Illegal Questions

You've just finished your face-to-face interview, and the outcome looks good. You've proved that you have the educational background, the technical skills and the managerial presence the company's been seeking. You've established a comfortable rapport with the hiring manager, and you feel confident that you'll be made an offer by the day's end.

Then, as you stand up to leave his office, the hiring manager shakes your hand, smiles, and casually remarks, "You know, you've got the most interesting accent."

"Um, thanks," you reply, a little embarrassed.

He laughs. "Sure. Hey, before you leave, I'm dying to know: Where were you born?"

Though his intentions might be innocent, the hiring manager has just asked you an inappropriate, possibly even illegal, question. And though you're under no legal obligation to respond, you don't want to appear rude. After all, you've made it this far; you can't just say nothing. And yet if you do answer that you were born, say, outside of the U.S.—regardless of your current work status—you might unintentionally be giving the hiring manager a reason to discriminate against you.

Discriminatory interviews are virtually unthinkable in an era where federal, state and local laws exist to give all candidates the fairest possible shot at a job. But the law can't keep interviewers from hiding behind creative wording—and if you do have to face this type of an interview, you should be prepared. Just remember: During routine small talk, an interviewer might not realize that he or she is breaking the law; that's why it's to your advantage to get him or her to clarify any question that makes you uncomfortable.
 
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