They Can’t Ask Me That, Can They? A Guide to Illegal Job Interview Questions

When it comes to job interviews, there are lots of questions that might make you squirm. However, they are perfectly acceptable for a hiring manager to ask. That said, there are actually questions that are asked often – yet are out of bounds and even illegal.

For instance, an employer can ask questions related to your work history, skills, career experience, and why they should hire you. What they cannot ask about are questions pertaining to your personal life, like whether you’re married, have or want kids, or what religion you practice.

To help ensure everything you’re asked is above board – so you know what to answer and what you can politely decline – here are some illegal job interview questions to be aware of.

Questions Related to Family or Home Life

These include questions such as:

  • How old are your kids?
  • Do you have child care arrangements made?
  • What does your spouse do for a living?
  • Do you have any relatives that work for our competition?

Asking anything related to your family, your spouse or partner, or your children is off the table. This is simply because your answer can bias the hiring manager, whether in a negative or positive way.

For instance, they might be concerned about hiring a candidate with three small children at home if they know that’s your situation. On the other hand, if you’re married with kids and so is the hiring manager, they might feel like they have more in common with you and could be more likely to offer you the job, as a result. Legally speaking, though, hiring managers can only ask questions directly related to the qualifications of the position.

One area they can ask that relates to both your personal and work life is about your personality traits. This includes your leadership or work style and the types of environment you work best in. Asking questions related to soft skills and personality will help them to assess whether you’re the right fit for the company’s culture.

Questions Related to Politics or Religion

The only time an employer can ask questions related to these areas is when you are interviewing for a religious or political organization. Otherwise, questions such as “Do you need time off for religious holidays?” or “Do you follow politics? What are your views?” are off limits. These don’t relate to the job, the company, or your ability to perform the role, and can even lead to discrimination.

Questions Related to Age

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 is designed to protect job seekers over the age of 40 and limits the age-related questions that can be asked during the interview. Some that are illegal include:

  • How old are you?
  • When were you born?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • There’s a large age disparity between you and other co-workers. Will that be a problem for you?
  • How much longer do you plan to work until you retire?

The only time an employer needs to know your age is to ensure you’re old enough to legally work, such as in an environment that serves alcohol. Instead of asking your age or birth year, they can ask something like: “Are you legally old enough to work for our company?”

Questions Related to Citizenship or Nationality 

For most companies, asking about citizenship and nationality are also off limits, as long as the candidate has the proper paperwork in place. Some forms of out-of-bound questions include:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • Where are your parents from?
  • Were you born in the U.S.?

Employers can, however, ask questions such as “Are you legally allowed to work in the U.S.?” or “Can you speak, read, and write English proficiently?” Another question you can be asked, legally, is: “If we hire you, can you provide proof of citizenship?”

Questions Related to Health or Disabilities

An employer can’t come right out and ask about your health or any physical disabilities. In fact, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) says it’s illegal to discriminate against an applicant or employee with a disability. What they can ask, instead, is whether you are “able to perform the duties of the position you are applying for.”

Other related questions that are not allowed include:

  • Have you experienced a workplace injury in the past?
  • Have you filed a worker’s comp claim before?
  • Are there any medical conditions you have that would get in the way of you doing the job?

Questions Related to Gender

Questions about gender should be avoided altogether since they don’t have any bearing on job performance. So, if you’re asked a question like, “should I address you as ‘Ms.’ or ‘Mrs.,’” it’s actually illegal. Also, questions like “Are you comfortable working for a boss who is female?” are likewise prohibited.

Questions Related to Criminal Records

This can be a gray area and depends on the state you live in to determine whether it’s legal or not to ask. However, if you’re applying to a position with a law enforcement agency, for instance, then inquiring about a criminal background is legal and expected. Likewise, if you’re applying for a position where you’ll be handling money or overseeing children, finding out about your background does, in fact, relate to the position and is allowed.

Questions Related to Credit or Finances 

In some cases, credit records can be screened in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996. However, an employer cannot ask you questions, such as “Do you own a home?” or “Have you ever declared bankruptcy?”

