illegal interview questions two women having a job interview

Not all job applicants are aware that there are illegal interview questions recruiters are not allowed to ask in an interview. There is definitely a line that recruiters should never cross.

Not being able to differentiate between legal and prohibited questions can lead to getting exploited without even realizing it. The recruiter might use any personal information you share to your disadvantage.

Fortunately, this article will serve as your guide to distinguishing topics that are no-nos in job interviews. Without further ado, let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Illegal interview questions are queries that recruiters, interviewers, and HR personnel are prohibited from asking an applicant during their job assessment.
  • The most common types of illegal interview questions include queries about the interviewee’s address, age, race, disability, family, financial status, and sexual orientation.
  • The best way to handle illegal interview questions is to gracefully decline to answer or offer a broad and short response.

10 Types of Illegal Interview Questions

Illegal interview questions refer to any queries that have nothing to do with the job position, often targeting personal and sensitive details about the interviewee.

Normally, an interviewer or recruiter may inquire about your greatest accomplishment, biggest failure, or the things that you are passionate about to gauge your work ethic and core values.

In contrast, once they begin asking personal questions or attempting to gather information that is irrelevant to the position, that is a huge red flag in a job interview.

Below are examples of the most commonly raised illegal interview questions:


Some recruiters ask applicants about their age due to the nature of the job/work. They may need to verify that the applicant is at least 18 years of age as one of the qualifications for the position.

An example of this are positions such as barista, delivery driver, or server.

On the other hand, the Discrimination in Employment Act protects individuals aged 40 and above against prejudice and unfairness in the hiring process. Older applicants might feel pressured and discouraged once their age is brought up during the interview.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • How old are you?
  • What year were you born?
  • What is your birthdate?
Alternatively, the question, How old are you? as well as, What is your birthdate? are valid and acceptable if the job requires an applicant to be of legal age.


From a recruiter’s point of view, attendance is often the main reason why they might raise the topic of your place of residence. They want to have an idea of the distance from your house to the workplace and determine whether tardiness might be a potential issue in your performance.

You might be living in a different state, so the interviewer might have to verify whether you would consider relocating for the job.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • Where do you live?
  • Do you live alone?
  • Do you live in your own house, or are you currently renting?
  • Would you consider relocating for this position?
  • Is travel or transportation an issue for you?
  • Can you report to the office at [time] every day?


It is only acceptable for an interviewer to ask about your citizenship if they need to verify the validity of your work documents. For instance, an employer may need this information from new hires who are not US citizens to fulfill their Employment Eligibility Verification.

However, if your citizenship is not relevant to the job position, then questioning your country of origin is considered illegal.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • Where were you born?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • Where are your parents originally from?
  • Can you show us your birth certificate?
  • Are you legally permitted to work in the U.S.?
  • Can you show us proof of your citizenship?
  • Can you read, write, and communicate in English?


Employers are expected to exercise fairness in screening their applicants. Their religious affiliation and observances should not be a factor in the assessment.

When an employer refuses to hire you due to your religion, they are not only disregarding your skills and fitness for the job but also breaking the law.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • What is your religion?
  • Are you a religious person?
  • What church do you go to?
None. It is best to avoid this topic during job interviews.

Arrest Record

Some states deem it illegal to question candidates about their arrest records. The only exception is if it is necessary for the nature of the work they are applying for.

Interviews for a job in security or law enforcement entail inquiring whether an applicant has ever been in conflict with the law.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • Have you been arrested?
  • Have you ever been in conflict with the law?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
  • Have you ever been disciplined or reprimanded for violating any company policy in your previous employment?


Any form of racial discrimination in the workplace—including asking applicants about their race during interviews—should not be tolerated.

In some instances, however, an employer might need information on an applicant’s race as part of implementing affirmative action programs.

Affirmative action programs comprise policies and systems meant to unlock recruitment and job promotion opportunities for women, persons with disabilities, and qualified minorities.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • What is your race?
  • What is your nationality?
  • Tell us about your ethnic background.
  • Ideally, queries involving race should be asked once the applicant is hired, if absolutely necessary.

