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20+ Illegal Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

Illegal interview questions shouldn't pop up, but you need to be prepared if they do. Learn how to handle them in this guide.
20+ Illegal Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

If you’re in a job interview and you get a question that makes you so uncomfortable that you’re not sure if it’s even legal… chances are — it’s not.

There’s a bunch of illegal questions recruiters are not allowed to ask you. The quicker you’re able to recognize them, the better you’ll learn how to answer or deflect them.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What is considered an illegal interview question
  • Examples of illegal interview questions
  • How to answer these questions (and whether or not to answer them at all)
  • What questions not to ask if you’re a recruiter

What Are Illegal Interview Questions?

Illegal job questions are questions that have nothing to do with your skills and ability to do the job. They’re usually related to your personal life and refer to sensitive, personal information.

If a topic has nothing to do with your ability to work in a certain position, and there’s no need for a potential employer to know that information, the question is likely illegal.

Similarly, if you think your answer to a certain question could be a basis for discrimination, the question probably is illegal.

US EEOC details illegal questions companies are not allowed to ask. Certain laws and regulations prevent age discrimination in the hiring process, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans employment discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, and sex. Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against. Look into your state laws as well, as laws might vary from state to state.

As you can see, there are a lot of laws and regulations that protect you as a job seeker. It’s important that you get informed, and protect your rights and privacy in a job interview. Make this a part of your regular interview preparation routine.

By the way, if you need help with answering other common interview questions, try our free course!

Illegal interview questions - Big Interview

Categories of Illegal Interview Questions

The most common illegal interview questions are those related to:

  • Race and color
  • Religion
  • Sex and gender
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Disabilities
  • Genetic information
  • Political views
  • Marital and familial status
  • Height and weight
  • Military service
  • Financial status, home ownership, and debt
  • Membership in organizations

Examples of Illegal Interview Questions

Race, color, national origin

These questions inquire about a candidate’s race, color, or national origin directly, and could be discriminatory. These topics have nothing to do with a person’s experience, skills, and ability to be successful in a role. Bear in mind, though, that as an applicant, you have to have your paperwork legal.

Illegal questions:

  • What is your race or ethnicity?
  • What color is your skin?
  • Where were you born?
  • Is English your first language?
  • Can you tell me a bit about your cultural background?
  • What is your immigration status?
  • Do your parents or family members come from another country?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?

However, that there are certain legal questions recruiters and hiring managers might ask you. They are not as direct as the illegal questions listed above, but they will reveal pretty much the same thing.

Legal questions:

  • Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?
  • What languages do you speak?
  • If you get hired, can you show us your proof of citizenship?

Pro tip: Unless recruiters ask you these questions, don’t bring them up yourself. They might contribute to unconscious bias, that is, the recruiter might unconsciously discriminate against you based on what you say.


If you get one of the questions below, there’s a possibility that religious organizations or people of certain religions might discriminate against you (or give you an advantage over others, which is equally wrong) based on your religion.

Illegal questions:

  • What is your religious affiliation?
  • Do you practice a particular religion?
  • Do you attend religious services regularly?
  • Are you planning to take time off for religious observances?
  • Will your religious beliefs affect your ability to perform the job?

Legal question:

  • Will you be able to work on the weekends?

Although seemingly unrelated to the questions above, your answer to this question might give recruiters some clue about your religious practices. Asking this question is legal because a position might require working during weekends. Additionally, it’s phrased so that it’s focused more on the position and the way work is organized than on you as an individual.

Bear in mind, though, that the questions from the illegal group might be considered legal if you’re interviewing for religious institutions, like a paid position in a church or religious school.

Sex and gender

Recruiters who ask about these topics are doing so illegally and could be discriminating against you.

Illegal questions:

  • What is your gender?
  • Are you male or female?
  • Do you identify as transgender?
  • What are your preferred pronouns?
  • Have you undergone any gender transition processes?

Legal questions:

In rare cases, recruiters might ask these questions if they’re related to a job qualification. In such cases, it’s considered legal. It’s called bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).


There really is no reason for a recruiter to know your age (unless you’re underage, duh).

And if you’re over 40, you’re protected by The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, as people above this age limit tend to have a harder time finding a job.

