You’re in line for a great job, but the interview isn’t going well. The questions you are being asked are not only making you uncomfortable but many of them are illegal. There is a way to handle these types of situations, says employment expert Aaron Boyce of the Sacramento Stride Center, a non-profit educational organization that provides computer training and business development to primarily low income people.
Take control of the interview. Steer your answers into more positive areas you want to talk about, such as your accomplishments, your skills, what you can bring to the company.
"Illegal questions pose as much of a problem for an employer as it would for the applicant. A company could lose everything if there arises a lawsuit that could be proven against them. Therefore, most companies are not willing to risk this at any costs especially since there are so many other ways to learn about the applicant. However, there are a few clueless individuals who actually enjoy causing discomfort or needing answers without knowing the rules," says Boyce.
Federal, state, and local laws regulate the questions a prospective employer can ask — on a job application, in an interview, or during the testing process. The questions must always be related to the job for which you are applying.
If you are asked an illegal question, it is up to you if you want to answer or not. But it may be wiser to opt not to answer, or tailor your answer. For example, if you are asked, "Are you a U.S. citizen?" which is illegal to ask, instead of saying yes or now answer that you are authorized to work in the United States. "Although it may be illegal for the employer to ask these questions, it is not illegal for you to answer them. If you do not feel threatened by these questions, you might decide to do just that. How many children do you have? I have three beautiful daughters. How many do you have?" advises Boyce. "The bottom line is this: if you are made to feel unbearably uncomfortable during the interview, get up and walk away. There will be other opportunities for you. However, if you find these questions tolerable than either answer them or use humor to deflect the questions while moving on to something else."
But there is a bigger question, says Boyce. Do you want to work for a company that does not respect the letter of the law? "With the understanding that you “work for yourself” that is, you decide your life and your future, you should decide whether or not you want to work for a clueless company that seems not to care or know about rules or following them. In many cases, if you are made to feel uncomfortable at the interview stage, it doesn’t get better in their workplace," notes Boyce. "Based upon that, you could refuse to answer and let them know that what they asked is against federal law; you could laugh the question off with a joke – How many children do you have? Why, would you like some? And then change the subject."
So what constitutes an illegal question? According to Boyce, "Illegal questions are ones that derive answers that have nothing to do with the job specifications. Questions regarding (or leading to) your age, sexual orientation, children, religion, disabilities, religion, or marital status."
Among these questions are:
• Are you a U.S. citizen? Where were you/your parents born? What is your "native tongue?" The legal way to ask would be: Are you authorized to work in the United States? What languages do you read, speak or write fluently?
• How old are you? When did you graduate from college? What is your birthday? It is legal to ask if you are over the age of 18?
• What's your marital status? Who do you live with? Do you plan to have a family? When? How many kids do you have? What are your child care arrangements?
• To what clubs or social organizations do you belong? It is okay for the interviewer to ask what professional or trade groups or other organizations you belong to that are relevant to the job.
• How tall are you? How much do you weigh? The interviewer can ask if there are minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job.
• Do you have any disabilities? Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? What was the date of your last physical exam?
• Have you ever been arrested? It is legal, however to ask "Have you ever been convicted of _____? (The type of crime should be related to the job.)
• Do you celebrate Christmas?
• Does your husband work?
• Do you own or rent your home?
• Have you ever brought a lawsuit against an employer?
If you are asked illegal questions, you have the option of taking action. But, says Boyce, take some time to decide if this is the course you want to take. "Should you alert the authorities? In most cases, my answer is no. You have too much on your plate to deal with. Focus on you and your family. Focus on your next job interview. Focus on your success rather than their failure," he points out. "However, if you feel so violated and so depressed after you leave the interview, and that anger or depression has not changed within a few days, contact a labor attorney to help you file with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. If nothing else, you have started a case against the company and others may follow suit."