Today I spoke to a group of students graduating from an intensive sales program and we touched on illegal questions during a job interview but did not get a chance to elaborate.
Questions based on race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, birthplace and national origin are illegal questions. In my experience most interviewers ask those questions not to discriminate but to make conversation. I am still amazed how many employers do not know that these questions are illegal.
As an interested candidate these questions puts one in a pickle. There is 1 of 4 options when asked these kinds of questions:
1. You could try to divert the question and hope that the interviewer does not notice. In other words, don’t answer the question. This may not solve your problem as they may come back with the question. If you get away with it, you still need to ask yourself if the question was innocently asked or if there was something “sinister” behind it.
2. You could call the employer “on the carpet” and point out that they are asking an illegal question. This could be confrontational or you could have embarrassed the interviewer.
3. Ask the question “why do you need to know this”? Here you are trying to determine the intent behind the question. There is no delicate way to do this. If the employer wants to know if you have child care issues because you travel for work, let them know that you are aware of the job requirements and can meet them.
4. Answer the question.
These are uncomfortable situations and can be diffused with some humour. If however, there are persistent illegal questions, you need to make a decision as to whether you still want to work there. Whichever option you choose, remain professional even if you end up terminating the interview because you don’t like what you hear. Each of us has to find our comfort zone.