Here are some illegal age-related questions recruiters are not allowed to ask you.

Illegal questions:

  • How old are you?
  • When were you born?
  • What year did you graduate from high school?

Legal questions:

  • Are you at least 18 years old?

For a lot of positions, you’re legally required to be older than 18 in order to fill them. In these cases, this question is legit.

✅ If you’re underage, you might hear these questions regularly and that’s normal and legal. There are numerous types of businesses where people between the ages of 14 and 18 are allowed to work — but each business has a different age requirement. For example, you can work at some grocery stores if you’re at least 14, but for a coffee shop, you might need to be at least 16.

Additionally, if you’re under 18, you’re only allowed to work a limited schedule. If you fail to inform an employer you’re underage, both of you could get into trouble.


Questions about disabilities or medical conditions are illegal to ask in an interview.

Illegal questions:

  • Are you disabled?
  • How many sick days did you take at your previous job due to a disability?
  • Have you ever been hospitalized for a mental health condition?
  • Have you ever filed a workers’ compensation claim?

On the other hand, the prospective employer has the right to make sure you’ll be able to do your job properly. This is why it’s legal for them to ask you the question below.

Legal questions:

  • Are you able to perform all the duties of this position?

This question inquires about your skills, abilities, and knowledge in order to perform the duties of a certain job. But it can also reveal additional information, like, “are you able to lift up to 50 lbs” or “are you able to work on the weekends” without recruiters having to ask directly.

Political views

Generally, recruiters are advised not to ask about your political views, as they won’t interfere with how you do your job in the majority of the cases.

Illegal questions:

  • How would you describe your political ideology?
  • Are you involved in politics outside of voting?
  • What political issues do you feel strongly about?

However, there are exceptions where information about your political stances will be necessary.

Pro tip: You’ll be asked about your political stances if you’re applying for a job in political organizations or positions that involve advocacy work. But even in such cases, it’s advisable that you consult a legal expert to make sure that you can speak about these topics (and to which extent).

In cases like these, the questions above might be legal to ask, as your answers will show recruiters if you’re aligned with the organization’s values.

Marital and familial status

Employers are not allowed to ask you about your relationship status, questions about children/family, and similar.

Illegal questions:

  • What’s your marital status?
  • Do you have any children?
  • Are you in a relationship?
  • Do you plan on starting a family any time soon?

However, it’s legal to ask the questions below which are tied to your familial status indirectly, but which can tell recruiters what they need to know.

Legal questions:

  • Can you perform all the duties this position requires?
  • Are you open to relocation or travel as part of this role?
  • Are you open to working overtime when necessary?

Height and weight

Your appearance has nothing to do with your skills and the ability to get the job done. Unless these factors are related to the position, questions about them are illegal.

Illegal questions:

  • How tall are you?
  • How much do you weigh?

If your height and weight are related and necessary for a position (if you’re a model, for example), then asking these questions is considered legal.

Remember Abercrombie and Hollister “model” employees? Not exactly legal. If you’re curious, Abercrombie’s look policy backfired big time.

Military service

While it’s not illegal to ask them, questions about military service and discharge are generally not recommended in a job interview. EEO laws don’t prohibit recruiters from asking you about military discharge, but this is considered private information.

Questions recruiters shouldn’t be asking:

  • Why were you discharged from the military?
  • Can you provide your dates of employment in the military?

In rare cases, like when the position requires you to obtain a security clearance, you can expect these questions and they’re considered legal.

Financial status, home ownership, and debt

These types of questions are part of background checks many recruiters do during the hiring process. While background checks are legal, using obtained information to discriminate against groups of people or individuals based on age, religion, medical conditions, and similar, is illegal.

Illegal questions to ask:

  • Do you own or rent a home/flat?
  • Have you ever declared bankruptcy?
  • How much debt do you have?
  • What is your credit score?

Membership in organizations

Any non-professional organization you’re a member of is none of the prospective company’s business. As such, they shouldn’t be asking about those. If they do, it’s likely they’re trying to obtain information about your religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, and similar.

