Illegal Job Interview Questions

Various federal, state, and local laws regulate the questions a prospective employer can ask you. An employer’s questions–on the job application, in the interview, or during the testing process–must be related to the job for which you are applying. For the employer, the focus must be:

“What do I need to know to decide whether or not this person can perform the functions of this job?”

Options for Answering an Illegal Question
You are free to answer the question. If you choose to do so, realize that you are giving information that is not job-related. You could harm your candidacy by giving the “wrong” answer. You can refuse to answer the question. By selecting this option, you’ll be within your rights, but you’re also running the risk of coming off as uncooperative or confrontational–hardly the words an employer would use to describe the “ideal” candidate.

Your third option is to examine the intent behind the question and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job. For instance, if the interviewer asks, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” or “What country are you from?,” you’ve been asked an illegal question. Instead of answering the question directly, you could respond, “I am authorized to work in the United States.” Or, if your interviewer asks, “Who is going to take care of your children when you have to travel?” you might answer, “I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires.”

Subject Illegal Questions Legal Questions
National Origin/
Citizenship Are you a U.S. citizen?

Where were you/your parents born?

What is your “native tongue?” Are you authorized to work in the United States?

What languages do you read, speak or write fluently? (This question is okay, as long as this ability is relevant to the performance of the job.)
Age How old are you?

When did you graduate from college?

What is your birthday? Are you over the age of 18?
Family Status What’s your marital status?

Who do you live with?

Do you plan to have a family? When?

How many kids do you have?

What are your child care arrangements? Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?

Travel is an important part of the job. Would you be willing to travel as needed by the job (This question is okay, as long ALL applicants for the job are asked it.)

This job requires overtime occasionally. Would you be able and willing to work overtime as necessary? (Again, this question okay as long as ALL applicants for the job are asked it.)
Affiliations To what clubs or social organizations do you belong? Do you belong to any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job?
Personal How tall are you?

How much do you weigh? Are you able to lift a 50-pound weight and carry it 100 yards, as that is part of the job? (Questions about height and weight are not acceptable unless minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job.)
Disabilities Do you have any disabilities?

Please complete the following medical history.

Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? If yes, list and give dates.

What was the date of your last physical exam?

How’s your family’s health?

When did you lose your eyesight? Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations? (This question is okay if the interviewer thoroughly described the job.)

NOTE: As part of the hiring process, after a job offer has been made you will be required to undergo a medical exam. Exam results must be kept strictly confidential, except medical/safety personnel may be informed if emergency medical treatment is required, and supervisors may be informed about necessary job accommodations, based on the exam results.
Arrest Record Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been convicted of _____? (The crime should be reasonably related to the performance of the job in question.
Military If you’ve been in the military, were you honorably discharged? In what branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?


Making a Good Impression on Job Interviews

Here’s what you should keep in mind the day of the interview and immediately afterward.

Before the Interview
* Be on time. Being on time (or early) is usually interpreted by the interviewer as evidence of your commitment, dependability, and professionalism.
* Be positive and try to make others feel comfortable. Show openness by leaning into a greeting with a firm handshake and smile. Don’t make negative comments about current or former employers.
* Relax. Think of the interview as a conversation, not an interrogation. And remember, the interviewer is just as nervous about making a good impression on you.

During the Interview
* Show self-confidence. Make eye contact with the interviewer and answer his questions in a clear voice. Work to establish a rapport with the interviewer.
* Remember to listen. Communication is a two-way street. If you are talking too much, you will probably miss cues concerning what the interviewer feels is important.
* Reflect before answering a difficult question. If you are unsure how to answer a question, you might reply with another question. For example, if the interviewer asks you what salary you expect, try answering by saying “That is a good question. What are you planning to pay your best candidate?”
* When it is your turn, ask the questions you have prepared in advance. These should cover any information about the company and job position you could not find in your own research.
* Do not ask questions that raise red flags. Ask, “Is relocation a requirement?”, and the interviewer may assume that you do not want to relocate at all. Too many questions about vacation may cause the interviewer to think you are more interested in taking time off than helping the company. Make sure the interviewer understands why you are asking these questions.
* Show you want the job. Display your initiative by talking about what functions you could perform that would benefit the organization, and by giving specific details of how you have helped past employers. You might also ask about specific details of the job position, such as functions, responsibilities, who you would work with, and who you would report to.
* Avoid negative body language. An interviewer wants to see how well you react under pressure. Avoid these signs of nervousness and tension:
* Frequently touching your mouth
* Faking a cough to think about the answer to a question
* Gnawing on your lip
* Tight or forced smiles
* Swinging your foot or leg
* Folding or crossing your arms
* Slouching
* Avoiding eye contact
* Picking at invisible bits of lint

