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Illegal Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

Often when you are on your way to an interview, you are so focused on trying to impress the employer that you don't consider your rights as an applicant.  That is, until the employer asks you a question that doesn't feel quite right.  What is the best approach in that situation?  How do you know if an employer is allowed to ask a specific question?  It's tricky, because some questions that would seem to be illegal are allowed in certain circumstances.  While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some examples of questions that employers should not be asking you at your job interview:

Questions about your age, sexual orientation, marital or family status.  They can't ask your age, sexual orientation, if you are married, if you have children or are planning to, or about your childcare arrangements.  These questions often tend to come up when you are engaging in small talk before or after the interview.  Try not to volunteer information about your personal life because it could be used against you.

Questions about your national/ethic origin or religion.  Employers can ask if you are legally entitled to work in Canada and depending on the situation, they might be allowed to ask if you are available to work on certain days.  Aside from that, they cannot enquire about your national origin, ethnic origin or religion.       

Questions about disabilities.  They can't ask you if you have a disability.  However, depending on the job, the employer may be able to justify that a certain degree of physical ability is required.  

Now that you have an idea of what questions employers should not be asking you, you need a plan for when they do.  How you approach the situation is completely up to you.  You may decide to answer the question but the information that you provide could be used against you and it truly is a violation of your rights.  You could refuse to answer the question and remind the employer that the question is illegal but that is an uncomfortable conversation to be having at a job interview where you are trying to make a positive impression.  Another option is to sidestep the question.  For example if they ask you if you have children, you could say "I can definitely say that my personal obligations do not interfere with my job performance."  If they ask you how old you are, you could say, "I can tell you that I have more than ten years of experience in the marketing industry."  The key with sidestepping a question is to keep it light and to do it with a smile.  At the end of the day, you need to do whatever makes you feel most comfortable and if an employer is willing to violate your rights at your job interview, it may be an indication that this would not be a great place to work.  

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image by