Seven Inappropriate Interview Questions

Last Updated Apr 20, 2010 11:36 AM EDT

Employment discrimination is a wily and elusive challenge for employers and job seekers alike.

As long as people judge others based on their age, gender, ethnicity or other factors, job candidates are at risk of encountering discrimination. And as long as job interviews involve actual human contact, there will be moments when even innocent attempts at small talk by the interviewer can steer the interview into dangerous waters.

In "Don't Answer That Interview Question," Lisa Vaas provides a list of common questions that are out of bounds, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and proposes some tactics job seekers' can use to redirect the conversation to safer ground. Here are seven of the items on the blacklist:

Nationality: It's illegal to ask a job seeker about their nationality, their citizen status, their native language, or how long they've lived here. If asked, instead explain that you're legally able to work in the United States.

Religion: It's not permissible to ask what religion job seekers practice, what religious holidays they observe, or their religious affiliations. If an interviewer probes these verboten areas, try to find out what the interviewer is concerned about and to address these concerns: working certain days of the week, for example, could be a legitimate concern.

Age: Do not answer questions about age beyond stating that you are over the age of 18. Interviewers shouldn't ask how close you are to retirement but can ask what your long-term career goals are.

Marital and family status: While it's permissible for interviewers to ask whether you have ever used another name in work or academic situations, it's not permissible for them to ask questions about your maiden name or marital status. Don't answer questions about whether you have children or what your child-bearing plans are, but do explain whether you're available to work overtime or whether you can travel, particularly on short notice.

Residence: It is inappropriate to ask how far away a job seeker lives, but it's permissible to ask if the candidate can start work at a given hour or if he is willing to relocate.

Military service: It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a member of the National Guard or Reserves, but it is legal to ask if the job seeker anticipates requiring extended time away from work.

  • Matthew TheLadders

    Matthew Rothenberg is editor-in-chief for TheLadders, the world's leading online service catering exclusively to the $100K+ job market. In addition to traditional job search services, also provides a host of specialized career development resources. Previously he worked at Ziff Davis Media, ZDNet, CNET, and Hachette Filipacchi.