Handling Illegal Interview Questions

Some questions are prohibited by federal law. Many times, interviewers ask inappropriate questions because they are unaware of the law. Some questions that seem illegal are not, because they relate directly to the position’s essential job functions. It is very important to research the job functions and the company before you interview.

  • A smart job hunter is aware of illegal questions, knows the available options, and stays cool and collected while responding. Here are some options to help you maintain professionalism.
  • Try to determine the interviewer’s motivation by asking, “I wonder why you would ask that question?” Based upon the response, decide whether or not to answer. Remember, some interviewers do not realize that they asked an illegal question.
  • Decline to answer politely by saying, “That question makes me feel uncomfortable. I’d rather not answer it.”
  • Contact the nearest Equal Employment Office if you feel you were denied a job due to discrimination. However, be aware that although you may have a legitimate claim, it can be difficult to prove.
  • Answer an illegal question if you choose.

Can Employers ask about...


Appropriate - Questions about age are only permitted if it is necessary to ensure that a person is legally old enough to do the job.

Inappropriate - Questions about age, dates of attending school, dates of military service, requests for birth certificate.


Appropriate: What is your address?

Inappropriate: Do you own or rent your home? How long have you lived at your current residence?

Arrest Record/Conviction:

Appropriate: May ask about arrests or pending charges if they are substantially related to the job. May let applicant know that a policy requires a background check prior to hire.

Inappropriate: Questions about arrests or pending charges for jobs other than those that are substantially related to the particular job.

Citizenship/National Origin

Appropriate: May ask about legal authorization to work in the specific position if all applicants are asked.

Inappropriate: Are you a US Citizen? Where were your parents born?


Appropriate: Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job - with or without accommodations? Questions about knowledge of skills necessary to perform the job requirements.

Inappropriate: Do you have a disability? What is the nature or severity of your disability?

Family/Marital Status:

Appropriate: Whether an applicant can meet work schedules or job requirements. If asking, should ask all applicants.

Inappropriate: Any inquiry about marital status: married, single, separated, divorced, and engaged; children, pregnancy or child care plans.


Appropriate: Type of education and experience in service as it relates to a particular job.

Inappropriate: Type of discharge or registration status.


Appropriate: May ask current legal name. "Is additional information, such as different name or nickname necessary in order to check job references?"

Inappropriate: Questions about national origin, ancestry, or prior marital status.


Appropriate: Inquires about professional organizations related to the position

Inappropriate: Inquires about organizations that might indicate race, sex, religion, or national origin.


Appropriate: Describe the work schedule and ask whether applicant can work that schedule. If asking, should ask all applicants

Inappropriate: Inquires on religious preferences, affiliations, or denominations.

Sexual Orientation:

Appropriate: None.

Inappropriate: Inquires about sexual orientation. Inquires revealing stereotypes for certain sexual orientation.