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27 ILLEGAL Interview Questions to Know Before Your PhD Job Interview

Your first real interview as a PhD graduate can be nerve-wracking. You've been out of this game for 5-6 years now. You hope you can handle their technical questions and recall good examples to illustrate how you handle tough situations. 

But what if they ask you a question that makes you uncomfortable? Did you know that some questions are illegal?

This list gives 27 common questions that interviewers should know are illegal to ask. We want you to know which questions are illegal so you can handle them appropriately. 

These are the general topics that are illegal to ask in interviews:

  • Disability
  • Race, Color, or National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation
  • Age or Genetic Information
  • Pregnancy status
  • Marital Status or number of children
  • Citizenship

How to handle an illegal interview question:

Don't assume malicious intent immediately if you hear one of these. They might not be well-trained in interviewing and could genuinely be curious to learn more about you and your personality. 

Some managers however are after this information because they want to maintain a certain company culture or camaraderie. They may have intrinsic bias that suggests certain answers will invalidate you for that job function. 

It's not always clear if they are naive or malicious.

Your best go-to answer if you are in doubt is:

"I believe that is an illegal interview question and I prefer not to answer."

Challenging an interviewer on the validity of one of their questions is likely to create an awkward situation. Expect that to happen so you can maintain your focus and a clear mind for the remainder of the interview. 

It may even hurt your chances of landing that job if it makes the interviewer uncomfortable. That's fine. If they can't handle you challenging them, you don't want to work for them. 

Below are 27 illegal interview questions, separated by category, that you should review before heading to your next job interview. 

Nationality

Are you a U.S. citizen? Do you have a Green Card

The legal version they may ask: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.? Will you now or in the future require visa sponsorship? Is there anything that would prohibit you from starting work within xx weeks?

What is your native language?

The legal version they may ask: What languages do you read, speak or write fluently?

How long have you lived here?

The legal version they may ask: What is your current address and phone number? Do you have any alternative locations where you can be reached?

Are your parents or spouse citizens of the US? Are you, your parents or your spouse naturalized or native-born US citizens?

The legal version they may ask:  If you are not a US citizen, do you have the legal right to remain permanently in the US? Are you able to provide proof of employment eligibility upon hire?

Religion

What religion do you practice? Do you attend Church?

The legal version they may ask: What days are you available to work?

Which religious holidays do you observe?

The legal version they may ask: Are you able to work with our required schedule?

Do you belong to a club or social organization?

The legal version they may ask: Are you a member of a professional or trade group that is relevant to our industry?

Age

How old are you?

The legal version they may ask: Are you over the age of 18?

How much longer do you plan to work before you retire?

The legal version they may ask: What are your long-term career goals?

Marital and Family Status

Is this your maiden name?

The legal version they may ask: Have you worked or earned a degree under another name?

Do you have or plan to have children?

The legal version they may ask: Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel? What days can you work? What hours can you work?

Can you get a babysitter on short notice for overtime or travel?

The legal version they may ask: You'll be required to travel or work overtime on short notice. Is this a problem for you?

How old are your children?

The legal version they may ask: This position requires dependable job attendance and frequent last minute overtime. Can you meet these requirements?

What do your parents do for a living?

The legal version they may ask: Tell me how you became interested in the "x" industry.

If you get pregnant, will you continue to work, and will you come back after maternity leave?

The legal version they may ask: What are your long-term career goals?

Are you married, divorced, separated, engaged, widowed, etc?

The legal version they may ask: What drew you to look for jobs in this area?

Gender

We've always had a man/woman do this job. How do you think you will stack up?

The legal version they may ask: What do you have to offer our company?

How do you feel about supervising men/women?

The legal version they may ask: Tell me about your previous experience managing teams?

Health and Physical Abilities

Do you smoke or drink?

The legal version they may ask: In the past, have you been disciplined for violating company policies forbidding the use of alcohol or tobacco products?

How many sick days did you take last year?

The legal version they may ask: How many days of work did you miss last year?

Do you have any disabilities? How does your condition affect your abilities?

The legal version they may ask: Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position?

Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations?

The legal version they may ask: Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?

Miscellaneous

How far is your commute?

The legal version they may ask: Are you able to start work at 8 a.m.?

Do you live nearby?

The legal version they may ask: Are you willing to relocate?

Have you ever been arrested?

The legal version they may ask: Have you ever been convicted of "x" (fraud, theft and so on)?

Were you honorably discharged from the military?

The legal version they may ask: Tell me how your experience in the military can benefit the company.

Are you a member of the National Guard or Reserves?

The legal version they may ask: Do you have any upcoming events that would require extensive time away from work?

 

Preparing for a big interview?

Make sure to also review our list of 8 PhD job interview questions that aren't what they seem so you know what the interviewers are REALLY asking. 

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