Posts Tagged ‘Questions’

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Did He Really Just Ask That?

You are sitting in your interview for that dream job that you really, really want. Suddenly your jaw drops a little and you try to compose yourself, as you say to yourself silently, “Did he really just ask me that?” We all know there are questions that an interviewer in New York is not allowed to ask by law.

These questions are considered to be discriminatory and you can file a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). These types of questions are in respect to your nationality, your family life, your age, pregnancy or plans for pregnancy and much more.

What are these questions that are illegal for an interviewer to ask in New York?

  • Asking if you are a US citizen is illegal. Asking if you can work in the US legally is ok.
  • You cannot be asked what your native language is but you can be asked what languages you speak.
  • In regard to religion you cannot be asked what religion you practice or what religious holidays you observe. You can be asked if you are able to work the company’s regular schedule.
  • Most of us know that you cannot be asked what your age is. Be alert for questions that try to gather this information without directly asking for it. You cannot be asked how much longer you plan to work or when you plan to retire. You can be asked about your career goals and if you are over 18 put those are about the only questions relating to age that you can be asked.
  • Asking if you are married or have children is also illegal. You will be amused by all the questions that attempt to get around this question. Some of the illegal versions that you might get asked include “what is your maiden name?”; “Are you planning to have children or do you have children?”; this is really a question about availability so you should be asked it that way. “Are you available to work overtime?” You cannot be asked what your plans would be if you were to become pregnant. If you are asked if you have a babysitter or can get one on short notice, know the question is illegal.
  • You can’t be asked about your parents or what they do in their careers even if the interviewer is looking for your knowledge of the industry. You can offer that your parents have always worked in the industry, but the employer cannot ask.
  • You can’t be asked if you smoke, drink or take drugs. However you can be asked to take a drug test and you can be asked if you use illegal drugs. The employer might also inform you of a non-smoking or non-alcohol policy.

So what should you do if you find yourself in the position of our interviewee in the opening paragraph of this article? What if you find yourself saying to yourself silently, “Did he really just ask me that?” You do have a choice. You can answer the question or you can inform the interviewer that the question is illegal and you prefer not to answer it.

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You Don’t Have to Answer these Questions

As the economy in New York continues to improve and hiring continues to pick up, it seems like a good time for a refresher on the kinds of interview questions that are illegal. You don’t have to answer these questions and it is your right as the candidate to report the use of these type questions to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Reporting the company is your right but might not be your best choice when looking for a job. Most candidates are not aware of the specifics of what is legal for an employer to ask and what is not. You only know that the question the interviewer just asked you makes you feel a little uneasy and uncomfortable.

Illegal Questions

  • A fairly common question in any interview situation is where you see yourself in five years. This question should only be asked in respect to your career and professionalism, not your personal or family life. If the question is asked in any way to include or imply an inquiry about your plans to care for an elderly parent or begin a family of your own, it is out of bounds.

You cannot be asked about personal, family matters. If you have children you cannot be asked about their care or if you plan to have additional ones. If you have older parents you cannot be asked about plans for their future care either.

  • Another common question interviewers ask is where are you from or where were you born. It may appear that they are just breaking the ice, making conversation as it were, and perhaps they are. Regardless this is an illegal line of questioning. Most often the interviewer is attempting to find out if you are in the US legally or their firm might intentionally discriminate against “foreigners”.

If you are asked if you are a citizen, that is an illegal question. Yet if you are a citizen say so. If not just say you are authorized to work in the U.S. You don’t have to answer the question about citizenship. It is illegal for an employer to hire based on the candidate’s citizenship.

Dealing with Illegal Questions

So what do you do when you are asked questions in an interview that make you uncomfortable or that you think might be illegal? Don’t just answer the question out of fear or intimidation that you would not get the job. Ask the interviewer how the question pertains to the job requirements or responsibilities.

Let the interviewer know that you prefer not to answer questions that are not related to your ability to perform the job or to any function of the job. If you think doing this will cost you the job, set up a meeting with the company’s Human Resource Director and confidentially discuss the situation. If you are still not satisfied you can report the incident with the EEOC.


Just keep in mind that any question you are asked that does not pertain specifically to your qualifications for the job is an illegal question and you do not have to answer it.

Career Questions


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Common Career Questions       

What are the most common questions we hear about people’s careers? What is the most important question to you about your career? Are the questions different for new college graduates than they are for people who have been in the workforce for a long time? It is important to consider these questions, especially in a city as big as New York where the possibilities, as well as the competition in the job market are endless. Here are just a few of those questions with some suggestions on how to deal with them.

  1. In the technological age we live in, why do I need a cover letter? Well the first reason is not necessarily the best reason, but most hiring managers and HR recruiters simply will not consider a candidate who does not provide a cover letter to accompany the resume. This is almost arbitrary but none the less, it is true.
  2. Another reason for the cover letter is that it can be used as your introduction to the company. A cover letter lets you address things you can’t address in a resume, if you are following the basic format for resumes.
  3. What is this thing everyone is talking about called a portfolio which we never had when I was interviewing for new jobs? Nowadays, everyone has a portfolio and most hiring managers would be happy to see one included in your application.
  4. A portfolio is just a compilation of documents that show who you are professionally and what you have done in your career. So what types of documents might go in a portfolio? Start with your resume and cover letter. Next add a copy of your degree and/or diploma to show your educational credentials. If you have any specialty certificates you should include them.
  5. Now place your honors, awards and letter of recommendation next in your folder or binder.  Only include the letters of recommendation that are pertinent to the job you are interviewing for.
  6. Writing samples should be included even if you don’t intend to take a job as a writer. Every job usually has some type of writing component even if it is just monthly reports. Show the hiring manager that you understand that and can write a good report.
  7. Finally, be sure to include in your portfolio a list of references. This is different from the letters of recommendation we mentioned earlier. These are general letters from individuals who know you well and who can be called by the Human Resources Department for a more detailed discussion of your work, your work ethic, decision making process and anything else that the interviewer believes will help her/him make the best possible hire.
  8. Now add anything miscellaneous to your field of endeavor. If you are an architect then include blueprints or drawings. If you are a writer include samples, an engineer might include samples of designs. Whatever it is, make sure you have included something the hiring manager can look at and engage all of his or her senses in the interview process;


Your interview portfolio is an integral part of your total job interview package.  You can put as much or as little into as you want, but make sure you have one.