Should you answer an illegal interview question?

If you have been on many interviews I bet you have encountered at least one illegal interview question.  There are three main ways to handle them and the choice is up to you.

That is an illegal question and I don’t have to answer it

While the above statement may be true if you respond with “That is an illegal question and I don’t have to answer it” you will likely not have another interview with that company.   While you don’t want to work for a company that is making illegal discriminatory hiring decisions, let’s not kid ourselves, all interviewing is discriminatory.



  1. the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.
    “victims of racial discrimination”
  2. recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.
    “discrimination between right and wrong”

I believe that any company making a decision based on race, gender, age or any other non-performance related reason will be less successful in the long run.  Diverse companies will perform better.  So if you feel that a company is being discriminatory on race, age, gender, religion or any other non-work related reason then I suggest you look elsewhere.

I think you misspoke

Sometimes the interviewer doesn’t know how to ask what they really mean.  Here are a few illegal questions followed by what they should have asked.  The idea is to answer the question they should have asked.

How does your husband other feel about you traveling overnight?

What they should have asked:  We have had some employees in the past where overnight travel has become an issue.  Tell me how you feel about extensive travel for work and how you maintain some work/life balance.

Do you have children?

What they should have asked:  We expect everyone to be at their desk working by 8am and work until 5pm at a minimum but we frequently work overtime during peak season.  Is that an issue?

Where are you from?

What they should have asked:  We like to get to know people in the interview process.  Tell me about yourself.

How old are you?

What they should have asked:  We use the latest software and programs here.  How do you stay up to date on the industry?

I fully admit that some people ask those questions for the very reason they are illegal but I make the argument that those people are the exception, rather than the rule.  Granted, there are some industries that are much more prone to sexism, racism, and many other ‘isms but I chose to believe that most people are trying to do the right thing for their company.

I also fully admit that my views are filtered through a white male christian lens.  Sorry, I can’t change that fact but I do my best to be aware of my blind spots and filters.

Why do you need to know that?

Ask for clarity.  You may be surprised by what is behind an illegal question.  If you are like some of my friends and you want to push back a little when confronted with an illegal question, you can do so with tact.

Do you have children?
What concerns you about employees with children?

How does your husband feel about your chosen profession?
I would think you would be more concerned about how I feel about my profession.

How old are you?
How does an applicant’s age factor into your hiring decision?

Are you single?
Do you discourage employees from having personal relationships?

Unfortunately we all have to deal with situations where we need to try and figure out how to react and interviews are no different.  In short, there is no one RIGHT way to handle any interview questions.

TACT – getting your point across without stabbing someone with it.
New York Daily Mirror

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