage is illegal because it may lead to information about your sexual orientation -- whether you are gay, straight or bisexual. And that is no one’s business but your own.

3. Your Citizenship and Nationality are private.

It is illegal for a U.S. business to hire someone who is not permitted to work in the country. But the only way a company can explore the issue legally is to ask the question directly - “Can you work legally in the United States?” Done.

If an interviewer asks things such as, “Where are you from?” or “Where were you born?” they have, again, crossed into Illegal Land. These may seem like innocent questions. But they are illegal because it involves your country of birth. Employers in the U.S. cannot legally ask about your nationality.

This also extends to language. It is not the employer’s lawful right to know if a language is your first language. However, they can legally ask what other languages you know.

4. Asking about religion is a no-no.

Employers may want to ask which religious holidays you observe to see if it may interfere with work. But questions about your religion are illegal.

Employers can legally ask if you can work on a Sunday, a day when many Christians attend religious services.

5. Your Age is your business. Not theirs.

The question, “How long have you been working?” may seem fine. But this question is all about age discrimination. It is also illegal for an interviewer to ask what year you completed high school or college or even your birthday. It is easy enough to do the math. It is legal for an interviewer to ask you how long you have been working in a certain industry. Again, the question is tied to the job and not your personal life.

It can be difficult to answer personal questions during a job interview. After all, if you want the job, you do not want to seem difficult. If a question seems illegal or just makes you feel uneasy, simply direct the question back to the job and your qualifications.

Of course, you do not have to answer any question that you feel is insulting or illegal. This, however, may cost you the job.

In the end it is a personal decision. But always know your rights.

How do these employment laws in the U.S. differ from laws in your country? Let’s talk about it … in the comment section.

I’m Anna Matteo.

*This report was based on online resources including, LinkedIn, and Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in this Story

candidate – n. a person who is being considered for a job, position, award, etc.

qualification – n. a special skill or type of experience or knowledge that makes someone suitable to do a particular job or activity

prospectiveadj. likely to be or become something specified in the future

sexual orientationn. the inclination of an individual with respect to heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual behavior

discriminatory – adj. unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people. The noun is discrimination.

gender – n. the state of being male or female

hire – v. to give work or a job to someone in exchange for wages or a salary; n. someone who has been hired for a job

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in this Story. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

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