How to Answer the “Secret” Illegal interview Question

Julie Shenkman
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When you are being interviewed by a potential employer, there are several types of interview questions that are illegal for them to ask. These questions include asking how old you are, your marital status, if you have children, your religion, your political affiliations, disabilities and racial background. These questions are prohibited by both federal and state laws, because not hiring someone based on the answers to these questions is discriminatory.
Most people who work in Human Resources, or who are often in charge of interviewing candidates are well aware of this restriction, and will be sure not to ask these types of questions. But, just because they don't ask these questions doesn't mean that they don't have them. This is where the “secret” illegal question comes in, because it is often only asked in the interviewers mind. And, since it isn't expressed, you don't have a chance to respond to it.
Frequently, this comes into play when you can't hide the answers to some of these questions that can't be asked. Some examples would be, if you are physically challenged, over 50, are a member of an ethnic minority, or your resume makes it clear that you are a single mom returning to the workplace. While the interviewer can't specifically address any of these factors, they may be taking them into consideration and asking questions about it to themselves. They may wonder if your disability will limit your work abilities and if you have the physical strength to handle a long work day, or they may ask themselves if you family obligations will take valuable time away from you work responsibilities. So, when you are in this sort of situation, how is the best way to deal with it?
Basically, you have two choices. And, this is where doing a little bit of research on the company and the corporate culture can really help. Is the culture open minded and innovative? Are they a very formal company that prides themselves on being traditional? By finding out who they are as a company, you can get a better idea of what “secret” questions they may be asking and it can help you decide which way to choose.
Option 1:
Address your obvious situation directly. If you have a visible physical disability, mention it and let them know that your physical challenges don't interfere with your ability to perform the job. If you are a mom who is returning to the workplace, when the interviewer asks why you are looking for a job now, you can tell them that your children are older now and you feel confident that it is the right time to start devoting more of yourself to your career. By addressing the situation head on, you can answer the questions they may have without them having to ask. The truth is that just because they can't ask the question, doesn't mean they don't have any, and more than likely, they will come up with their own answers, so you might as well help them out. On the other hand, because the interviewer knows that these questions aren't allowed, by talking about your situation openly, you may make them feel uncomfortable, and it is possible that they weren't even concerned about the issue until you brought it up.
Option 2:
Address any of these concerns indirectly. Think about what question the interviewer may be asking themselves and offer plenty of counterbalancing information to reassure them about your abilities. The key to this option is to try to understand the intent of the question. For example, if you are over 50 and you think that the interviewer may be concerned that you aren't going to be able to pick up new skills and training easily, you can highlight skills and experience that show your willingness to learn new things and your openness to adapting to new technologies. This will reassure the interviewer that your age isn't a problem in the areas he may be doubtful about. No matter what your particular situation is, it is important to think about which of your key abilities demonstrates that you are capable of performing the job and hit them hard, leaving no doubt that you are a great candidate for the job. Be sure though, to not come across as defensive about yourself or to in any way imply that the interviewer has unspoken, discriminatory questions.
Whichever option you chose, the key is to attempt to understand what sort of ideas and preconceptions an interviewer might have about you. One way to find out is to ask yourself what sort of concerns you would have, if you were hiring for this position and were interviewing yourself. This should give you an idea of what concerns they might have and give you an idea of which of your strengths, accomplishments and abilities you should stress in order to strongly counterbalance any unspoken concerns about your ability to be a good fit for the company and the position.
Are you looking for a job in the Philadelphia area? Be sure to visit PhillyJobs.
By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer, along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.