Get Professional Help with Your Next Interview

There are many questions that are off limits and that you can decline to answer. However, for those questions hiring managers can ask – ones that can be difficult to know how to answer – it’s important to prepare. This way, your responses are thoughtful and impactful.

If you’d like help getting ready for your next interview, turn to ResumeSpice. We know what hiring managers are looking for in responses and can help you improve your interview game, so you stand out and get the offer. Simply call 832.930.7378 or contact us online to get started.

Resume Trivia

Writing a resume that gets results is a challenge for most people. Yet, it’s imperative if you want to get hired. So how can you tell if you’ve made your case and created a resume that stands stronger against other candidates? You need to make sure yours is optimized, easy to read, and compelling. Ask yourself these questions to check that it is.

What is an ATS and why is it important?

Answer: An ATS is an Applicant Tracking System. It’s software that uses algorithms based on parameters set by an employer. It screens resumes that are submitted in response to a job posting, so that hiring managers and recruiters can focus on other aspects of the hiring process, like interviews.

This means, in many cases, your resume is first seen by a robot to determine if you’re a good fit. According to reports, around 75% of resumes don’t make it through the ATS due to improper formatting and lack of keywords.

How long should my resume be?

Answer: This depends on how much experience you have. If you have several years or more in your field, then a two page resume makes sense. It will allow you to dive deeper into your background and showcase your accomplishments. A longer resume also enables you to better optimize it for an ATS since there’s more opportunities for keywords.

If, however, you’re an entry level worker, stick to one page. There’s not enough experience in your background to justify writing a two-page resume.

Should an objective be included?

Answer: Gone are the days of the objective at the top of every resume. This simply wastes space with a statement that the hiring manager knows: you want to get the job. Instead, use this space to list a Summary of Qualifications in bullet point format. These should be your key skills and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job opportunity. The information you list here should therefore be customized for each position you apply to.

How long does a hiring manager take to read through a resume?

Answer: Around 10 seconds. It’s a shocking number but a good reminder that you really do only have a few seconds to make a good impression. This is why a Summary of Qualifications can be especially impactful. It’s also important to format your resume in a way that is easy to read, with bullet points, bolded job titles, one-inch margins, and a font size no smaller than 11 points.

What’s the best way to start each sentence?

Answer: When you’re writing your resume, use action verbs and descriptive language, rather than passive words. Examples include “Analyzed,” “Led,” “Researched,” or “Spearheaded.” This type of language is more powerful and persuasive, showcasing your actions and the results you achieved.

Is it ok to use abbreviations?

Answer: Think of your resume as a formal business document. Use the full name of colleges, cities, degrees and other words (like Street instead of St.) and skip the abbreviations at the first mention. However, if you mention the word again, then you can abbreviate it. This also helps with optimizing your resume for the ATS since it allows you to utilize variations of keywords.

What’s the biggest reason resumes are discarded?

Answer: There are several. The first primary reason is due to spelling and grammatical errors. One won’t ruin your chances, but a resume filled with them will be passed over.

Another issue that is surprisingly common? Including a headshot. Unless you’re applying for an acting gig, it’s never ok to include a headshot. If you do, it can actually increase your odds of not getting called for an interview because a hiring manager doesn’t want to be perceived as biased based on your appearance.

Another reason resumes get the boot? An unprofessional email address. Make sure your email address isn’t something like and create a professional one with just your name.

Should references be on a resume?

Answer: No, the hiring manager will either ask you to bring a list of references to an interview, or ask about references later in the hiring process. So, you don’t need to include references.

However, if you have a mutual acquaintance, you can mention it in your resume as an ice breaker (as long as you check with your acquaintance first). Also, skip the “references available upon request” statement on your resume. This wastes space and is unnecessary.

Do you need help avoiding mistakes and crafting a killer resume?

Answer: Whatever type of job you’re looking for, the resume writers at ResumeSpice can help you make your case as to why you’re a great fit candidate. We can simply edit your resume if it just needs some polishing, or completely write it from scratch, so it’s more compelling. When we’re done, you’ll get a great resume that stands out. Simply reach out at 832.930.7378 or contact us online to get started.

