Have you ever been asked an illegal interview question?

Most job seekers preparing for an interview know the basics of what an interview will entail. It's expected, for example, that you will be asked questions about your previous work experience and personal qualities. But did you know that there are some questions that you simply shouldn't be asked in an interview? Not just because they're of a personal nature, but because they are straight up illegal.

The Equality Act 2010 is in place to prevent discrimination and it affects what an employer is allowed to ask in an interview. Still, that doesn't mean that these illegal inquiries don't happen. Joint research conducted by TopCV and CV-Library, one of the UK's largest online job sites, revealed that 73% of nearly 2,000 surveyed professionals have been asked an illegal or inappropriate question in a job interview.

As a job seeker, it's important to know which questions you do and don't have to answer. If you've ever been asked about your age, nationality, or religion during an interview, chances are your recruiter has ventured into "off limits" territory. Here are the 10 most common illegal interview questions and how you can dodge them. 

1. Are you married? Do you have / want children? 

When this question comes up, it's often part of an interviewer's attempt to make conversation. While it's not ill-intentioned, it's still illegal. You do not have to disclose a pregnancy during a job interview and, if a recruiter asks if you're married, have children, or plan to start a family, you don't have to answer that either. This also goes for questions about childcare arrangements. Instead, shut down the question by stating "I keep my work life and personal life separate." You can even turn the question on the recruiter by responding "It sounds like family is important to you. Are you married?"

2. Do you have any disabilities?

Employers are only permitted to ask about a candidate's health or disability if the question falls under the following categories:

  • There are essential requirements of the job that can't be met with reasonable adjustments

  • The recruiter is asking if an individual requires assistance during the selection process

  • An employer is adopting a positive practice intentionally by recruiting a candidate with a disability

If you feel a recruiter has breached these terms, you could cite previous employment to dodge the question. For example, "In my previous roles, I've never experienced any circumstances which affected my ability to do my job."

3. How old are you?

Age is a "protected characteristic," which means it's illegal to discriminate against a candidate based on their age. Therefore, you don't have to disclose your age during an interview and the recruiter shouldn't ask. However, this doesn't mean it won't come up.

There are many ways a recruiter might subtly enquire about your age. For example:

  • What year did you graduate?

  • Do you have any retirement plans?

  • Your CV only dates back to 2005. What did you do before that?

If you don't wish to disclose your age, shift the focus to your skills. Mention the experience you've gained and the continuing drive you have for excelling at your job.

4. How many sick days did you take last year?

A recruiter may ask this question as a means to gauge your current health situation and how many sick days you're likely to take if they hire you. They may think it falls under the banner of measuring your reliability but, in reality, it's illegal to ask.

To avoid answering, simply state that you've never experienced any concerns regarding sick leave.

5. Are you religious?

It is not permissible for an employer to ask about your religion, as this can lead to discrimination. However, there's a small grey area in which an employer can ask about your availability to fulfill the requirements of the role, which can overlap into the question of religion. For example, if the required work hours interfere with religious holidays or prayer time, the employer may need to make reasonable adjustments. If this has to come up, do your best to address the interviewer's concerns without revealing too many specifics.

6. Have you ever been convicted of a crime? 

As a candidate, you do not need to inform a recruiter of criminal convictions that are spent. However, this doesn't mean that you won't be asked to complete a background check as part of the selection process. 

If a recruiter asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime, you can simply respond that you're happy to undertake a background check and leave it at that.

7. Where were you born?

Like age, your nationality is a protected characteristic. The only information you need to pass on is that you are authorised to work in the country in which you're applying. Therefore, if asked about your nationality or citizenship, keep it professional and respond with "I am eligible to work in the UK."

8. Where do you live?

A recruiter doesn't need to know where you live, just that you're able to be at work each day. If asked about your living circumstances, you can dodge the question by simply by stating that you live within commuting distance to the workplace.

9. What is your sexual orientation?

This topic is off limits both during an interview and in the workplace. You don't need to disclose your sexual orientation and it's illegal for a recruiter to ask.

If the question comes your way, shift the focus to your personal skills. Tell the recruiter about your best personal qualities and how they will contribute to your success in the role.

10. Do you smoke?

It's illegal for a recruiter to ask about your lifestyle choices. What you do outside of the workplace is your business. If a recruiter asks about your drinking or smoking habits, change the topic by asking them a question about the company culture.

Final thoughts

In some cases, a recruiter may not be aware that they are asking an illegal question. Therefore, if a question is reasonable, relevant to the job, and you feel comfortable answering it, then it's your choice to answer.

However, if you feel that a question is discriminatory or know it to be illegal, then you don't need to answer. The trick is to keep it professional and avoid being hostile in your response. Shift the focus elsewhere or politely ask why the question is relevant to the job at hand. At the end of the day, you don't need to answer any questions that make you feel uncomfortable.

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Before you can take on the interview, your CV has to get you through the door. Get a free CV review from TopCV for objective feedback that will aid your job search.

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