Interviews can be nerve-wracking. You try to find a balance of professionalism and personality, while your potential employer analyzes your background and your answers to their questions.

Though you may feel as though your possible employer inquires about your personal life to find commonality and a topic of conversation, it is illegal in the United States for employers to ask some questions that may reveal personal details about your life. Should you be interviewed and asked any revealing questions, you have the right to avoid answering.

Types of inappropriate interview questions

In the United States, according to the EEOC, it is illegal for companies to discriminate against or hire based on:

  • Race: Your race does not indicate how well you may or may not perform in a position. If an employer asks you to identify your race during a phone or in-person interview, this is against the law.
  • Sex: Most of the time, your gender may be easily identified in an interview, yet on an application or in the interview itself, asking you to self-identify is against the law unless you subject to it in a form.
  • Religion: Though you may wish to receive holidays off or practice religions that celebrate on non-U.S. holidays, your employer should never ask your religious affiliation in an interview.
  • National origin: If you are from outside of the United States, your accent or attire may have an interviewer curious about where you are from. You have the right to offer this information, but an employer should never determine that identifying your national origin should be an interview question.
  • Birthplace: Interviewers’ questions about your birthplace or where you grew up may seem like an innocent inquiry, but it may result in stereotypical conclusions about your background.
  • Age: Experience matters, age does not. You should never be denied a position based on whether you seem too old or too young. Your background should speak to whether you are capable.
  • Marital/family status: Especially for newlyweds and couples with small children, unless you wish to offer the fact that you have a young family, employers should never ask your family status. Not receiving a callback may have you wondering whether you did not get the job based on your family commitments.

Notice that none of the above categories would be indicative of how well you may be able to complete work for a position. In determining whether you may be a good fit for the company, an interviewer may only look at your past work experiences, personality and availability.

Refusing to answer illegal questions

Though interviewers should know and identify appropriate questions under the EEOC, it may be possible that you come across an inexperienced or careless interviewer. Should a question make you feel uncomfortable or you know that the question is illegal to ask, you may wish to kindly respond with a refusal. Try:

  • “My age is not an issue with my performance.”
  • “My national origin should not indicate whether I would succeed in this position.”
  • “I am uncomfortable sharing my religion with you at this time.”

Your interviewer may feel sheepish as they will likely realize their question proved inappropriate. Know that if you do come across a question that would constitute as illegal, but you feel comfortable, it is not against the law to offer the requested information. The EEOC provides an equal opportunity for all potential employees to seek employment, so interviewers should be mindful in their questions, and you should be mindful of your rights as a potential employee.