Illegal questions to ask:

  • Do you belong to any religious or faith-based organizations?
  • Are you affiliated with any social or recreational clubs?
  • Do you participate in any activist or advocacy groups?
  • Are you a member of any ethnic or racial minority organizations?
  • Are you part of any professional associations that indicate a specific protected characteristic (e.g., gender, disability)?
  • Do you have any affiliations with LGBTQ+ organizations?

On the other hand, recruiters and potential employers have the right to ask about your membership in professional organizations, as those are connected to your expertise.

Legal questions to ask:

  • Are you a member of a professional organization?
  • What do you like to do outside of work?

Hearing any of these questions should raise red flags. If, along the road, you decide you want to cancel an interview, you’re free to do it. And here’s 3 reasons to decline a job offer:

How to Answer Illegal Interview Questions as a Candidate

Recognize the question as illegal

First things first: recognize an illegal question and know that you don’t have to answer it directly.

As we already said, the questions have nothing to do with your experience, skills, and past performance, and they won’t reveal anything that should be important to the potential employer.

Weigh your options

It’s important to gauge the relevancy of the question so that you know when to ignore the question (which might make you look arrogant or defensive), politely change the topic (recommended approach), or actually answer it (sometimes a direct answer could jeopardize your chances of landing that job).

Here’s a few useful tricks:

  • Gracefully avoid the question and steer the conversation elsewhere.
  • Keep your answers short, broad, and general.
  • Redirect a question to your interviewer.
  • Ask the interviewer why the question is relevant to your job.

✅ For example, if a recruiter asks you if you have kids, you could point to a photo in the frame and say “Well, it looks like you do. Is that your son in the picture?”.

Or change the topic — you can try saying something like “I know this is a family-friendly place to work at, but I’m interested in the everyday duties of this position — it seems like a good fit for my experience and skills. Can you tell me more about it?”

Sometimes, diplomatic answers like this will be more than enough — a recruiter will take the hint and drop the question. Plus, you’ll avoid saying unpleasant things such as “I don’t really want to talk about it” or “That’s illegal to ask.”

Report the incident

If you feel like you’ve been discriminated against or asked illegal questions and judged by the answers, you can report the incident to the relevant authorities.

In that case, you should document the incident, familiarize yourself with anti-discrimination laws, and reach out to the relevant authority responsible for handling workplace discrimination complaints (this can be the HR department of the prospective company, an equal employment opportunity commission, or a local labor board). They’ll be able to further advise you on additional steps you can take to resolve the issue.

Want to report an incident but you feel bad? Have confidence you’re doing the right thing. By reporting an incident, you’re protecting your rights, but also contributing to an equal, non-biased interview process and inclusive hiring practices for their future employees.

If you feel like an organization or recruiter discriminated against you, you can contact the EEOC: www.eeoc.gov, or by calling 800-669-4000 (voice) or 800-669-6820 (TTY).

How to Deal with Illegal Interview Questions as a Recruiter

Evaluate and update interview questions

Regularly review and update your interview question bank in order to remove illegal questions you can’t ask in an interview because they’re potentially discriminatory, irrelevant, or outdated.

Focus on behavioral questions as they’ll give you the opportunity to check candidates’ skills, problem-solving abilities, and experience without delving into discriminatory areas.

Train hiring staff about illegal questions and discrimination laws

Work with your team (and legal advisors) to make sure your question bank aligns with the best practices and legal requirements. Dedicate time to training about legal practices and have clear guidelines on how to approach the interview process and certain questions.

Discrimination laws can vary depending on your country or region, so make sure you’re in the loop.

Foster an inclusive and fair interviewing environment

Strive to create inclusive and fair interviewing processes that treat all candidates equally. Keeping detailed records of each interview (including questions asked and why you asked them) might help you make sure all your questions are work-related and non-discriminatory.

Additionally, creating scorecards will help you establish job-related criteria and judge each candidate based on that.

Structuring interview questions around candidates’ skills and experience will help you assess their abilities and decrease (often unconscious) bias, thus creating an inclusive interview process that values all candidates equally.

And you can always organize staff training sessions on these topics to ensure they’re up-to-date with the latest practices that will ensure an inclusive, fair interviewing process.

