How to Handle Illegal Interview Questions


Interviews are stressful to say the least. Your stress levels begin to rise the night before the interview, and you don’t sleep well at all. You keep wondering what you will say, whether you will impress your potential employer and if you will get the job?

Making sure you are well dressed and not forgetting to smile and laugh at the not so funny interviewer’s jokes, only adds to your stress levels.

When an interviewer asks a question you know is illegal, you have to think fast and answer it as appropriately as you can. Avoid letting your anxiety kick in and don’t get upset or mad, relax and have confidence in yourself.

Interviewers don’t plan to ask illegal questions, but sometimes they do so unintentionally.

Five common illegal questions are:

1.       What nationality are you?

This is a common illegal question. Sometimes this question comes disguised as; you have such a pretty accent, where is it from? If you don’t care, you can tell them where you are originally from, or simply tell them where you live. “Oh! I come from the east side of the city; I’ve lived there six years; thank you for the compliment.”


2.       What religion are you?

It does not matter what religion you are to qualify for the job. This question is considered illegal and should not otherwise be asked. Unless you are seeking for work with a religious organization; it does not make sense to seek work in a Hindu temple when you are a devout Christian simply because you need a job. Then you may be disqualified on religious grounds.


3.       How old are you?

An interviewer can ask if you are over 18 years because they should not employ people considered underage. If they ask you this question, maybe they think you are too young and inexperienced for the role, or too old and maybe close to retirement for the position.

You can give an honest answer, or you can think of the reason behind the question. If you are young, you can say, “I have experience; I worked as an ER nurse for two years and headed my shift on some days.” If you are older, you can say, “I plan to work for the next seven years, and I have a lot of experience I can bring to this organization.”


4.       How much do you weigh?

In my earlier years as a flight nurse, the pilots refused to fly with any nurse who weighed over 150 pounds. They said the tiny airplanes could only carry so much weight. Those days I weighed 135 pounds and made sure I never weighed above 145 pounds if I wanted to keep my job. This reason would not fly very well in today’s world.  However, you may get asked this question, so you want to think about the reason behind the question.

Answer it with a question. “Is there a certain weight you need the employers to be?”

There is a lot of debate about whether overweight employees are covered under the disability act.

I found a great article about morbid obesity and the disability act.

In this issue, the morbidly obese employee is considered disabled because he was unable…

to walk, stand, kneel, stoop, lift and breathe. Those are major life activities and I can imagine how being that overweight could interfere with one or more of them. To the extent that the employee can accomplish these major life activities with the use of pills, crutches, or other assistive measures, it doesn’t matter. So, yes, there is a strong argument that a morbidly obese employee has a disability.”

I have to say I support wellness and living a healthy lifestyle.


5.       Are you a United States citizen?

One does not have to be a citizen to work in the United States; however, you need to be authorized to work in America; so interviewers can ask you if you are authorized to work here. You can answer this question by rephrasing it as; “do you mean to ask if I am authorized to work in the States? –Yes, I am.”


Your answer

The way you answer the illegal question depends on you.

Interviewers don’t plan on asking these questions, but they too are human and make mistakes. The problem is they can get into trouble for discrimination against age, disability, race and religion.

There are three main ways you can answer an illegal question during an interview.

You can choose to give an honest answer; politely point out that it is an illegal question and not answer it, or tactfully think about the reason behind the question and reply to the reason.

Avoid getting upset and telling the interviewer you will inform your lawyer. (Unless they are extremely illegal)


Have you been asked an illegal question during an interview? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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  1. Thanks for finally writing about; How to Handle Illegal Interview Questions | International Nurse Support; Liked it!

    • Joyce says:

      Happy you enjoyed reading the article.