What’s the Best Way to Get Your Resume Past the ATS?

Writing a resume is hard enough. But in today’s world you have to write it for human beings and for the Applicant Tracking Systems that screen them first. Where do you even begin?

While it’s tempting to just ignore the ATS and focus on hiring managers, this isn’t a smart approach. In fact, 75% of resumes submitted to companies get blocked by automated systems. Even worse? More than 95% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS to streamline the recruiting process. The bottom line is that if you want to get an interview, you need to factor in the ATS.

Here are some tips for getting your resume through the ATS and into the hands of a human:

Review the job description.

This is your ticket to optimizing your resume for both ATS software and hiring managers. Read through it again and make a list of key skills, qualifications, keywords and phrases that are important. Then link your background to these areas on your resume.

You can even mirror some of the wording from the job description on your resume to get the best results. However, don’t copy large blocks of text; only certain phrases that can help your resume stand out to the ATS.

Research other keywords.

Beyond what’s in the job description, think about other keywords that are important to include. These can be anything related to your industry, such as common lingo, certifications, responsibilities, licenses, or procedures. Again, adding this kind of relevant wording on your resume will further optimize it for the ATS.

Use variations of keywords.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know which word the ATS is actually screening for. For instance, if you’re applying for a marketing position, you might want to include your experience related to “SEO” and “Search Engine Optimization.” By using variations of important keywords, you can ensure all your bases are covered.

Don’t stuff keywords into your resume.

There can be too much of a good thing when it comes to keywords. Use them sparingly – a couple of times throughout your resume in different areas. Don’t overuse them again and again, which will make your resume sound awkward. You likely won’t even be able to get through the ATS since the newest technology is designed to spot keyword stuffing.

Use bullet points, not paragraphs.

When you’re writing your resume, use bullet points throughout it, not long paragraphs of copy. This will make it easier for the ATS to scan your resume, as well as the hiring manager once they are reviewing it.

Don’t put any content into the headers or footers.

If you usually put your contact information or any other text in the header or footer of the word document, you might wind up confusing the ATS. As a result, your resume could get screened out. Skip using this area at all to avoid the risk.

List your contact information, including your street address.

You might think only your phone number and email are important to include. However, an ATS system wants to see a postal address. If there isn’t one, your resume might not make it through the screening process. Again, avoid using the header or footer and rather place contact information at the top of your resume, instead.

Avoid graphics and keep it simple.

Unless you are in a creative industry, like graphic design, avoid embedding graphics, logos or any other type of visuals on your resume. This will jam up the ATS software’s algorithm and it won’t be able to scan your resume, as a result. In general, keep your resume as simple and clean-looking as possible. This will up the odds of it making it through the system.

Use a professional font.

You’re best off with a sans serif font, such as Verdana or Tahoma, instead of the often-used Times New Roman. In fact, some screening software will reject the serif fonts, as well as script fonts completely. Also, keep your font to a readable size, never smaller than 11 points.

Skip PDFS and Word Docs.

In the past, these have been the file format that most resumes have been formatted in. However, when it comes to an ATS – especially older ones – it reads text format more consistently. A PDF or Word Document, on the other hand, can cause parsing errors and problems, which can cause your resume to get screened out. It’s not worth risking it and instead best to stick with a text format.

Don’t worry about length.

It used to be that a one-page resume was the gold standard. Today, though, a two-page resume is fine as long as you have the experience to back it up. In fact, a longer resume can even give you an advantage over other candidates with shorter resumes. It allows you more opportunities to sprinkle in keywords for the ATS software and helps you make a stronger case to hiring managers as to why they should hire you.

Get professional help optimizing your resume.

The takeaway here is that when you’re writing your resume, you need to take the steps above and account for the ATS. If you’re having trouble doing that, turn to a professional resume writing service like ResumeSpice.

We know how to create a resume that makes it through the ATS and impresses hiring managers. You’ll have a better chance at getting an interview, as a result. Simply call 832.930.7378 or contact us online to get started.