Illegal Interview Questions to Watch Out For and How to Handle Them

Anticipating potential questions and preparing punchy, knowledgeable answers is a major part of interview preparation. What happens though, when you are asked an illegal interview question that shouldn’t come up?

A recent poll of American companies showed that 1 in 5 employers had unknowingly asked an illegal question at an interview. UK companies often also unwittingly cross the illegal question line. When legal firm Thomas Mansfield recently surveyed student job seekers, illegal questions they were asked included, “Are you planning to have children soon?” and “Do you get PMT?” Here we look at the main categories of illegal questions which may arise and how to come up with a response which doesn’t derail your job application.

When legal firm Thomas Mansfield recently surveyed student job seekers, illegal questions they were asked included, “Are you planning to have children soon?” and “Do you get PMT?” Here we look at the main categories of illegal questions which may arise and how to come up with a response which doesn’t derail your job application.

Illegal Interview Questions What to Do

Types of illegal question

The main piece of legislation which provides protection against illegal questions is the Equality Act 2010 and includes the following area:

Ethnicity and religion

Interviewers are not permitted to ask candidates about any aspect of their religion or ethnicity. This includes direct questions about religion practiced or indirect enquiries about membership of organisations which by answering may indicate a religious affiliation. Candidates should not be asked about the country of birth and whether they are a UK citizen. It is permissible for the employer to request information about authorisation to work in the UK.

Marital status, sexuality, dependents

It is never okay to be asked whether you are married or living with a partner. Whether you have children or other dependants should also not be a subject explored within an interview situation. Questions about sexual preference are equally unacceptable.

Age

Although being asked how old you are may seem like a straightforward question, interviewers cannot ask it. It is okay for the employer to ensure that a candidate is legally old enough to work for the organisation – this is particularly important where there is a legal age requirement associated with the job. To protect older workers, it is not permissible to be asked how long you plan to work before retiring.

Disability and illness

This is an area which can be particularly tricky. Employers are well within their rights to ask you to explain a significant period of absence associated with a previous job. It is not however acceptable to ask directly about illnesses or disabilities. Lifestyle questions on issues such as weight, alcohol consumption or drug usage should also be avoided.

Criminal convictions

If you have been subject to a recent conviction then it is your responsibility to disclose this to a potential employer. If however the conviction is spent (usually after five years) then it is unlawful for the interviewer to ask about it. This is a somewhat grey area as there are categories of jobs where all convictions including spent must be disclosed.

How to handle illegal questions

Tact and diplomacy are the essential ingredients of developing a response to an illegal question. If the interviewer has inadvertently asked an illegal question and you highlight this fact then it may negatively impact your prospects of getting the job.

Remain calm and never take a hostile approach. If you feel comfortable doing so then answer the question briefly but use your response to steer the discussion onto another subject.

Although it is rare, some interviewers will intentionally ask repeated illegal questions. If you are unlucky enough to encounter an employer like this refuse to answer and bring the interview to a close – by that stage you will have most likely realised you would not want to work for them anyway.


If you’re curious to learn more about illegal interview questions check out this helpful guide from the experts at Interview Skills Consulting

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