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You’ve scored the interview. Eureka! You’re busy preparing for a world-class interview, full of witty answers that showcase your experience, team spirit, and enthusiasm for the company in question. But have you considered preparing for any job interview discrimination?

When searching for a new position, you may want to consider a few items to decipher whether you’re headed into a precarious situation.

Did the job advertisement include any words like “young”, “dynamic”, or “recent graduate”?
What are the arrangements of the interview? Does it seem physically and easily accessible?Does it inquire about children? Marital status? Or whether you’re pregnant or planning to have children?

Interview questions that do not produce information that helps your potential employer choose the most qualified applicant is unnecessary.

These are only a few examples where potential interview discrimination may be rearing its head.

Research finds that 14.3% of professionals believe interviewers should follow a set list of interview questions for every candidate. This is in addition to the 12.3% said interviewers should be given a list of questions they’re not allowed to ask.

Biases in the recruitment and interviewing stages hurt minority groups. For example, a report published by one of the UK’s parliamentary groups showed that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are particularly affected when it comes to the recruitment stage. 20.5% are unemployed compared to 6.8% of white women, with 17.7% of black women also being unemployed. Not only are these women twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts, but some admit they’ve removed their hijabs or making their names sound more English to try to beat discrimination.


What are some questions that may be deemed unacceptable or questionable?


Age-related questions:

- “‘What year were you born in?’
- “When did you graduate college/university”’

Although there are some cases in which age does play a role in determining fit, it is often an irrelevant topic. It may be there is a minimum legal age for a job, like in the case of serving alcohol. Or the interviewer may be inquiring whether the person has the appropriate working papers. They may also talk about retirement age and inquire whether the candidate is below the age. They may not ask your age directly is an illegal interview question.

Gender-related questions:

- “Are you planning on having children?”
- “Are you pregnant?”
- “Do you have childcare in place?”
- “What is your spouse’s name?”

Gender may be or may not be evident to the interviewer. However it’s important to note that any question about your gender is inappropriate and does relay how you’ll succeed at your job. Any inquiries relating directly to your gender is illegal, unless it directly relates to the job’s qualifications, such as a waxing specialist.

Citizenship or religion-related questions:

- “What religion do you follow?”
- “Are you a X citizen?” (exceptions may be if the role is granted to nationals or those with a certain type of visa)
- “Is English your native tongue?”

There are questions about race and/or citizenship that may be relevant to the hiring and recruiting process. A potential employer may ask, “How many languages are you fluent in?" or "Are you legally eligible to work in the United States?"

They may not inquire into questions such as "Is English your native language?", "Are you citizen of (country)?”, or "Were your parents born here?". These questions have nothing to do with your job or tell an employer how to succeed at the position. Another illegal interview question around ethnicity or race could be "Which race do you identify with?”. If these questions arise during your interview, you may simply state "I don’t believe this question qualifies my ability to perform the job, but here’s what does…” and launch into how you created a brilliant social media campaign or how you installed a recycling program at your office.

It is also completely unacceptable to ask candidates questions about their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, race, criminal convictions and a number of other factors. These all count as forms of interview discrimination.

What to say when asked an illegal interview question?

illegal interview question

If you are asked an illegal interview question, remember you’re in the driver’s seat. You call the shots. You have the option to cancel the interview on the spot or refuse to answer the question. The interview is just as much as you interviewing them, as they interviewing you. If their questions are discriminatory or the interview does not correct after you’ve said something, it may be best to learn now about the company culture.

In the case of an inadvertent, inappropriate question, consider the goal of the question. If they ask, “Are you proficient in English?” You may skip over it and relay all the experiences you’ve had dealing with customers for 8 hours at a time in English and Spanish.

“The interviewer asked some illegal interview questions, should I file a complaint?”

One thing to consider before filing is that many instances of discrimination during the interview process are not on purpose. Keep in mind the people interviewing you may not have experience interviewing candidates and may not be familiar with employment law. Some employers may ask intrusive questions in an attempt to get to know you as a person. If that’s so, focus on the intent or goal of their question, rather than directly answering them. Even though the interviewer may have asked an illegal question, it may not mean their intent was to discriminate.

Filing a Complaint

If you believe you’ve experienced discrimination during a job interview, the best course of action is to file a formal complaint. The claim should highlight how you were discriminated by an employer or a union. Submit a claim to your country’s employment agency. They also usually have a local and/or city office. If you wish to file a charge along with the claim, then best to contact an attorney who specializes in labor issues.

It is reasonable to assume that all questions on an application form or in an interview are for a specific purpose and that decisions are made on the basis of the answers given. In deciding if a question is lawful, the employer must think whether the information being sought is necessary. For example, why is it important to know a person’s age, or their ability to speak Spanish? If the answer is not job-related information or further determine how a person qualifies for a position, the question is not lawful. 


Customer-centric companies like Happycar leverage Retorio to support their own talent management teams. Retorio's video-based AI was featured in TechCrunch, Spiegel, ARD, BBC and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

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Elizabeth T.

Written by Elizabeth T.

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