Can you spot the illegal interview question?

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There are some instances when hiring managers may dig for information they have no right to ask about or will become biased based on information that's accidentally revealed.

In a competitive job market, it's comforting to know there's legislation in place that ensures employers can't discriminate against job seekers. So whether you get the job or not should depend on your qualifications and fit with the company. While that's usually the case at most organizations, there are some instances when hiring managers may dig for information they have no right to ask about or will become biased based on information that's accidentally revealed.

"Interview questions can be deemed discriminatory if they ask you to reveal your age, race, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, nationality, whether you have children, a disability or having ever been arrested," says Matthew Reischer, CEO of "Many times, employers will want to ask questions that address the above issues but cannot ask you directly. Hence, employers very often will try and let you reveal information that, had they asked directly, would have been an illegal question."

That puts job seekers in a tough position, leaving them vulnerable to exposing sensitive information if they're not prepared to spot illegal questions. Reischer encourages job seekers to know and understand what interviewers can and can't ask, saying, "Confidence in what may be asked will help an interviewee craft a targeted answer to a possibly illegal question that is truthful and prevents the interviewer from engaging in a 'fishing expedition' of illegal personal information."

So how can you protect yourself and your chances of getting the job? It all begins with knowing what's illegal to ask and how employers will sometimes try to find that information anyways.

Country of origin
Imagine that the interview begins with talk about the city you're interviewing in. You're discussing the area where you grew up, when the hiring manager asks, "Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?" This question is legal, even though it might feel similar to asking if you're a U.S. citizen, which is illegal to ask.

Next, the interviewer talks about his son's baseball game, then asks, "Do you have kids?" This is illegal. However, if he's trying to get to the same point, he may ask something like, "Do you have experience with younger age groups?" or "Do you have any other responsibilities which will prevent you from engaging in a job requirement [i.e., traveling]?" These questions are legal.

Drugs, disabilities, health
When the interviewer is discussing the entertainment budget that's allotted for working with clients, he asks, "Do you smoke or drink?" This question is illegal, but interviewers may change it to, "Do you currently use any illegal drugs?" which is legal to ask.

Some senior members of the team come in to meet you and joke they're old enough to be your grandparents, then ask, "How long have you been in this industry?" That question is legal, but asking how long you've been working or trying to determine your age in other ways is not legal.

By knowing what's illegal to ask and the ways interviewers can try to find out that information instead, you can prepare yourself and the information you want to disclose. If you become concerned that the interview is getting too personal and you're risking sensitive information, turn the attention back to the job itself or the organization. Your work experience should be receiving the most attention -- not your personal life.