Wait! What Did You Just Ask Me!? How To Navigate Illegal Interview Questions

ilegal-interview-questionsBy: Latisha Taylor, Career Advising Fellow

Picture this: You are invited to interview for that dream job you have so desperately wanted ever since you could remember. During the interview you are asked one final question that doesn’t sit quite right with you. The interviewer asks, “I notice you have a Hispanic accent, where are you from?”

You may think nothing of it at first; however, the interviewer may be treading on thin ice and seeing if you can legally work in the United States.

Interviewing for a position can be stressful enough but then when you are possibly asked illegal interview questions, things can get even tougher. Here are some tips and guidelines to keep in mind if you ever find yourself being asked an illegal interview question:

  • Illegal vs. Awkward—there are certainly illegal interview questions that interviewers feel the right to ask and should not. However, those questions might not necessarily be illegal but just plain ol’ awkward. For example, an interviewer may ask you, “how long have you been working?” They might be trying to guess your age but because they know not to ask that outright, they ask this instead. It’s more so an awkward question for them to be asking you how long you have been working rather than an illegal one.
  • How do I even respond to that!?—If you are asked what you think is an illegal question, there are several ways you can choose to respond. First, you could refuse to respond to the question. If you make this decision, be prepared for the interview possibly ending prematurely. The second option is to answer the question head on. If you feel comfortable answering the question, although you know it isn’t a question they should be asking, then answer. Lastly, you can ask them how the question is relevant to the position. If you decide to make this decision, be sure that it comes off as polite as possible.
  • Give the benefit of the doubt— Most of the time, if an interviewer asks you an illegal interview question, chances are it was more accidental than purposeful. Don’t first assume that the interviewer is trying to intentionally invade your privacy for malicious reasons. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Direct answers usually make better impressions, but if you don’t feel comfortable with the question asked, then follow the guidelines above to manage that question.

So how about the person that landed an interview for their dream job but was thrown off, when asked, “Where are you from?” Consider addressing it head on or redirect the conversation to a more relevant topic such as your strengths, work ethic, ability to fulfill job duties, or informing them that you are fluent in English as well as Spanish and how that will serve as a benefit in the role.


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