9 Questions You Should NOT Answer on Your Next Job Interview

800px-Unemployed_men_queued_outside_a_depression_soup_kitchen_opened_in_Chicago_by_Al_Capone,_02-1931_-_NARA_-_541927There are many laws in the U.S. that are intended to (have the purpose of) protect workers (people with a job). But there are also laws to protect people who are applying for (asking for; trying to get) jobs, including questions that employers (companies) cannot ask you during an interview.

Here are nine topics a U.S. employer cannot ask you about during an interview or on an application (and that you should not answer if they do!):

  • Race (the racial group you belong to) or Color (the color of your skin)
  • Ethnicity (the ethnic group you belong to)
  • Sex (whether you are male or female)
  • Religion
  • National origin (the country you are from)
  • Birthplace (the place where you were born)
  • Age (as long as you are old enough to work legally)
  • Disability (a physical or mental condition that limits someone’s activity), as long as you can do the work required
  • Marital/family status (whether someone is married or single, or has children)

But one question that most employers can ask is, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?,” meaning “Have you ever been found guilty of breaking the law or doing something not allowed by law?”

Notice this question is not asking if you have been arrested by the police (accused of a crime or suspected of a crime), but rather, if you have been found guilty (a judge and/or jury has said that you did the crime) and punished for a crime.

While this question about having been convicted of a crime is common, some U.S. states have decided recently to outlaw it (make it illegal).

Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have made it illegal to ask applicants this question. Proponents (people in favor) of outlawing this question say that people who get out of prison can’t get a fair chance to go straight (no longer do illegal things) because they can’t get past this first screening (an activity to identify something, often to eliminate it) found on job applications and in interviews.

Many convicts (people who are in prison) get job training while they are incarcerated (held in prison) and plan to go straight when they leave prison, and getting a legitimate (real) job is the first important step. Even in most states that have outlawed this question, employers can often get information on an applicant’s criminal record (official listing of his or her arrests and convictions (crimes they have been found guilty of)) later, before hiring them.

Opponents (people against) say that that’s too late. Small businesses, for example, that only have five or 10 employees, may need someone to start work immediately and can’t afford (do not have the money for) a long hiring process.

How many people are affected by this question? It turns out that’s a difficult question to answer, in part because there are two issues here: (1) the question about criminal convictions, and (2) your criminal record that employers can find information about by doing a criminal background check. These two issues are often confused when people talk about changing the employment laws.

For example, one government official (employee; representative) stated back in 2011 that 92 million Americans have a “criminal record.” That sounds like a lot — nearly a third of Americans!

But it does not mean 92 million people have been convicted of a crime. That’s because if you are arrested, that arrest may show up (appear) on a criminal background check even if you have not been convicted (it can here in California, for example). So while an employer would see your arrest if it runs a criminal background check, you would still answer “no” to the question about being convicted of a crime.

In addition, that 92 million number comes from adding up the number of people with criminal records in each of the 50 states; those with a record in more than one state are counted twice (or three or four times, possibly). Since the U.S. does not have a good federal (national) system of counting the number of criminals we have, we don’t really know the how many Americans are affected even by criminal record checks, although some proponents of changing the laws have given the media an estimate — questionable, in my opinion — of 65 to 70 million. (This information page from a proponent’s website even states that “1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has a conviction history (emphasis added),” which is not what the government data say.)

Are there laws where you live restricting (limiting) the types of questions an employer can ask job applicants? Do you think there should be such laws?

– Jeff

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia
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19 Responses to 9 Questions You Should NOT Answer on Your Next Job Interview

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Jeff, Hello everyone.

    In Italy we have similar legislation regarding job interviews.

    Personally I have no problem, if asked, about giving out my personal info. Since I have nothing to hide, even if sometimes that might not be a good idea.

    I am not an expert on job interview because my last one happened mid 1996 where I am currently employed. Soo.. you know.


  2. Marcos says:

    Hi Jeff and everyone

    I don’t know any law about that in my country. I suppose that the employer cannot ask in an interview the ethnicity, race, sex and religion but search for applicant’s criminal record is normal, every employee give your criminal record to allow work on my condo. I think isn’t against the law.

    Have a nice day

  3. Tania says:

    Hi! I would like to forget the problem of a job today.

    It’s Jeff’s birthday. We have to celebrate him. Let’s enjoy!


    To Sir, with love.


  4. emiliano says:

    Sorry Jeff, I don´t know now but when I got my job in the Bank I was asked to present
    an official document (“certificate of not being a criminal guilty of prission”) testing I have
    not been in prission.
    Several companies asked for that document, just the same as when you were asking
    for your passport.
    I am talking of the years 60 and 70

    Even when I wanted to work, the companies asked for a “certificate of good behaviour”
    issued by the City Hall, the police, or the Church Priest of your district.
    Just incredible today that you need a Priest´s Certificate of Good Behaviour.
    Of course Franco´s Regimen was Catholic and the Church had Big Power that now
    it could be so funny to the new generation.
    Such was life here in Spain when I was a young boy or man.

    When Franco the dictator died, I do think several of these documents or certificates disappeared
    not been necessaries any more, at least to get the passport.
    Recently I asked for my passport and I got it in a single day preenting my Identify Card
    we say here D,N.I., may be they look through the computer I was clean of any criminal process
    or not having being in jail.

    Nice subject Jeff, it make me remember other time of my youth.

    Happy birth day to yoouuuuuuuuuul…..Cuca, Gatufo and me.. wish You dear friend.


  5. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Nothing to say but Happy Birthday Jeff.
    Don’t think that only because I’ve been silent for a long time that I have given up. On the contrary, I have been watching this page regularly. It is here the place where I learn my English. I love reading the message my fellows post here.

  6. MMC says:

    Happy Birthday to you dear Jeff!

