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Illegal Interview questions, why you need to answer them!

illegal interview question

Illegal interview questions? HRNasty says “Answer them”!

Illegal Interview Questions:

We all know what the “illegal interview questions” are, and we have all been raised with the notion that since they are illegal, we shouldn’t answer them. ANSWER THEM!!!! My advice to you is to not miss a beat and don’t blink an eye. Don’t just answer them, prepare for them. How is this different than the question “how many ridges on a quarter”. Make a stink around ANY question asked during the interview and you will make the decision easy for the employer. Decline the candidate and move on.  I don’t want to hire a troublemaker, I don’t want to hire someone who is going to give a hard time to the hiring manager because shit rolls downhill and I am looking up at a very tall hill with a steep incline.

And to really put this issue into perspective from a court of law perspective, there are no illegal interview questions. It is OK to ask “How old are you” in an interview. That question is NOT illegal.  It is illegal is to base the hiring decision on the answer. The situations quickly become a chicken or the egg scenario and a Kobayashimaru all rolled up into one. If you aren’t basing the hiring decision on this question, then why ask it? The company may be able to prove it’s innocence in a court of law, but just going to court, the bad press and PR. . . It’s the last thing I want to deal with on my watch as a head of an HR department.

I say that candidates should answer the illegal interview question and move on. Questions about age, religion, sexual orientation etc, answer them all. I fit two of the protected classes and looking at me, some would say 3, so I appreciate the sensitivity around these questions as much as the next guy. I am here to tell you that a lot of these questions are asked during the interview process and the folks that are asking don’t usually know they are illegal.

A lot of folks will tell you that you don’t have to answer illegal interview questions. They would be correct, you don’t. To ask “is my religion, age, or sexual orientation relevant to the job?”  is a perfectly good response, and perfectly within your legal right. You could even bring a lawsuit to the interviewing company, but it isn’t going to get you the job, it is going to cost you a lot of money upfront, and will be very public.

My question to you is:  Do we really think you will get hired by answering ANY interview question with an accusation or evading any of the questions? My advice is to be ready for these questions and answer them.  My advice to you is to prepare for the illegal interview question so no one skips a beat during the interview process. Treat them as you would any other tough question like “Tell me about yourself”, or the famous Microsoft question “How would you move Mt Fuji?”

Putting up a fight on an illegal interview question, or not answering it directly, makes the rest of the interview awkward for both sides.  As candidates, we are probably not going to be passed on to the next stage if there was a “situation” in the interview room.

When I practice mock interviews with folks over 40 and ask them how old they are, I get this look of horror. I always get pushback and some folks will walk away from that mock interview evading the question or refuse to answer the question. I am confident this will be a deal breaker for them if they are asked these types of questions in an interview and this is exactly why I want to practice the question. Chances are the question will never be asked, but I want them ready and I don’t want them to miss a beat.

You can decide if the job and the company culture is for you after you get the offer. Put yourself in a position where YOU can accept or decline the offer. You don’t want the employer declining you because some dumb ass interviewer that didn’t know any better.

Some will say that by answering these questions, you are part of the problem and not part of the answer.  Others will say that you are being violated and shouldn’t put up with it.  Some may go as far as to say I am encouraging the continued behavior of asking these questions because I am in HR.

My response to them is that:

  1. “These folks are probably employed”. When you don’t have a job, when you need a job, you want to capitalize on every opportunity out there (and there are fewer of them out there).  You can always leave a job when a better comes along. Until then, focus on getting the job, not taking yourself out of the running.
  2. Who is the most qualified to answer whether YOU should answer that question or not? You know your personal situation, your financial situation, and your level of comfort within an interview.

I just want to go on record and put another option out there. Everyone is so conditioned to being sensitive to these illegal interview questions that our first reaction, when asked about age or where we live, is to put up a defense mechanism and feel like it is within our right decline that question.

My advice:  prep for these questions (yes, prepare for them), answer these questions and OWN your answers.


In a small company, there may not be an HR department. Hiring is left to the office admin who probably doesn’t have any HR experience or understands HR law. They are learning on the fly. If there is no HR department or no focus on HR, there will most likely be no HR training around interviewing. I really like this guy, Seth Levine and his attitude towards HR. Managers that have never interviewed will be put in a room with you and left to fend for themselves.  They will also come up with a verdict on whether or not you should be hired.  In this case it won’t be the person that is most qualified that lands the job, it will be the candidate that is the best interviewer.

These questions usually come from well-intentioned people, taking time out of their busy day to interview someone they know nothing about. Just an appointment in their calendar with a resume attached. Can you blame them for not knowing any different?

You just interviewed with a large company that has a full-blown HR department?  HA!  When was the last time you heard of anyone attending interview training? In a tough economy, training and development are one of the first departments to go. Often times, the hiring manager will ask their senior people to do the interviewing. The assumption here is that since they are senior, they have done this before, and have been trained so no need to send them to interview training.  It is a vicious cycle.

If there was training, it consisted of someone telling them ‘It is illegal to ask these questions, with no explanation why”.

So, I throw it out there before you get all hot and bothered by the illegal question.  Yes, it is irresponsible, rude, and in no way relevant to the job.  Shit happens.  Landing a job offer after asking being asked a few of these illegal questions is a job well done.  Quitting it for a better job is just plain Nasty.

See you at the after party


nasty; an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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