How to Handle Illegal Questions


  • How old are you?
  • What is your religion?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Do you plan to have children?
  • What is your marital status?
  • What happens if your spouse gets transferred?

In many situations, it is against the law for any employer to ask your age, religion or marital status. But sometimes employers do ask. It is important to note that certain employers, like churches, can ask your religion because the position may entail promoting the particular religion.

Assuming, however, that the question is improper, what should you do? Probably the worst thing to do would be to respond angrily that the interviewer's question is illegal. The rapport you may have shared with the interviewer until that moment will be undoubtedly shattered. You can do any of the following:

  •  Reverse the question to the interviewer. Say, "Why do You ask?"
  • Answer the question directly if you want to.
  • Try returning to a discussion of qualifications. Say, 'To which element of the job description is this related?"
  • Try an attempt at humor. Age: "Put it this way. I haven't been carded lately!" Religion: "I belong to the church of hard work!"
  • Say politely that you prefer not to discuss it at this time.

Many women in their twenties and thirties are often asked in interviews whether they are planning to have children soon. If asked this question, you may say no. You can always change your mind. And, there are always unplanned pregnancies. One young woman was asked this question and she responded that children weren't in her plans for a couple of years and when and if she had children, she intended to get full-time help. That comment immediately satisfied the interviewer and she got the job.

You should never lie. However, if someone is illegally prying into your personal life, you do not owe it to them to disqualify yourself. You can be vague without lying. And, never feel obligated to say something you don't want to say something you don't want to say.