After the Interview
* End the interview with a handshake and thank the interviewer for his or her time. Reiterate your interest in the position and your qualifications. Ask if you can telephone in a few days to check on the status of your application. If they offer to contact you, politely ask when you should expect the call.
* Send a “Thanks for the Interview” note. After the interview, send a brief thank-you note. Try to time it so it arrives before the hiring decision will be made. It will serve as a reminder to the interviewer concerning your appropriateness for the position, so feel free to mention any topics discussed during your interview. If the job contact was made through the Internet or e-mail, send an e-mail thank-you note immediately after the interview, then mail a second letter by post timed to arrive the week before the hiring decision will be made.
* Follow up with a phone call if you are not contacted within a week of when the interviewer indicated you would be.

Common Job Interview Questions

By rehearsing interview questions, you’ll become more familiar with your own qualifications and will be well prepared to demonstrate how you can benefit an employer. Some examples: 

* “Tell me about yourself.”
Make a short, organized statement of your education and professional achievements and professional goals. Then, briefly describe your qualifications for the job and the contributions you could make to the organization.

* “Why do you want to work here?” or “What about our company interests you?”
Few questions are more important than these, so it is important to answer them clearly and with enthusiasm. Show the interviewer your interest in the company. Share what you learned about the job, the company and the industry through your own research. Talk about how your professional skills will benefit the company. Unless you work in sales, your answer should never be simply: “money.” The interviewer will wonder if you really care about the job.

* “Why did you leave your last job?”
The interviewer may want to know if you had any problems on your last job. If you did not have any problems, simply give a reason, such as: relocated away from job; company went out of business; laid off; temporary job; no possibility of advancement; wanted a job better suited to your skills.

If you did have problems, be honest. Show that you can accept responsibility and learn from your mistakes. You should explain any problems you had (or still have) with an employer, but don’t describe that employer in negative terms. Demonstrate that it was a learning experience that will not affect your future work.

* “What are your best skills?”
If you have sufficiently researched the organization, you should be able to imagine what skills the company values. List them, then give examples where you have demonstrated these skills.

* “What is your major weakness?”
Be positive; turn a weakness into a strength. For example, you might say: “I often worry too much over my work. Sometimes I work late to make sure the job is done well.”

* “Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?”
The ideal answer is one of flexibility. However, be honest. Give examples describing how you have worked in both situations.

* “What are your career goals?” or “What are your future plans?”
The interviewer wants to know if your plans and the company’s goals are compatible. Let him know that you are ambitious enough to plan ahead. Talk about your desire to learn more and improve your performance, and be specific as possible about how you will meet the goals you have set for yourself.

* “What are your hobbies?” and “Do you play any sports?”
The interviewer may be looking for evidence of your job skills outside of your professional experience. For example, hobbies such as chess or bridge demonstrate analytical skills. Reading, music, and painting are creative hobbies. Individual sports show determination and stamina, while group sport activities may indicate you are comfortable working as part of a team.

Also, the interviewer might simply be curious as to whether you have a life outside of work. Employees who have creative or athletic outlets for their stress are often healthier, happier and more productive.

* “What salary are you expecting?”
You probably don’t want to answer this one directly. Instead, deflect the question back to the interviewer by saying something like: “I don’t know. What are you planning on paying the best candidate?” Let the employer make the first offer.

However, it is still important to know what the current salary range is for the profession. Find salary surveys at the library or on the Internet, and check the classifieds to see what comparable jobs in your area are paying. This information can help you negotiate compensation once the employer makes an offer.

* “What have I forgotten to ask?”
Use this as a chance to summarize your good characteristics and attributes and how they may be used to benefit the organization. Convince the interviewer that you understand the job requirements and that you can succeed.

Here are some other job interview questions you might want to rehearse.

Your Qualifications

  • What can you do for us that someone else can’t do? 
  • What qualifications do you have that relate to the position? 
  • What new skills or capabilities have you developed recently? 
  • Give me an example from a previous job where you’ve shown initiative. 
  • What have been your greatest accomplishments recently? 
  • What is important to you in a job? 
  • What motivates you in your work? 
  • What have you been doing since your last job? 
  • What qualities do you find important in a coworker? 

