Human resource professionals and recruiters are usually fairly informed about the questions that they can and can’t ask applicants. Having said that, I have been hearing from graduate students about questions that they have been asked that, while maybe not be illegal, are trying to gain the same information. For example, an interviewer can’t ask, “Do you have any children?”; however he or she might ask, “Are you able to adjust your work schedule at a moment’s notice?” This question might lead the interviewee to say, “No, my childcare is only available from 7:30a.m.-6:00p.m.” In that moment, the interviewee has revealed that he/she has children. Additionally, many interviewers will talk about their own family situations, maybe sharing that they have kids or that family is important to them; or that their spouse or partner moved with them and found a job in the area. In these situations, it feels natural to want to connect and respond with a bit about your own life. You might find yourself replying with, “I have two children, too.” Or, “That’s great to hear, because my partner is also applying to jobs in the area.”

To learn more about the alternative types of interview questions an employer might ask to gain information about your personal situation, you will want to read the following article:

30 Interview Questions You Can’t Ask and 30 Sneaky, Legal Alternatives to Get the Same Info    By HR World Editors                                                                

Being informed about the types of questions that are illegal or inappropriate is half of the equation, and having options for how you respond is definitely the other. Consider any one or more of the following responses to bring the interview back on track:

  • “I really prefer to continue talking about the job and sharing ways that I am a good fit.”
  • “I feel that is a pretty personal question. If you are asking me if I am available for the hours of the job, I can assure you that I am.”
  • “I would prefer that we focus on job-related questions.”
  • “I really appreciate your desire to know a little bit more about me, but at this point I would love to just focus on the job. I suspect that if you offer me the position we will have many opportunities to share more.”

Additionally, you also have the option of answering an illegal or inappropriate question with an honest answer, but make it a CHOICE and resist answering a question to which you really don’t want to respond.


By Kay Kimball Gruder
Kay Kimball Gruder Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Programs and Services Kay Kimball Gruder