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The Interview Game

Illegal Questions

In short form, an illegal question is one where the applicant is being asked to divulge information that has no bearing on the position applied for. An employer's questions - whether on the job application, in the interview, or during the testing process - must be related to the job you’re applying for. For the employer, the focus must be: “What do I need to know to decide whether this person can perform the functions of this job?”

You have three options if you are asked an illegal question:

  1. You can answer the question - you're free to do so, if you wish. However, if you choose to answer an illegal question, remember that you are giving information that isn’t related to the job; in fact, you might be giving the “wrong” answer, which could harm your chances of getting the job.
  2. You can refuse to answer the question, which is well within your rights. Unfortunately, depending on how you phrase your refusal, you run the risk of coming off as uncooperative or confrontational - hardly words an employer would use to describe the "ideal" candidate.
  3. You can examine the question for its intent and respond with an answer as it might apply to the job. For example, the interviewer asks, "Are you a Canadian citizen? “or” What country are you from? You’ve been asked an illegal question. You could respond, however, with "I am authorized to work in Canada." Similarly, let's say the interviewer asks ’Who is going to take care of your children when you have to travel for the job?” You might answer, “I can meet the travel and work schedule that this job requires.”
  4. If you cannot see the intent behind the question, then ask “Can you tell me how this relates to my ability to fill the position?” Most (if not all) interviewers will reword the question as it relates to the position.
Illegal Interview Questions
Inquiry AreaIllegal QuestionsLegal Questions
National Origin/
  • Are you a Canadian citizen?
  • Where were you/your parents born?
  • What is your “native tongue”
  • Are you authorized to work in Canada?
  • What language do you read/speak/write fluently?
  • (This question is okay only if this ability is relevant to the performance of the job.)
  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate?
  • What’s your birth date?
  • Are you between the ages of 18 and 64?
Marital/Family Status
  • What’s your marital status?
  • Whom do you live with?
  • Do you plan to have a family? When?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • What are your child-care arrangements?
  • Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?
  • Would you be able and willing to travel as needed by the job? (This question is okay if it is asked of all applicants for the job.)
  • Would you be able and willing to work overtime as necessary? (Again, this question is okay assuming it is asked of all applicants for the job.)
  • What clubs or social organizations do you belong to?
  • List any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you belong to that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job.
  • How tall are you? How much do you weigh? (Questions about height and weight are not acceptable unless minimum standards are essential to the safe performance of the job.)
  • Are you able to lift a 30kg weight and carry it 100 metres, as that is part of the job?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Please complete the following medical history.
  • Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? (If yes, list them and give dates when these occurred.)
  • What was the date of your last physical exam?
  • How’s your family’s health?
  • When did you lose your eyesight? How?
  • Do you need an accommodation to perform the job? (This question can only be asked after a job offer has been made.)
  • Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job? (This question is okay if the interviewer has thoroughly described the job.)
  • Can you demonstrate how you would perform the following job-related functions?
  • As part of the hiring process, after a joboffer has been made, you will be required to undergo a Medical exam. (Exam results must be kept strictly confidential, except medical/safety personnel may be informed if emergency medical treatment is required, and supervisors may be informed about necessary job accommodations, based on exam results.)
Arrest Record
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever been convicted of __________?
    (The crime named should be reasonably related to the performance of the job in question.)
  • Are you male or female? What are the names and Relationships of persons living with you?
  • None
  • What is your race? What colour is your hair, eyes, or skin?
  • None
  • What is your religious affiliation Or denomination? What church do you belong to? What is the name of your pastor, minister, or rabbi? What religious holidays do you observe?
  • None (If you wish to know if an applicant is available to work Saturday or Sunday shifts, ask: "Are you available to work on Saturdays and Sundays if needed?" Make sure you ask this question of all applicants.)


It is not just an individual question that is judged legal or illegal, but the implication and intent, and whether or not the question is asked of men as well. It is a tricky business.

Some questions may sound legal but show prejudice and stereotypical attitudes, specifically as it relates to working women. “How many kids do you have?” is just one example. “What are your child-care arrangements?&8221; is another. The underlying question actually being asked but not said out loud is: “Are you as good a bet in which to invest time, training, and money?” And in this case, the usual addition is “as a man would be?”

If you keep the interviewer's underlying question in mind, you will have some guidelines on how to answer. If you want the job, then you have to answer the question in a way that says, “Yes, I am a good bet.”

Basics of Answering Interview Questions
Regardless of what type of question you are asked, you will find it easier to respond effectively if you keep in mind some basic question answering strategies:

Common Interview Questions
One of the best strategies is to review these questions, and become comfortable discussing yourself and your related skills.

Types of Questions
Being aware of the different types can help you in the preparation stage as you build your skills inventory. It may also help you focus in on exactly what is being asked and what the employer is looking for in specific questions.

Other Resources on Interviews