Your Career Goals

  • What would you like to being doing five years from now? 
  • How will you judge yourself successful? How will you achieve success? 
  • What type of position are you interested in? 
  • How will this job fit in your career plans? 
  • What do you expect from this job? 
  • Do you have a location preference? 
  • Can you travel? 
  • What hours can you work? 
  • When could you start? 

Your Work Experience

  • What have you learned from your past jobs? 
  • What were your biggest responsibilities? 
  • What specific skills acquired or used in previous jobs relate to this position? 
  • How does your previous experience relate to this position? 
  • What did you like most/least about your last job? 
  • Whom may we contact for references?

Your Education

  • How do you think your education has prepared you for this position? 
  • What were your favorite classes/activities at school? 
  • Why did you choose your major? 
  • Do you plan to continue your education? 


Establishing Rapport During a Job Interview

By establishing a rapport with your interviewer, you build “common ground” between the both of you. It is important to listen and be sensitive to the interviewer’s style. This can make communication easier and the whole interview more comfortable.

Listen closely to the interviewer for cues on how you should act. Is he being formal or informal? How loudly is he speaking? What sort of information is he trying to solicit: general, professional, or personal? Once you’ve determined where the interviewer is ‘coming from,’ you can follow hiher lead.

Try to speak with the same rhythm and tone of voice. Make some friendly observations about your surroundings. If the interview is conversational, make small talk about your interests, hobbies, or what you did last weekend. Be positive and upbeat. All of these will help both of you relax and establish a connection.

It’s important to appear open and friendly as well. Give the interviewer a firm handshake if he offers it, and remember to smile. Make sure you look attentive, with good posture and consistent eye-contact.

Job Interview Types

There are different types of job interviews you may participate in during the hiring process. Here are the major ones and tips on how to handle them.

Stress Interview
Stress interviews are a deliberate attempt to see how you handle yourself. The interviewer may be sarcastic or argumentative, or may keep you waiting. Expect this to happen and, when it does, don’t take it personally. Calmly answer each question as it comes. Ask for clarification if you need it and never rush into an answer. The interviewer may also lapse into silence at some point during the questioning. Recognize this as an attempt to unnerve you. Sit silently until the interviewer resumes the questions. If a minute goes by, ask if he or she needs clarification of your last comments.

One-On-One Interview
In a one-on-one interview, it has been established that you have the skills and education necessary for the position. The interviewer wants to see if you will fit in with the company, and how your skills will complement the rest of the department. Your goal in a one-on-one interview is to {establish rapport} with the interviewer and show him or her that your qualifications will benefit the company.

Screening Interview
A screening interview is meant to weed out unqualified candidates. Providing facts about your skills is more important than establishing rapport. Interviewers will work from an outline of points they want to cover, looking for inconsistencies in your resume and challenging your qualifications. Provide answers to their questions, and never volunteer any additional information. That information could work against you. One type of screening interview is the {telephone interview}.

Lunch Interview
The same rules apply in lunch interviews as in those held at the office. The setting may be more casual, but remember it is a business lunch and you are being watched carefully. Use the lunch interview to develop common ground with your interviewer. Follow his or her lead in both selection of food and in etiquette.

Committee Interview
Committee interviews are a common practice. You will face several members of the company who have a say in whether you are hired. When answering questions from several people, speak directly to the person asking the question; it is not necessary to answer to the group. In some committee interviews, you may be asked to demonstrate your problem-solving skills. The committee will outline a situation and ask you to formulate a plan that deals with the problem. You don’t have to come up with the ultimate solution. The interviewers are looking for how you apply your knowledge and skills to a real-life situation.

Group Interview
A group interview is usually designed to uncover the leadership potential of prospective managers and employees who will be dealing with the public. The front-runner candidates are gathered together in an informal, discussion-type interview. A subject is introduced and the interviewer will start off the discussion. The goal of the group interview is to see how you interact with others and how you use your knowledge and reasoning powers to win others over. If you do well in the group interview, you can expect to be asked back for a more extensive interview.

Telephone Interview
Telephone interviews are merely screening interviews meant to eliminate poorly qualified candidates so that only a few are left for personal interviews. You might be called out of the blue, or a telephone call to check on your resume might turn into an interview. Your mission is to be invited for a personal face-to-face interview. Some tips for telephone interviews:

Anticipate the dialogue: Write a general script with answers to questions you might be asked. Focus on skills, experiences, and accomplishments. Practice until you are comfortable. Then replace the script with cue cards that you keep by the telephone.

