Working Wounded: The Questions You Can't Be Asked

Five things you need to know before sitting down for a job interview.

Dec. 21, 2007 — -- Dear WOUNDED: I've been asked some pretty strange questions in job interviews. What are companies allowed to ask and what are they prohibited from asking?

ANSWER: Whenever I think of illegal questions in a job interview, Milwaukee TV station WDJT races to mind. A news crew was doing a story on the danger of thin ice on Big Muskego Lake when its van's driver drove onto the ice by mistake. That's right, the high-tech vehicle sank into the lake and was a total loss.

Most job interviewers know the danger of thin ice when interviewing but they often plunge into the depths of illegal questions anyway. I've listed the five main areas of temptation for a company interviewing a candidate, along with a legal way to inquire about the same information. Everyone needs to know what's naughty and what's nice -- and what is thin ice in a job interview. For more, check out "30 Interview Questions You Can't Ask and 30 Sneaky, Legal Alternatives to Get the Same Info" at

Nationality Illegal immigration is making headlines and stirring passions across the United States. However, an interviewer will be all wet to ask if a candidate is a U.S. citizen. It's an illegal question. According to HR World, a legal alternative to asking directly if you are a U.S. citizen would be: Are you authorized to work in the United States?

Religion On the surface, religion shouldn't be a deciding factor for a position. However, religious holidays can affect staffing levels of a company. Hence, some companies are interested in the religious practices of potential hires. Unless you walk on water, an interviewer will be legally sunk to ask the religion question. The safe alternative they might ask: What days are you available to work?

Age Maturity and experience are key considerations in terms of hiring someone for a job. As well, there are some positions that legally require you to be a certain age. But it is illegal to ask candidates how old they are because of the possibility of age discrimination. But don't be surprised if you are asked: Are you of legal working age?

Marital and Family Status Kids can have a big impact on someone's absenteeism and maybe their ability to travel for work. But don't go down that road, asking about family directly is illegal. The safe alternative for interviewers is: Can you work overtime on occasion? And are you able to travel for work?

Health and Physical Abilities Ability to do many jobs is directly tied to health and physical abilities. You may plainly state the physical abilities that are required to do the job. But it is illegal to ask about disabilities because of the potential for discrimination. But don't be surprised if you are asked: Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position?

Thought for the Week

"If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." -- Matthew 15:14

List of the Week

Internot: Half of HR managers have disciplined staff for wasting time on the Internet

  • 64 percent of U.S. companies deny their employees access to social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo
  • 54 percent of HR decision makers have encountered or have had to discipline employees for time-wasting on the Internet
  • 14 percent have had to discipline staff for data loss and 7 percent for posting inappropriate content on social sites but only 36 percent have a policy covering such usage
  • 23 percent of HR decision makers are unfamiliar with Web 2.0 technologies such as YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia
  • Source: Clearswift

    Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. He'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you have better ideas than he does. His books include "The Boss's Survival Guide" and "Gray Matters: The Workplace Survival Guide." Send your questions or comments to him via: publishes a new Working Wounded column every Friday.This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.