5 Topics an Interviewer Can’t Touch

On a job interview you always want to present yourself in the best possible light, and that usually means being as cooperative and pleasant as possible. So what do you do if your interviewer starts asking questions that make you uncomfortable or that you don’t want to answer? You don’t want to blow your chances of getting the job by appearing uncooperative or secretive. However, common sense dictates you shouldn’t have to give out personal information that has nothing to do with your ability to do a job.

The answer lies in arming yourself with knowledge before you go in for your interview. The law is quite clear on what an interviewer can and can’t ask during an interview, so it’s important for you to know where those lines are drawn. That way if an interviewer does ask you an inappropriate question, you can politely point to the law as your reason for declining to answer. Often inexperienced interviewers don’t realize they can’t ask certain personal questions and therefore do so unwittingly.

So to give you a head start on your rights as an interviewee – here are five things that you don’t have to answer (or put on a resume) when applying for a job.

1) Personal Information

An interviewer cannot legally come right out and ask you your age, weight, height, ethnicity, native language, or anything that implies your gender is an issue (for example, something like, “Are you strong enough to do this job even though it’s traditionally done by a man?”)

That said, prospective employers are allowed to ask less direct questions to get information they legitimately need to know. For example, if you look rather young, they can ask if you’re over 18, without asking for a specific age. And if you’re out of shape they can inquire if you’re able to do the heavy lifting required for this job if, in fact, heavy lifting is involved. And even though an interviewer can’t ask if you’re a U.S. citizen they can ask if you’re authorized to work in the U.S. And in terms of English-speaking skills, an interviewer can ask you how many languages you speak, but not how well you speak English specifically.

Once you get the job, be aware that the Human Resources department can and will ask for your birthday (including the year), and how many dependents you have, which they need to know for benefits purposes. At this point, your personal information is not an issue, since it didn’t factor in to whether or not you were hired.

2) Religion

Under no circumstances can an interviewer ask what religion you are. Unless you’re applying for a job as a priest, nun, rabbi, or Mormon bishop, then there is no reason in the world an employer needs to know what religion you practice, or even if you regularly go to church.

However, an interviewer can ask if there are any days you can’t work, and if there are religious holidays that you’d like to have off (that aren’t already paid holidays, like Christmas) then now would be the time to say so (but you don’t have to go into details about it).

3) Family

Even though an interviewer cannot legally ask you if you are married, have kids, or if you’re planning on someday getting married and having kids, it does sometimes organically (and innocently) come up in an interview. It’s up to you whether you want to answer or not, but usually you can tell if it’s just conversation or if your interviewer is prying. Just know that legally you don’t have to answer the question, if you don’t want to.

Also, questions about pregnancies (current or future) are off limits. But if you are pregnant during your interview your prospective employer can and will ask you what your long term plans are in terms of career, which is perfectly within their right to do so. However, they cannot inquire as to what you plan to do about childcare. That is none of their business.

4) Lifestyle

Even though there are new laws about smoking in public places (which vary from state to state) an interviewer cannot ask you if you smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs. They can, however, inform you of their policies on such matters. In fact, some employers might even require that you sign a morality clause, which outlines a minimum level of expected conduct (Brigham Young University is one such example; both students and faculty must sign an honor code in order to go to school or work there). If you violate the morality clause you can (and most likely will) be sanctioned.

Even if an employer doesn’t have a morality clause, the interviewer can ask if you’ve ever been disciplined for violating a company’s smoking or alcohol rules. They can also ask if you take any illegal drugs. No one in their right might would answer “yes” to that last question, but be aware that you can legally be asked.

5) Disabilities

Whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional, an interviewer cannot ask if you have any type of disability. They can, however, ask you if you’re able to perform all the duties the job requires. If you have concerns this would be the time to discuss them. If the job is a good fit, but there are one or two duties you might have trouble doing, you could possibly convince the interviewer to exclude those from your job description. It all depends on how much you want the job and how much the interviewer likes you.

An interview is stressful enough. You don’t need the added worry of how to answer questions. By knowing your rights ahead of time you can go into an interview feeling confident that you’ll be evaluated on your merits alone, so that when you do get that job you know it’s for all the right reasons.

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