Job Interview Tips

11 Unethical Interview Questions You Don’t Need to Answer

Written by Peter Jones

Yes, it’s an interview and you’re trying your best to be a people-pleaser. But that doesn’t mean letting someone ask you information that’s off-limits.

Sometimes “innocent” questions about your hobbies and your kids can just feel like small talk, but are secretly a trap to get you to divulge information that could affect your chances. Asking certain things outright can be considered discrimination and is explicitly not allowed by government regulation.

Be vigilant for the following 11 unethical interview questions and have a swerve answer prepared. The best rule of thumb? If there’s a question that doesn’t seem relevant to your duties or performance or how well you’d fit into the company or role, dodge it.

1. “What does your husband/wife do?”

Some states actively prohibit discrimination on the grounds of marital status. These types of questions are usually asked in order to discriminate against women, who might become pregnant or have child care concerns that single candidates wouldn’t. Avoid answering anything that seems to assess whether you have a spouse at all.

2. “Are you pregnant?”

First of all, it’s rude to ask. Second, refer to the above. Any question of your kids, your plan to eventually have kids, or your childcare routines are to be avoided for the same reasons.

3. “Do you have a disability that might interfere with your job performance?”

(Or anything about a disability or a pattern of illness, i.e. sick days, workers’ comp claims, mental health problems, etc.) These might seem like valid questions, but it is illegal to ask any questions which would reveal the existence of a disability before the job offer is made.

4. “Have you ever been arrested?”

Again, some states explicitly prohibit this. And in some cases, questions like these are used to discriminate against minority candidates—which is even worse than just discriminating against felons, and actually illegal.

5. “What year did you graduate?”

This is a sneaky way of figuring out your age. And age discrimination is not a good thing. It’s been federally prohibited since 1967 (at least as applied to people over the age of 40). Bottom line: you don’t ever have to disclose your age.

6. “Are you in a union?”

You have a right to join a union and it is not okay to try and prohibit you from doing so. You should not be questioned about your union membership or intention to acquire one, so don’t answer any questions that could give that information out.

7. “Would you take a genetic test?”

It is totally illegal to ask you for genetic information, as of 2008. It is also illegal to ask about your family members. You are not in any way required to take any test or give your potential employer any information about your genes.

8. “Where is your name from?”

These questions are aimed at figuring out your ethnic background. Other questions like this are “What other languages do you speak?” or “What was your first language?” Racial discrimination is to be frowned upon. Don’t be a party to it.

9.“Where do you worship?”

Or: “What days do you worship?” This might be evidence of your employer trying to figure out what your faith is. They might be legitimately curious on a personal level, but you are not required to—nor should you—say. It could be a potential means of religious discrimination—and illegal according to the Civil Rights Act.

10. “Will you take a polygraph?”

Most employers are federally not allowed to ask you to take a lie detector test as a condition of employment—or to be fired, not hired, or disciplined for refusing. You can thank the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 for this.

11. “What do you currently make?”

There’s a new equal pay law in Massachusetts that makes asking this illegal. But you’re not required to answer it anywhere else either! Try pivoting instead with a line like, “I’d prefer to discuss money a little later; right now I’m just interested in whether this is a good fit for both of us. I’m sure we’re on the same page.”

About the author

Peter Jones