Family Status

At first, recruiters asking about an applicant’s family dynamics might seem like a harmless attempt to build rapport or make the candidate feel more comfortable talking about themselves.

People come from different family backgrounds, and shifting the spotlight to their family status during an interview might trigger painful personal experiences and make the applicant uncomfortable.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • Are you single or married?
  • What is your marital status?
  • Do you have children?
  • Is there any factor that may affect your work schedule?
  • Are you available to work overtime?
  • Do you have any prior commitments that may potentially affect your attendance at work?


Interviewers must avoid inquiring about applicants’ medical conditions or disabilities unless the nature of their work requires them to do so.

Specifically, intense labor might be an integral part of the job, so the recruiter needs to know beforehand if the candidate has any underlying health condition that could hinder them from fulfilling their tasks.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Do you have any medical conditions that we should know about?
  • Have you ever filed for a worker’s compensation claim?
  • The job description includes laborious work such as carrying heavy equipment and using hand and power tools. Are you able to meet the demands of the job you are applying for?

Financial Status

Asking an applicant about their financial status is borderline discriminatory. Some candidates might come from low-income households or have financial struggles.

Meanwhile, if the job entails a role in a bank or financial institution, then reviewing an applicant’s credit history is essential. Doing so protects the company’s credibility and prevents any association with any financial disputes.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • Do you have any existing debt?
  • Do you own the house you are living in?
  • Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
  • Are there any factors involving your finances that may affect your capability to meet the job expectations?

Sexual Orientation

A candidate’s sexual orientation generally has nothing to do with their suitability for the job. An individual’s ability to perform the job’s expectations should be measured based on their previous work experiences and skills.

If the company has a holistic or inclusive work culture, they may raise the topic of an applicant’s sexual orientation to determine whether the latter has a preferred name or pronoun.

Illegal Acceptable or Legal
  • What is your sexual preference?
  • Are you male or female?
  • Have you ever undergone any form of transitional surgery?
The interviewer should introduce themselves first and specify which gender they identify with, along with their preferred pronouns.

Once they have established that, they may ask the applicant to introduce themselves in the same manner.

What to do if You’re Asked an Illegal Question

two men having a job interview

Getting asked an illegal or prohibited question during a job interview will surely catch you off guard. At the same time, it is important to remain composed despite the shock and awkwardness brought on by the unexpected question.

Should you choose to answer, make your answers short and generalized. Try not to be too open or outspoken with your answers, as this may possibly compromise your application.

You can politely decline to answer the recruiter by saying something along the lines of I’d prefer not to answer the question, or I’d prefer not to share something that I deem too personal.

You can also redirect the question back to the interviewer by asking them directly about the question’s relevance to the job.

Final Thoughts

There is a fine line between professional and personal questions. It is important to learn about what’s considered an illegal interview question in 2024 and protect yourself against any attempt to breach your privacy during a job interview.

If, at any point in the interview, the recruiter raises any of the illegal interview topics discussed in this article, you are not obliged to answer. Remember, all interview questions should revolve around your skills and qualifications for the job.

Learn how to communicate clearly and professionally, whether you are open to entertaining the query or not. In doing so, you are not going to jeopardize your candidacy for the position while also securing your personal information.

Illegal Interview Questions FAQ

#1. What questions are inappropriate to ask at an interview?

The most common questions that are inappropriate to ask during an interview include anything involving the applicant’s age, address, citizenship, religion, race, arrest record, financial status, family status, sexual orientation, and disability.

#2. What is the most effective way to handle an illegal question during an interview?

The most effective way to handle illegal interview questions is to politely decline to answer them. Another effective response is to provide curt and vague answers. You can also discuss the relevance of the question to the job with the recruiter.

#3. How to avoid illegal interview questions?

There is no telling when the interviewer might ask about a personal topic, so all you can do is remain alert and tactful when handling uncomfortable and illegal interview questions.