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Know Your Interviewing Rights!

After graduating from college, I was a supervisor at a coffee shop for a couple years. One of my favorite aspects of that position was interviewing potential new hires. Whether you are looking for a position as a barista or a software engineer, the purpose of an interview is pretty similar across the board: gather information from the candidate and assess whether they fit the position or not. However, while conducting an interview, an employer needs to avoid asking questions or making comments that might infringe upon a candidate’s rights. Be sure you know yours before you step foot in the interview!  This week’s blog post sheds light on what questions employers are—and are not—allowed to ask you, including the following:

Race – As a general rule, an employer may not discuss or ask questions pertaining to an applicant’s race. This can include inquiries into physical characteristics (skin, hair, or eye color) or ethnic background. A recruiter can definitely inform a candidate that the company is an equal opportunity employer but that is the line. Even asking about race for affirmative action stats is considered illegal until hiring takes place. Basically, if race comes up at all something is probably wrong.

Religion – This is another “off limits” area for companies. Any conversation about religious practices, observances, or customs is definitely not allowed. This includes asking if you will require any special time off for religious observations. The only thing an employer can do is explain the typical hours and days required by the job, but no questions should follow that assume a conflict might occur with this schedule. If religion comes up, there is potentially a problem.

Gender / Sexual Orientation – This category is very similar to race in that the “equal opportunity employer” factor can be discussed but conversation should end there. Any questions concerning gender or sexual orientation are illegal. For example an employer cannot ask you, “Will you be comfortable supervising men in this position?”

Disabilities – The rules here are bit more complex. An employer is not allowed to ask about specific disabilities, but they can ask whether a candidate is able to perform all the necessary job functions in a safe manner. If, and only if, the applicant discloses a disability can they be requested to share how and to what extent they are disabled. However, answering the second question must be presented as optional, confidential, and only for the sake of preventing discrimination in the workplace. No negative action can be taken towards the candidate resulting from the second question.

Citizenship – Unless authorized by the government, an employer cannot ask you about citizenship status. Exceptions could include a government agency or defense contractor. An employer can ask if you currently or at any future time require sponsorship to remain in the U.S. (meaning you are eligible to work with—or without—visa sponsorship). You are not allowed to be asked questions regarding your home country, first language, family ancestry, or anything else that could reveal your national origin. These rules, and all of the others mentioned in this blog, apply to domestic as well as international students.

Military Service – You can be asked about service time, branch of service, and any experience or skills related to employment. You cannot be asked about your discharge type or certificate until after hiring takes place. You cannot be asked about military service for any country besides the United States.

Phew! And those are just the ones I thought would be relevant for students!  Hopefully you will never find yourself in the position of being asked these questions, but if you do, here is my advice:

  1. If you feel there is real discrimination taking place, this may be reflective of the company, and it could be in your best interest to end the interview.
  2. If the question appears to be accidental, you can answer if you are comfortable or respond with something like, “My religious observations are not of concern for this position/interview.”
  3. If you are asked an inappropriate question, we want to know about it! Please contact ECS or stop by our office. 

"Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!" -Bob Marley

About the author

Caleb Craft

Caleb Craft was a previous Graduate Administrative Associate at Engineering Career Services.