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What if You Are Asked an Identity Question During an Interview

Did you know?

It is illegal for an interviewer to ask identity questions during an interview because it can open up biases and discrimination. Asking questions about a person's gender, race, age, religion, national origin, disability, or other protected characteristic can create an environment where a person's identity can put them at a disadvantage and can lead to decisions being made that are not based on merit or qualifications. This violates a person's right to be judged on their merits and not be subject to discrimination.

Be aware that any information you disclose during the interview and even prior to or after the interview could cause bias to arise. For example, while waiting on your interviewer to come and get you from the waiting area, you disclose to the secretary you recently became a parent. This information could be shared with the interviewer after the fact. So be aware of what information you are sharing and if you want the employer to know that information.

You also want to go into an interview with a decision on whether you want to disclose parts of your identity or not. Some folks prefer to be open with their identity and share their life with colleagues. This could include having a picture of you and your partner in your cubical/office, flexibility if you are a caregiver, and accommodations if you identify as having a disability. Being accepted and welcomed for who you fully are. You can choose to disclose any part of your identity at any point in the process. Having a decision made on if this is important to you or not in your workplace is important to know going into the job search. Whether you choose to disclose or not and the importance to you is an individual decision.

Examples of Illegal Questions

  • What country are you a citizen of?

  • How old are you?

  • What is your marital status?

  • What religious beliefs do you hold?

  • Are you disabled?

  • Do you have any children or plan to have any in the near future?

  • What is your sexual orientation?

  • What is your political affiliation?

  • What is your ethnic background?

  • Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?

What Should You Do if Your Asked an Identity Question

You have a few options if you're asked an identity related question during an interview.

Be Open

If you feel comfortable sharing information about your identity, you can provide a brief and honest answer to the question. Keep in mind that you're not obligated to disclose any information that you don't want to share.

Redirect the Conversation

If you feel uncomfortable answering the question, you can politely redirect the conversation by focusing on your qualifications and skills. For example, you could say something like, "While my identity is important to me, I believe my skills and experience are the most relevant qualifications for this position."

Decline to Answer

It's important to remember that employers are not allowed to discriminate against candidates based on their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristics. If you feel like you're being asked an inappropriate or discriminatory question, you have the right to politely decline to answer it.

Be prepared and have a few approaches ready. Gauge the situation and decide how you'll approach each interview.

Remember the interview is not just for the employer to learn more about you, but for you to learn more about the employer. If you don't feel safe to disclose your identity, then it could be that the employer isn't the best fit. If you feel like your identity is being tokenized or boundaries are being crossed, then be sure to reflect on that experience and take into account all of your interviews.

How to Report Potential Discrimination

If you think you have experienced discrimination during a job interview, there are several organizations and agencies that you can contact:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The EEOC is a federal agency responsible for enforcing laws that prohibit workplace discrimination. You can file a complaint with the EEOC if you believe you have been discriminated against based on your race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, or genetic information. You can file a charge online, by mail, or in person. Learn more and contact the EEOC here.

Learn more about the process by watching a conversation between Ari Kwiatowski of Barclay Damon LLP and Maureen Kelt, Director of the EEOC's Buffalo Local Office.

State or Local Fair Employment Practices Agencies

Many states and localities have their own agencies that enforce anti-discrimination laws. These agencies may have different filing procedures and deadlines than the EEOC, so it's important to check with your state or local agency for specific information. Find your local office here.

Civil Rights Organizations

There are many civil rights organizations that provide legal assistance and advocacy for individuals who have experienced discrimination. These organizations may be able to help you file a complaint or provide legal advice and support. Some organizations to check out: AARP, Americans with Disabilities Act, American Civil Liberties Union, National Action Network, NAACP, National Urban League, Pride at Work

Company HR Department

If the discrimination occurred during the interview process with a specific company, you may want to contact their HR department to report the incident. Many companies have policies and procedures in place to address discrimination and harassment, and they may take action to address your concerns. You may also want to contact one of the other options above as well as the HR Department.

It's important to remember that discrimination is illegal, and you have the right to take action if you believe you have experienced discrimination during a job interview. Contacting one or more of these organizations can help you understand your options and determine the best course of action.

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