How to Answer the “Secret” Illegal interview Question

Julie Shenkman
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When you are being interviewed by a potential employer, there are several types of interview questions that are illegal for them to ask. These questions include asking how old you are, your marital status, if you have children, your religion, your political affiliations, disabilities and racial background. These questions are prohibited by both federal and state laws, because not hiring someone based on the answers to these questions is discriminatory.
Most people who work in Human Resources, or who are often in charge of interviewing candidates are well aware of this restriction, and will be sure not to ask these types of questions. But, just because they don't ask these questions doesn't mean that they don't have them. This is where the “secret” illegal question comes in, because it is often only asked in the interviewers mind. And, since it isn't expressed, you don't have a chance to respond to it.
Frequently, this comes into play when you can't hide the answers to some of these questions that can't be asked. Some examples would be, if you are physically challenged, over 50, are a member of an ethnic minority, or your resume makes it clear that you are a single mom returning to the workplace. While the interviewer can't specifically address any of these factors, they may be taking them into consideration and asking questions about it to themselves. They may wonder if your disability will limit your work abilities and if you have the physical strength to handle a long work day, or they may ask themselves if you family obligations will take valuable time away from you work responsibilities. So, when you are in this sort of situation, how is the best way to deal with it?
Basically, you have two choices. And, this is where doing a little bit of research on the company and the corporate culture can really help. Is the culture open minded and innovative? Are they a very formal company that prides themselves on being traditional? By finding out who they are as a company, you can get a better idea of what “secret” questions they may be asking and it can help you decide which way to choose.
Option 1:
Address your obvious situation directly. If you have a visible physical disability, mention it and let them know that your physical challenges don't interfere with your ability to perform the job. If you are a mom who is returning to the workplace, when the interviewer asks why you are looking for a job now, you can tell them that your children are older now and you feel confident that it is the right time to start devoting more of yourself to your career. By addressing the situation head on, you can answer the questions they may have without them having to ask. The truth is that just because they can't ask the question, doesn't mean they don't have any, and more than likely, they will come up with their own answers, so you might as well help them out. On the other hand, because the interviewer knows that these questions aren't allowed, by talking about your situation openly, you may make them feel uncomfortable, and it is possible that they weren't even concerned about the issue until you brought it up.
Option 2:
Address any of these concerns indirectly. Think about what question the interviewer may be asking themselves and offer plenty of counterbalancing information to reassure them about your abilities. The key to this option is to try to understand the intent of the question. For example, if you are over 50 and you think that the interviewer may be concerned that you aren't going to be able to pick up new skills and training easily, you can highlight skills and experience that show your willingness to learn new things and your openness to adapting to new technologies. This will reassure the interviewer that your age isn't a problem in the areas he may be doubtful about. No matter what your particular situation is, it is important to think about which of your key abilities demonstrates that you are capable of performing the job and hit them hard, leaving no doubt that you are a great candidate for the job. Be sure though, to not come across as defensive about yourself or to in any way imply that the interviewer has unspoken, discriminatory questions.
Whichever option you chose, the key is to attempt to understand what sort of ideas and preconceptions an interviewer might have about you. One way to find out is to ask yourself what sort of concerns you would have, if you were hiring for this position and were interviewing yourself. This should give you an idea of what concerns they might have and give you an idea of which of your strengths, accomplishments and abilities you should stress in order to strongly counterbalance any unspoken concerns about your ability to be a good fit for the company and the position.
Are you looking for a job in the Philadelphia area? Be sure to visit PhillyJobs.
By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer, along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.

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  • John
    I often am handed a questionaire about my gender, and race. It clearly states that these answers are not required, but I feel like I am being pushed to answer them. And if I don't, they may think that I am trying to hide something. Any recommendations?
  • Skip
    Every application that I have filled out has asked for my birthdate including the year.  Also the year that I graduated high school and college and the years of my employment.  I don't see any way to avoid answering these questions.
  • Nicole Wiley
    Nicole Wiley
    I haven't experienced this with the few face to face interviews I have had, but those questions are asked on online applications and I always answer them.  I guess this is why I haven't experienced a lot of face to face interviews
  • David Derose
    David Derose
    When you fill out an application, many times they ask you for your date of birth. How do you get around that?
  • susan munro
    susan munro
    This is very useful information, thanks!
  • Cherry Wood
    Cherry Wood
    This is a wonderful bit of advice.  However, I have recently run into a situation where I was hired and fired in one day! Then, instead of paying me from W2s, they wrote me a personal check to cover the day I worked. I have a question and I have studied Medical Law and Ethics.  I was asked what meds' I am on.  I can understand this if I am going to be operating heavy machinery etc.  However, this was an office job and I felt like it was none of their business.  I believe HIPAA passed a law against this in 2001??  What was I going to do, Get my hand chopped off in a fax machine???  I was not comfortable and felt violated by this question, and felt my medication and problems were nobodies business but my doctor and who I signed papers for permission to share with. I did share a few, but not the "as needed" meds.  They hired me, but did a background check after-the-fact!! Then let me go.  Is this question really legal?  Do I really have to tell an employer what meds' I am on??  What should I say if this comes up in another interview?? Thank you
  • Kent Kavasch
    Kent Kavasch
    Something that's irritating to me is the question on job applications, printed or online that ask when you earned your degree. Isn't that just a sneaky way to find out your age? Asking an applicant's age is illegal. It should be just what degree you have and where you earned it.
  • pura
    It was really helpful. This makes a lot of sense, never even thought about it that way. Thanks.
  • Tom Peters
    Tom Peters
    Most companies don't need to ask your age because they get around it on the on-line application when they ask "what year did you graduate?"  Its easy enough to figure out from there.
  • Peter Barry
    Peter Barry
    Good information. How about what to do when they outright ask the illegal questions? It seems if you point out that it's an illegal question, you have answered incorrectly.
  • Rhonda
    Wonderful information, but you need to do a spell check....twice, the word 'you' was used instead of 'your'.
  • brianna
    can  we work at target  because i wnat to find a  job i do h ave a have a job?
  • Cherian J.
    Cherian J.
    Yes this is a very good information.I am over 50 and a new immigrant and finding it very difficult to land a job.Thank you very much for the information.
  • manuel j.
    manuel j.
    Thanks for the information,I was unaware of this questions that the recruiter or interbiuwer may ask,special at this time when the job openings are scarse this situation is more ovious,in my recnt interviews they have askme that question but i have't noticed it thanks again.

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