Summary of the Main Points

  • Illegal questions are all questions about your personal life and things that don’t have any impact on your professional experience and skills.
  • These questions are usually related to race and color, religion, sex and gender, national origin, age, disabilities, political views, marital status, military service, memberships in organizations, and financial status.
  • In a job interview, it’s important to recognize the question as illegal so that you know how to approach it.
  • If you’re a candidate, you can directly answer illegal questions (which might hurt your chances of landing a job), you can straight-up refuse to answer them (which might make you look defensive and create an awkward situation), or you can choose to gracefully redirect the conversation in another direction while giving a vague and general answer (recommended).
  • If you’re an employer, make sure you evaluate and update your question bank regularly. Train hiring staff about illegal questions to avoid unpleasant situations and foster an inclusive environment with equal opportunities for all candidates.


Need a hand? There’s 3 ways we can help you:

  1. Tired of interviewing and not landing the job? Discover actionable lessons and interview practice here (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users).
  2. Learn how to talk about conflict resolution at work.
  3. Discover how to talk about your weaknesses.


Can I lie when answering an illegal question?

You shouldn’t do it. A much better approach would be to reframe the question and politely steer the conversation in the direction of your skills. If you judge that a recruiter asked you an illegal question out of pure curiosity, and it’s not too intrusive of your intimacy, you can consider answering. Alternatively, if you’re uncomfortable with the question, you can refuse to answer it and contact an employment attorney and seek legal advice.

What if I’m asked an illegal question by an employer I’d really love to work for?

While you might be eager to please the employer and answer the question, we advise taking a step back and assessing the situation. Decide whether you want to answer the question, deflect it, or politely decline to respond. In this particular case, deflecting the conversation to a job-related topic is perhaps the best option. Finally, no matter your choice, try to remain calm and professional and avoid showing signs of surprise or discomfort.

Are there questions a candidate cannot legally ask after an interview?

Yes, it works in both directions. Just as a recruiter shouldn’t ask about your age, religion, race, financial status, and similar — you shouldn’t ask them about the same topics. Similarly, you shouldn’t ask about the interviewing process and other candidates, if there’s a candidate they prefer over anybody else, or confidential company information.

Do I have to report being asked an illegal interview question?

You don’t unless you want to. There are no legal obligations for you to report being asked illegal interview questions. If you think it would be beneficial to address it, you can — it depends on the severity of the accident, the meaning behind it, and your personal preferences. If you decide to report it, you can talk to an employment attorney who could help and propose the next steps.

I responded to an interview question I now know is illegal. What should I do?

Try to familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations so that you know what to do next time you get an illegal question. Then reflect on your response to figure out if you accidentally said something that could lead an employer to discriminate against you. If you’re uncomfortable, perhaps you can get in touch and clarify or correct misunderstandings. Finally, depending on the situation and how you feel about it, you can choose to react and contact someone, either the HR department of a company, or a legal advisor, career coach, and similar. Depending on the context, they will be able to help you get over it and address it in the best way possible.

Are there any questions an employer cannot ask me once I’m hired?

Yes. Even after you’re hired, your employer is not allowed to ask you questions about your health and medical history, family, sexual orientation and gender identity, financial or credit history, religious beliefs, criminal history, and similar.

After a job interview, I received a survey that asks about my ethnicity, gender, and marital status. Should I answer?

You have a choice whether or not to answer. If you feel comfortable sharing about these topics, then go ahead, but try to be general and concise. In this case, before you answer, you need to be able to assess the purpose of this survey and how the data you provide will be protected and handled. You should also ask for proof of legal basis based on which they’re asking you to fill in the survey (bear in mind they’re very common so it shouldn’t scare you off — plus most of them are voluntary and anonymous). If you feel uncomfortable and don’t want to answer these questions, then skip them and provide general feedback without revealing personal information.

I’m an employer and I don’t want people of certain political views at my company. How do I weed them out?

Unless you’re a political organization, “weeding out” people of different political views is considered discriminatory and illegal. You should make hiring decisions based exclusively on job-related criteria and the candidate’s experience and skills. Their political views, unless directly related to the position or organization, should not be a criterion based on which you reach a decision.

Maja Stojanovic
A writer specialized in interview preparation and resume building. Spent 5+ years tirelessly seeking a meaningful, rewarding job. Which is exactly what I’ll help you find.

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