Illegal Interview Questions and How to Respond

Illegal interview questions happen when you least expect it. And when it happens, the emotional shock you feel makes it harder to present your best in the interview.  Be prepared for these questions with a response that doesn’t sound defensive.

Which interview questions are illegal?

In the United States, it is inappropriate to be asked job interview questions about your age, marital status, whether you have children, date you graduated from college/university, credit score, medical history, your nationality, your ethnicity or any personal information unrelated to your ability to perform the job.  Here are a few examples with responses tailored to the question:

  • What country are you from?  The only relevant question is whether you can legally work in the United States. Tell the interview if you are legally permitted to work in the United States.
  • What was your last salary? In many states, employers can not legally ask about current or past compensation. And the trend is spreading. The purpose behind the new law is to combat unequal pay. The best answer is to state your salary expectations. However if they press for details of previous compensation, I suggest you say “I may be incorrect, but it’s my understanding that that question isn’t legal here. However, I am happy to discuss the compensation ranges for this position and my salary expectations.”
  • How far do you commute?  Sometimes companies shy away from candidates with long commutes. The data shows that employees with long commutes have higher turn-over rates. However, how you structure your commute is your business. Answer the question by reassuring the company that you have no issue with the commute and are able to work with flexible hours.
  • Have you ever been arrested? Being arrested does not imply guilt.  You do not need to answer this question. See below for how to respond.

Best general response to inappropriate interview questions?

The best general response to questions asking any personal, private information is ……..“I am very happy to provide my pertinent personal information and documents you need for a background check once an offer is presented.”