You Can’t Ask That! Illegal Interview Questions and How to Respond

Joseph Rios EdD
7 min readMay 27, 2022

Not every question asked in an interview is allowed to be asked. Learn how to identify an illegal interview question and a response that works best for you!

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Today I applied for a senior manager position at a local university where I live. The process was familiar, using an online applicant portal to collect information. I’ve grown accustomed to filling out the forms without thinking about the questions since the position required both a resume and cover letter.

So I was shocked when I got to a question that made me pause.

You see, the application required an answer to the question of whether I had been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony.

Why did it make me pause?

Because in the state where I live, this question is illegal to ask during this stage of the application process. Since this question requires a yes/no answer, managers can sort by this answer and not allow candidates to advance in their search based on their qualifications.

Instead, they are excluded based on their identity. In the state where I live, past convictions can only be asked when a candidate can address these issues and share whatever information they want regarding their past.

Did you know that in some states, it is not legal to ask questions about criminal convictions or misdemeanors during the application process? Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Not all interview questions are created equally. Some interview questions are just plain bad. But this is a little bit different.

It made me wonder, how should I or anyone respond when confronted by an illegal question during the interview process — either within the application or during an in-person interview. I’ll review some of the tips offered by experts in the field, so you can decide what feels best for you.

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Joseph Rios EdD

I believe leadership is the expression of values. Career Coach | Educator | Writer | Social Justice Advocate | Trainer. leadershipandvaluesinaction.com