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Illegal interview questions employers may not know they’re asking

Chances are you've encountered unusual — even eccentric — job interview questions, but have you ever been asked something illegal?

Chances are you've encountered unusual — even eccentric — job interview questions in your lifetime, but have you ever been asked something illegal? If you're scratching your head because you aren't sure, you're not alone. A new CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,100 hiring and HR managers across the U.S. shows that the boundaries aren't clear when it comes to what's OK to ask versus questions that are off limits from a legal perspective.


According to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder:

"It's important for both interviewer and interviewee to understand what employers do and don't have a legal right to ask in a job interview — for both parties' protection. Though their intentions may be harmless, hiring managers could unknowingly be putting themselves at risk for legal action, as a job candidate could argue that certain questions were used to discriminate against him or her."

To ask or not to ask

Even something as simple as "How old are you?" or "What is your political affiliation?" could land an employer in hot water.

Questions like these are also off-limits:

  • What is your religious affiliation?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Are you disabled?
  • Do you have children or plan to?
  • Are you in debt?
  • Do you drink or smoke socially?

Interestingly, it's perfectly legal for an employer to ask you what superpower you would like to have or if you believe in life on other planets.

Here are a few other questions that may catch you off-guard but are nonetheless acceptable:

  • If you were trapped in a blender, what would you do to get out? This question can help hiring managers assess a candidate's problem-solving skills.
  • If you did not have to work, what would you do? This question can give employers a sneak peek into candidates' lives outside of work and potentially gauge cultural fit.
  • If you were stranded on an island, which two items would you like to have with you? Employers may be trying to determine whether a candidate can overcome a tight spot with limited resources.

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