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  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Wow! This is really a great discussion. As far as the graduation date on a resume, there's really no clear way around that. All you can do is provide it and know that the right hiring manager isn't going to care. Since you don't have control over that, you're better off focusing on what you can improve. So, if you're worried about age discrimination, proactively work against the stereotypes. In your cover letter and resume, mention things that make you sound active and up-to-date with technology. Provide links to your social networking accounts and so on. This will make you appear to be youthful and tech savvy, instead of slow and out-of-date. If they just won't hire anyone over 30, they aren't going to hire you. The goal is to sway someone on the fence.
  • Brittany G.
    Brittany G.
    There are a lot of questions about if you should include your graduation date on a job application. While some people may say you should leave it out, I disagree. Not listing your graduation date on an application sets off a red flag to most recruiters and HR reps that you're trying to hide something - which is not something that you want.
  • Ziggy
    A simple and intelilgent point, well made. Thanks!
  • Dorie
    Thanks for posting!
  • Lakiesha
    Got it! Thanks a lot for helping me out!
  • Jaundalynn
    Kudos to you! I hadn't thought of that!
  • Trisha
    I thank you for sharing your wisdom
  • Fidelia
    I'm impressed! You've managed the almost impossible.
  • Brian Cole
    Brian Cole
    @Peter Barry: The best way to answer an illegal question is "I can assure you that my  (i.e. age, religon, family, hobbies, etc.) will never interfer with my job performance."  That way, you have answered the question without specifically stating what your age, religion, etc. is.
  • Larry Lawrence
    Larry Lawrence
    The information is helpful and may be helpful in the next interveiw.
  • jentlemanjim
    The article was very good
  • Oscar V. Gestoso
    Oscar V. Gestoso
    What kind of questions can I expect for a phone interview and how should I prepare myself for it?
  • Liz J.
    Liz J.
    Good advice.  I'm slowly realizing that being over 50 is not an incentive for even being asked for an interview. 'Cause, yeah, I am over 50, AND a single Mom.  And Rhonda, you instead of your is a grammatical error so spell checker won't catch it.
  • Marvin Schilt
    Marvin Schilt
    Good Article, thank you
  • Joseph Ramos
    Joseph Ramos
    I have been out of work for sometime now, I been on several interviews but no luck. Is there a free place where I can have my resume reveiwed and go on a mock interview to see if I am doing something wrong. I am 50+ years old.
  • Howard
    One sneaky question often overlooked, and it's close to "illegal" because it gets close to asking your age, is the year you graduated from college. By doing simple math, the interviewer can figure out roughly how old you are. For someone over 50, this can be a potential chance-killing question. How do you deal with that?
  • Vada Thompson
    Vada Thompson
    You kept pinpointing the age 50. People over 50 aren't braindead.  I think a person over 50 knows the mistakes they've made and won't do them again. See the glass as half full, not half empty.  Paula  
  • Terry Whitley
    Terry Whitley
    What do you do when they ask questions like "where do you see yourself in 5 years?"  I don't want to say "retired" I'm well over 50 and I can't hide that fact in a face to face interview. But I do have a few good years and to work and lots of experience to share.
  • Lauri Davis
    Lauri Davis
    What about companies who ask for your birthdate on the application? If you don't fill it in, I think your application is not even considered.
  • Richard Ivory
    Richard Ivory
    Over 50? Forget it! The past three interviews went like this. You get a call fro HR tell you to come in for an interview and talk to Mr.X. When you get there, Mr.X is out or hiding in his office and you talk to Mr.Y who has no authority to hire anyone. You sit there and listen to him talk about the company and asks you a few questions, Says goodbye and will call you when you pass the background check. Of course, you never hear from them again. In any future interviews I will now walk out if the person to whom I am to talk with can not be bothered.
  • Melida Maldonado
    Melida Maldonado
    You mentioned what to do if you are a mother returning to the work industry, someone who is visibly disabled and an ethnic minority. However, you only mentioned ways to answer unasked questions for returning mothers to the work industry and for being visibly disabled. What are your suggestions for being an ethnic minority? I personally do not think there is a way to address hidden prejudices during an interview for this situation.
  • Robert Lheureux
    Robert Lheureux
    The over 50 question is ridiculous.  Almost every employer will ask when you graduated from school....may as well just ask candidates age!
  • john
    It's true, people do feel if you are older than 40 you are too old.  The question is, even in a poor economy, do you want to work for people that stupid?  Maybe a better job will come along.  It is very doubtful that people focused on your age, your time in the 40 yard dash and your politics are going to be successful leaders long term.
  • Frank Braxton
    Frank Braxton
    I have been in the work force for a long time.  I have seen changes over the years, I am still Young, one thing I have to agree with the author on is the interviewer has already asked those questions that will get the max out of you without little from the company other than pay.  *Important Information*- Work for yourself.  When I say this, I mean what you would look for in an employee, is the same thing you should look for while interviewing.  The rules and regulations on what to ask and not has an impact, but you must also understand you have no way of knowing or changing the interviewers thoughts.  
  • Cam Lan Tausheck
    Cam Lan Tausheck
    Very useful advice. Thank you.

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