  7. Bhakta Dhital says:

    Thank you Jeff,
    You are a great teacher.

  8. Parviz says:

    Happy Birthday to You
    Happy Birthday to You
    Happy Birthday Dear (Jeffery)
    Happy Birthday to You.

    From good friends and true,
    From old friends and new,
    May good luck go with you,
    And happiness too.

    Hope your boyish charm will stay with you.
    Dear, how old are you?
    How old, How old?
    Twenty one or two?


  9. Dmitry says:

    There is no special law that regulates questioning at an interview in Russia, employer is free to ask everything. But national or religious or other kinds of discrimination are prohibited by Labor Code. I think that it is good idea to restrict a list of questions. Asking about Marital or family status must be banned first of all. I know some women who have been looking for a job for months because of reluctance of employers to hire them. They are asking usually: You have just married? Congratulations! But are you going to be pregnant? or for example: You have got three children, it mast be hard to work and look after them, isnt it?
    To tell the truth pregnant women and mothers in Russia have a lot of guaranties granted by law. For example woman has the right to take maternity leave after childbirth for period from 1,5 to 3 years. And many employers try to avoid prospective loses and inconveniences by this way. But it is unfair methods I think.

  10. Tania says:

    Hi! To Jeff:

    “With a smile and a song
    Life is just a bright sunny day
    Your cares fade away
    And your heart is young.”

    With a Smile and a Song, a song from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

  11. Tania says:

    Hi! To Jeff:

    “When you smile and you sing
    Everything is in tune and it’s spring
    And life flows along
    With a smile and a song.”

    With a Smile and a Song, a song from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

  12. Thiago Messias says:

    Alwyas a plesure reading this section. A million thanks 😀

  13. Jeff says:

    Thanks to all for your kind birthday wishes! They are much appreciated and make me feel just a little less old today…

  14. Richard says:

    Thanks Jeff for your inestimable work .

  15. Peter says:

    Am I missing sth here ?
    Seems like I missed his birthday
    Happy belated birthday Jeff
    It sucks to get one year older
    I usually sulk on my birthday
    U know crying , whining and everything
    I wish I was the curious case of Benjamin :)))
    Just imaging how happy you would be at your birthday
    Totall uphoria , I must say
    Anyway, I wish you everything good
    Every year people wish me to get some American accent
    Well , it never happened
    I blow tons if candled for it collectively over years.
    Turns out it is a pipe dream
    Well , it is life. You gotta tough it out
    Thanks Jeff
    For ur amazing job at the logistic hub we call ESLPOD

    Pete a kid from Ontarion ,Canada

  16. Peter says:

    Hi Jeff,
    I have no clue how it goes down in the country of my origin since I was a child once I got out. And, I have never been in touch with my root ever since.
    So ,my guess is as good as you.

    If you ask ,it was a totall up-taking-root phenomena for me.so, I m guessing , for all I know , it makes my country of origin Canada.
    In Canada , oh ,man
    u don’t wanna know. There are laws monitoring every step of the damn job process so closely that you can feel big brothers’ breaths right down your neck the entire time. There are a lot of airtight laws regulating every move in the process.
    It is brutal for the all red-tape bull we got going on here.in fact , the red-tape thingy:) is what canada is infamous for.
    it is of an arduous , prolonged process.
    Man, u go to college bust your as. day in , day out to land a promising ; rewarding ; stepping stone kind of job ,if u will , once u graduate. But , it has been increasingly becoming more of a pipe dream.
    U leave college happy dappy that finally u r done with all the odds jobs u suffered through in order to get the damn degree -that is supposed to be the key to the gate of some sort of utopia as you were told rather deluded into in the first college orientation class.
    Some how miraculously u pull through 4-5 years at college. U get off the college with your head held-high that you did it. You are the man.
    U finally graduated ,and that there is a lucrative , promising , rewarding , challenging career awaiting you right out front the college gate ,that once seemed formidable clap-ironed gate of hell ,to take you for the ride
    Well, guess what , it does take you for a ride.
    If you catch my drift.

  17. Dan says:

    Hey Guys,

    I am fighting the war against stinkbugs as they come every year during this period.

    I have to memorize/link this phenomena with Jeff’s birthday. I am sure next year I’ll remember that.
    Jeff = invasion of stinkbugs. Done memorized.

    Mine its easy. I was born the day of the dead.

    Anyway, the poor creatures wanna get inside for the winter. Since I am unable to kill animals, I have a paintbrush with a box for collecting them and throwing all those bugs outside the window again.

    While I am freeing them I am selfishly thinking ” go and get into someone else’s house”

    Have a nice weekend everyone.

    If you guys remember I wrote about this last year.

  18. Betty says:

    Yes, Dan, I remember you said your birthday is on 4th November.

    Although 4th November was not a significant date for many people, it was a special day for US President Barack Obama. He becomes the first man of African-American descent to be elected President of the United States on 4th November 2008.

    Sorry that I have to use the word ‘African-American’. There’s no other way to describe Mr Obama’s origin.

    It is scary how quickly a year disappears. At least Jeff you are doing something and the number of ESL podcast and English Cafe increase every year.

    Let’s enjoy every day given to us by the superpower in heaven.

    All the best.

    Betty 🙂

  19. Dan says:

    Hi Betty.

    Unbelievable how time goes by, right?
    I am not sure I would describe that as scary, but I kind understand what you means by that.

    I do not recall where, once I heard that after 40s time goes by faster, or at least how we perceive it.
    That is exactly what I have experienced.

    It is funny noticing how differently we experience the passage of time at a separate stages of our life in the brief duration given to us on this spinning ball.

    Does that make any sense? what I just written. I hope so.

    Thank you Betty, pleasing reading from you.

Comments are closed.