Illegal Job Interview Questions

Questions That Shouldn’t Come Up in a Job Interview

Man asking woman an illegal interview question

© The Balance 2018

The job interview is an important factor in the employee selection process. You can use behavioral-based job interview questions to help you select superior candidates. Ask interview questions that help you identify whether the candidate has the behaviors, skills, and experience needed for the job you are filling.

When you ask appropriate interview questions, you can ascertain whether your candidate is a good cultural fit and an excellent job fit for the position you are filling. This emphasis on candidate fit heightens the probability that the candidate will succeed in your organization.

Key Takeaways

  • In general, you cannot ask about a candidate's marital or family status, age, disability status, or religion
  • Focus on the candidate's qualifications rather than their personal life
  • Prepare interview questions ahead of time to make sure you cover all necessary topics

Illegal Job Interview Question Topics

In order to protect job applicants from discrimination, several topics should be avoided during job interviews.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws keep employers from asking most or all interview questions that are related to a candidate’s:

  • Age
  • Medical information
  • Height and weight
  • Race, ethnicity, or color
  • Gender or Sex
  • Citizenship
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Marital or family status or pregnancy

Especially in the course of a comfortable, informal interview during which participants are relaxed, don’t let the interview turn into a chat session that might encourage the candidate to reveal personal information. For example, avoid conversations that start out with you sharing the challenges of helping your kids with their homework after dinner.

What Are Illegal Questions to Ask in an Interview?

  • What arrangements are you able to make for child care while you work?
  • How old are your children?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • What does your wife do for a living?
  • Where did you live while you were growing up?
  • Will you need personal time off for particular religious holidays?
  • There is a large disparity between your age and that of the position’s coworkers. Is this a problem for you?
  • Have you experienced any serious illnesses in the past year?


Interviewers should keep their questions focused on the behaviors, skills, and experience needed to perform the job.

If you find your discussion straying off course or eliciting any information that you don’t want, bring the discussion back on topic by asking another job-related interview question.

What to Do When Candidates Offer Unwanted Information

If a candidate offers information, such as, “I will need a flexible schedule because I have four children in elementary school,” you can answer the question about whether your company offers flexible hours and any qualifications that your policy requires for eligibility.

Do not, however, pursue that topic further. Another candidate told his interviewer that his favorite spare-time activity was reading the Bible. In the next question, he was asked to discuss why he left his most recent job. The interviewer wisely steered the conversation away from the potentially illegal topic.

Prepared Interview Questions

Using a prepared list of interview questions will help you ensure you select the most qualified candidates for the job. You will want to prepare questions that explore the actual job skills and experience you have identified as essential for the position. Prioritize these skills and experiences and explore them with the candidate.

Your reference checks will also provide insight into the knowledge and skills of your candidates. If you already have a working knowledge of the job and the types of qualifications and employees that are successful in the job, you can try to find out from references if the candidate has:

  • Behavioral characteristics that employees who are effective in the job display
  • Can handle the specific requirements of the position
  • The necessary qualifications

Frequently Asked Questions

What questions are illegal during an interview?

You cannot ask someone about their marital or family status, their age, or their disability status. You can ask a prospective employee to pass a drug test. You can also ask them to pass medical exam if it is relevant to the job. You cannot ask someone about their religious beliefs unless the organization is religious or it is directly related to the job. In other words, a church would be allowed to ask a priest about their religious beliefs.

What is the STAR method when interviewing?

STAR is an acronym for situation, task, action, and result. It's a way of responding to interview questions by discussing the situation, task, action, and result of the event you are describing. 

  • Situation: Let the interviewer know what the specific situation was. For example, where you were working at the time. or what you needed to accomplish in that scenario.
  • Task: Let the interviewer know what you needed to accomplish in that scenario
  • Action: Describe the steps that you took to achieve your goal.
  • Result: Let the interviewer know what you accomplished or what you learned. 
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. SHRM. "Is it illegal for us to ask for an applicant’s date of birth?"

  2. U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. "Pre-Employment Inquiries and Medical Questions & Examinations."

  3. U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. "Pre-Employment Inquiries and Height & Weight."

  4. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Pre-Employment Inquiries and Race."

  5. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Pre-Employment Inquiries and Gender." Accessed Jan. 29, 2020.

  6. U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. "Pre-Employment Inquiries and Citizenship."

  7. U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. "Pre-Employment Inquiries and Religious Affiliation or Beliefs." Accessed on Jan. 29, 2020.

  8. U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. "Pre-Employment Inquiries and Disability." Accessed on Jan. 29, 2020.

  9. U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. "Pre-Employment Inquiries and Marital Status or Number of Children." Accessed on Jan. 29, 2020.

  10. Virginia Education Wizard. "The STAR Method."

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