Keep your notes handy: Have any key information, including your resume, notes about the company, and any cue cards you have prepared, next to the phone. You will sound prepared if you don’t have to search for information. Make sure you also have a notepad and pen so you can jot down notes and any questions you would like to ask at the end of the interview.

Be prepared to think on your feet: If you are asked to participate in a role-playing situation, give short but concise answers. Accept any criticism with tact and grace.

Avoid salary issues: If you are asked how much money you would expect, try to avoid the issue by using a delaying statement or give a broad range with a 15,000 spread. At this point, you do not know how much the job is worth.

Push for a face-to-face meeting: Sell yourself by closing with something like: “I am very interested in exploring the possibility of working in your company. I would appreciate an opportunity to meet with you in person so we can both better evaluate each other. I am free either Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. Which would be better for you?”

Try to reschedule surprise interviews: You will not be your best with a surprise interview. If you were called unexpectedly, try to set an appointment to call back by saying something like: “I have a scheduling conflict at this time. Can I call you back tomorrow after work, say 6 PM?”

How to dress for interview: Appropriate Attire Is a Must

The clothing you wear to your interview should make you look like you will fit in at your prospective employer. When in doubt, err on the side of conservatism, suggest the experts. Even if the company has a “business casual” dress policy, you’re better off dressing a bit on the stuffy side than in taking a gamble only to find that your idea of casual doesn’t match that of your prospective employer.

For Men

  • Traditional business attire means a dark, conservative suit and a white, long-sleeved (even in summer), pressed dress shirt.
  • Ties should be silk and coordinate well with the suit. Avoid flashy patterns on ties-the job interview isn’t the time to prove how much of an individualist you are.
  • If you wear an earring (or several), remove it before the interview. 


For Women

  • Traditional business attire is a conservative suit or dress-those thigh-high skirt lengths alá Melrose Place won’t cut it in the real business world.
  • Avoid wearing jewelry and makeup that are showy or distracting.
  • Forget the excessively long fingernails-they, too, are distracting. If you wear nail polish, make sure it’s a subtle color and neatly done.

For Everyone

  • Avoid wearing too much cologne or perfume.
  • Your hair should be clean and well-groomed.
  • Shoes should be polished and coordinate with your suit or dress.

An interview isn’t a beauty contest, but how you dress and your overall appearance almost always get noticed by the interviewer. Don’t give the interviewer a chance to rule you out because you didn’t feel like ironing your shirt or polishing your shoes. Dress in a business-like, professional manner, and you’ll be sure to fit in wherever you interview.

How to Mentally Prepare for Job Interview Questions

This page on job interview questions was updated on June 8, 2014.
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Don’t be caught off guard by predictable job interview questions!

Imagine being prepared for just about every possible question a job interviewer can throw at you! Not only would you be more relaxed and confident in the interview, but you’d have a chance to prepare really well thought-out answers to those questions. The following article includes most of the questions you’re likely to encounter in a job interview situation. It also offers some suggestions on attitude, interview strategy, and how to increase your chances of turning the interview into a job offer. Most of the time you only get one chance to make a winning impression in job interviews, and some people would argue that the first five minutes are all that matters. With that in mind, it’s best to leave nothing to chance, including details like arriving at the interview a few minutes early, making sure your interview suit is clean and pressed, and having a couple extra copies of your resume with you, in case the interviewer can’t find his or her copy, or (and this is a good thing to mentally prepare for) if you’re going to be interviewed by a committee or a series of interviewers.

So, we wish you the best of luck in your upcoming interviews; and invite you to share your interview experience with us if the advice on this page helped you prepare for those difficult questions!

Successful job interviews are like a good theatrical performance. If you convincingly act confident, enthusiastic, and prepared for those tricky questions, there’s a good chance you’ll be called back for an encore! The job candidate that gets chosen isn’t necessarily the one who’s the most experienced or capable; it’s often the job-seeker who has cultivated the ability to relax at job interviews — to “just be themselves” — to answer questions in a deliberate way, and to come across in interviews as if they really believe in themselves. With persistence and determination, almost anyone can acquire the skill to answer interview questions with confidence and composure. 


Know your answers to probable interview  questions before you walk through the door!


A highly recommended way to increase your level of comfort and confidence in the interview is by taking the time, a day or two before the interview, to mentally review your accomplishments and the high points of your resume. You should be able to rattle off your qualifications, your academic credentials, and your successful career experiences as effortlessly as reciting your own name, address, and phone number.

