If you are job hunting right now, you know that it can be difficult to even get an interview with a good company. Once you land the interview, that’s your one chance to make a great first impression. However, it’s not uncommon for an interviewer to veer off from questions related to your skills and background, and into territory that is personal, and even illegal to ask about during an interview.

Under federal and California law, employers are not allowed to discriminate during the hiring process based on a job candidate’s age, race, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, handicap, pregnancy, and religion. If an employer chooses to ask you questions that are related to these topics, such as what year you graduated from high school or whether you are planning on having more kids, those questions are not technically illegal, but can lead to charges of discrimination. For example, if your potential employer asks during an interview what year you graduated from high school, and you tell them, it reveals your age. If you are revealing that you are 50 years old, and the interviewer later hires a less-qualified 25 year old, that could be considered age discrimination.

Unfortunately, a lot of employers do not know what interview questions they should not ask you. They may ask an unplanned question while engaging you in conversation, or they may be quietly digging around in order to learn something about your personal life.

Below are the top five interview questions you do not have to answer. If an employer does ask you about one of these topics, there is no best way to handle it. If a friendly employer asks about how many children you have, and you answer back “that is an illegal question and I do not wish to answer,” the odds are good that the employer will not have a favorable impression of you. If, on the other hand, you say “I have six children and wow do I have a hard time juggling their schedules,” that will be a red flag to employers.

  1. Are you planning on having children? This question may be asked in an attempt to get to know you, but more likely, the employer is trying to determine how dedicated you are to your career or if you will be taking maternity or paternity leave. It’s more likely a woman will get asked this question than a man. You could choose to answer by sidestepping the question and explaining how dedicated you are to your career or by expressing how dependable your child care support is.
  2. Are you religious / attend church? Many employers are religious and prefer to hire people who share their religious beliefs. However, only churches and faith-based organizations are allowed to discriminate in the hiring process based on religion. If asked about religion, you could answer that you prefer to not talk about religion.
  3. Do you use drugs? The employer could be attempting to delve in to your personal life to determine what prescription drugs you take in order to determine how healthy you are. The employer could also be asking about your illegal drug use. You could say that you do not use illegal drugs.
  4. What year did you graduate from high school/college? This is normally asked in an attempt to figure out how old you are. You can either honestly answer, or if you don’t want to, you could make a joke out of the question.
  5. How long have you lived in the United States? If you were born in another country, the interviewer may try to make assumptions about your English skills or your citizenship status. An employer is not allowed to discriminate based on your national origin or race. You could say that you are eligible to work in the U.S., and that your English skills are strong.

If you were asked some uncomfortable questions in a job interview, and later did not get the job, you may be successful in a lawsuit for discrimination, depending on the circumstances. To learn more, call Oakland employment discrimination attorney Micha Star Liberty at 510-645-1000 to learn more or to schedule a free consultation.


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