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Henry Kissinger

Illegal interview questions employers may not know they’re asking

Chances are you've encountered unusual — even eccentric — job interview questions in your lifetime, but have you ever been asked something illegal? If you're scratching your head because you aren't sure, you're not alone. A new CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,100 hiring and HR managers across the U.S. shows that the boundaries aren't clear when it comes to what's OK to ask versus questions that are off limits from a legal perspective.

According to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder:

"It's important for both interviewer and interviewee to understand what employers do and don't have a legal right to ask in a job interview — for both parties' protection. Though their intentions may be harmless, hiring managers could unknowingly be putting themselves at risk for legal action, as a job candidate could argue that certain questions were used to discriminate against him or her."

To ask or not to ask

Even something as simple as "How old are you?" or "What is your political affiliation?" could land an employer in hot water.

Questions like these are also off-limits:

  • What is your religious affiliation?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Are you disabled?
  • Do you have children or plan to?
  • Are you in debt?
  • Do you drink or smoke socially?

Interestingly, it's perfectly legal for an employer to ask you what superpower you would like to have or if you believe in life on other planets.

Here are a few other questions that may catch you off-guard but are nonetheless acceptable:

  • If you were trapped in a blender, what would you do to get out? This question can help hiring managers assess a candidate's problem-solving skills.
  • If you did not have to work, what would you do? This question can give employers a sneak peek into candidates' lives outside of work and potentially gauge cultural fit.
  • If you were stranded on an island, which two items would you like to have with you? Employers may be trying to determine whether a candidate can overcome a tight spot with limited resources.

The 6 W’s of thank-you notes

During a recent career strategy consultation with a job seeker, I was talking about the proper etiquette of how to follow up after a job interview. This job seeker asked me if it was necessary to send a thank-you note. She said that she found advice across the Web that said that sending thank-you notes or emails, particularly to recruiters, was fruitless. I told her what I will tell you now: Always send a thank-you note after an interview.

If we’ve learned anything since the invention of the Internet, it’s that you can’t trust everything you read. That’s especially true when it comes to job search, a topic where everyone has an opinion.

The thank-you note is a key part of your competitive edge. (It’s also just a nice thing to do and it would make your mother proud to know you have manners.) Following up after a job interview is crucial to keep yourself top of mind with the hiring manager. It also exemplifies your level of professionalism. Like your résumé, the thank-you note is another marketing tool to remind the interviewer why you’re the best candidate for the job. Without it, you could be forgotten.

Journalist use “the six W’s” to guide their stories. Actually, they’re five W’s and one H. Read below to find out how you should use these six W’s when preparing your thank-you note:


Send a thank-you note to each and every person you interact with during the interview process. If you said something more than “hello” to the receptionist, feel free to send him one too. Personalize each note with different relevant points about your conversation and candidacy. (You never know if they’re comparing notes.) Don’t be afraid to pull in commonalities you share with that interviewer to strengthen your connection.


In addition to an actual “thank you,” use the opportunity to briefly reiterate your enthusiasm for the position. Remind the contact what value you bring to the company, team and position. You may also address areas you sensed concerned the interviewer. Did she seem hung up on your experience level? Did you forget to bring up something about your skill set? Here’s your chance to clarify these trouble points, and now you have “insider” information that you gathered during the interview; don’t waste it.


Before you leave an interview, make sure you have the correct company address and email address of everyone who interviewed you. A thank-you note won’t make you a star candidate if it bounces back to your inbox or comes back to your mailbox as undeliverable.


Always – always – send thank-you notes and emails within 24 hours of your interview. Obviously, snail mail takes longer, so if you’re concerned about how quickly your message will reach the interviewer, send a short thank-you email followed by a hand-written “thank you” covering some different points.


The problem with most thank-you notes is they are usually prepared as only as a nice gesture. Saying “thank you” is definitely the proper etiquette to follow and it does go a long way, but it is not strategic enough to add another dimension to your candidacy. It doesn’t elevate your interview to a memorable status.

Remember, the entire job search process is a strategic marketing effort; use every tool and maximize every opportunity. While many employers might say that they don’t need a thank-you note, chances are they’ll remember the person who sends one versus the one who doesn’t. This is why the Who and the What matter so much. If you’ve got their attention and are going to be remembered, might as well make it for something meaningful.


An email or mailed thank-you note is appropriate, but which format depends on a few factors. Consider the work environment of the company you interviewed with. Is their inbox constantly full of emails, like most recruiters? Is their company culture one that means they may not get your note until next year? Choose the method that makes you confident your message will be seen in a timely manner. If you handwrite your letter, take the opportunity to add your personality to it with a professional but thoughtful card or stationery.

Remember, the Internet is dark and full of terrors – also known as faulty advice. Don’t trust everything you read (except what you’re reading right now). Utilize your critical thinking skills and really consider what works best for you in your job search. Always weigh your options. For example, what’s the negative outcome of sending a thank-you note? At worst, it gets ignored. What’s the negative outcome of not sending one? Appearing rude and not getting the job.

Employers, recruiters and interviewers are all people too, and they appreciate common courtesy. A little gratitude and self-marketing can go a long way.

Have more questions about interview follow-up or other job search advice you want to brush up on? Send us your question to #AskCB!