Update your resume before the interview, looking for ways to put the most positive spin on your career history and responsibilities. It’s always best to be totally honest, but, on the other hand, don’t shortchange yourself by understating or minimizing your career or educational accomplishments and fail to give yourself all the credit you deserve. For example: if you initiated and coordinated a successful project, don’t leave those details out of your resume and job interview. If you helped save your last employer $100,000, don’t hide that fact. If you developed a new, more efficient training technique that was implemented at your last job, don’t neglect to talk about that in the interview and include it in your resume. Make a list of and review all these achievements, so they won’t slip your mind when you need them most. Forgetting to mention any or all of those types of accomplishments could make the difference between being offered the job or getting passed over for it.

One key tactic for projecting a powerful, competent, and experienced image is by using action words to describe yourself and the work you’ve done. That technique also helps create a dynamic resume. Examples: “I coordinated … managed … initiated … supervised … produced … built … solved … recruited … formed a new department … provided leadership for …etc.”

A time-tested strategy for feeling and acting prepared for an upcoming job interview is to rehearse answers to typical questions that will probably be posed in one form or another. A fatal error that many job applicants make is to try to “wing it” when they respond to questions from job interviewers. If you mentally review your positive attributes, your accomplishments, and your strengths, before you shake hands with the job interviewer for the first time, you will appear more focused, organized, and articulate at the job interview than if you attempted to fly by the seat of your pants! (Don’t try that at home!) Bottom line: you need to know your answers to probable interview questions before you walk through the door! 

Assuming you’re qualified for the job — and if you cleared the first hurdle (namely, being invited to the job interview in the first place), chances are you are qualified — then the image you project, and how you present yourself, will make or break you! So smile, make lots of eye contact with the interviewer, have a firm handshake, act enthusiastic about the job and the company, and, perhaps most importantly, rehearse the answers to these common (and not-so-typical) job interview questions:

  • What are your strengths? 
  • What are your weaknesses?(What you say here can and will be used against you!) 
  • How would your current (or last) boss describe you?* 
  • What were your boss’s responsibilities? (Interviewers sometimes ask this question to prevent you from having the chance to claim that you did your boss’s job. Be ready for it!) 
  • What’s your opinion of them? (Never criticize your past or present boss in an interview. It just makes you look bad!) 
  • How would your co-workers or subordinates describe you professionally?* (Remember, now is not the time for modesty! Brag a little bit.) 
  • Why do you want to work for us? 
  • Why should we hire you over the other finalists? 
  • What qualities or talents would you bring to the job?* 
  • Tell me about your accomplishments. 
  • What is your most important contribution to your last (or current) employer? 
  • How do you perform under deadline pressure? Give me an example. 
  • How do you react to criticism? (You try to learn from it, of course!) 
  • Describe a conflict or disagreement at work in which you were involved. How was it resolved? 
  • What are two of the biggest problems you’ve encountered at your job and how did you overcome them? 
  • Think of a major crisis you’ve faced at work and explain how you handled it. 
  • Give me an example of a risk that you took at your job (past or present) and how it turned out. 
  • What’s your managerial style like? 
  • Have you ever hired employees; and, if so, have they lived up to your expectations? 
  • What type of performance problems have you encountered in people who report to you, and how did you motivate them to improve? 
  • Describe a typical day at your present (or last) job.
  • What are the last three books you’ve read? 
  • What do you see yourself doing five years from now? 

And finally, an interview question which is almost always asked, but is rarely responded to effectively is, “Do you have any questions?”! Most interviewers are not asking that final question just to be polite or because it’s a smooth segue to the end of the interview. More often than not, they’re expecting you to show at least some knowledge o
f the company or some genuine interest in the company’s future.

Your underlying message throughout the interview should be that you’re hard working, dedicated, results-oriented, dependable, organized, cooperative, a creative problem-solver, a good communicator, an effective project manager, a good delegator, and that you believe in doing things right the first time…or assigning tasks and projects to other people and following through to make sure that they do them right!

If you give some thought to the above questions, and rehearse them out loud, you’ll sound prepared, self-assured, and capable in the interview. Those are among the key qualities that make a job applicant stand out among the competition and create a dynamic impression. Always concentrate on putting your best foot forward, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and above all: avoid sounding or appearing tentative in your attitudes, answers, or behavior. (If you imply that you don’t believe yourself, you can be sure that an interviewer won’t!).

Remind yourself that you’re not going to job interviews to win any humility contests! If you don’t sing your own praises at the interview, chance are, there will be no encore performance!