Discrimination in Job Interviews

Discrimination in job interviews: everything you need to know

Christina Omlor

Discrimination is rarely as obvious as it was in the past. However, everybody possesses unconscious biases, however subtle, that have the potential of affecting the screening and selection process (and sometimes your likelihood of landing the job). Knowing your rights, how to identify discrimination, and what to do when it happens can help you advocate for yourself.

Your rights as a job seeker

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, prohibits discrimination on the basis of a many characteristics, including race, nationality, ethnicity, and color. This and other employment laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). What this means is that none of these factors can be taken into consideration in recruitment, wages, hiring, assignment, benefits, promotions, discharge, discipline, layoffs, or any other aspect of employment. When it comes to your job search, this means:

  • employers should advertise their open positions in a way that reaches both majority and minority applicants
  • employers must determine which candidates to interview based on their experience and qualifications and never their name (interviewing a Jennifer with no experience while passing over an Ahmed with extensive experience, for example)
  • employers must never subject candidates to pre-employment tests that knowingly or unknowingly discriminate against a certain racial group (i.e. white candidates tend to pass the pre-employment test while black candidates have a lower pass rate)
  • employers should review their hiring metrics annually to determine whether any steps exclude minority applicants and then develop action plans to resolve the issue going forward
  • it is expected that employers hire the most qualified and well-aligned candidate for the job regardless of their race or ethnicity

Don’t ask people private, protected health info, right on the application.” – Anonymous application review on Catholic Charities Inc.

Illegal interview questions

While there are no inherently illegal job interview questions, some questions might elicit information that leads to illegal discrimination in the hiring process. An interviewer should never ask you about:

  • Age and/or birthday
  • Country or place of origin/ citizenships status
  • Religion or faith
  • Pardoned offenses (as long as it’s not relevant to the job)
  • Race and/or ethnicity
  • Disabilities
  • Pregnancy status or future family plans
  • Family structure, marital status, sexual orientation
  • Appearance in height and weight

Asking those questions may be legitimate if those information are directly related to your job. Otherwise, if you’ve been asked a question in an interview and you feel that answering it will subject you to discrimination, respectfully decline to answer. “I prefer not to answer.” This is a great way to encourage the interview to move on.

I wouldn’t work for them because that method of testing and screening was very rude!” – Anonymous application review at Reynolds & Reynolds.

What to do if you suspect discrimination in your job interview

If you suspect you’ve experienced discrimination:

  1. First, consider all possibilities. Not being selected for a job is not sure evidence of discrimination. However, if you are more qualified than the candidate who was selected, interviewed as well or better, and were passed over – especially if illegal interview questions were asked – it may be discrimination.
  2. Next, try to work directly with the organization. First, ensure there is sufficient evidence to your claim. Second, contact the human resources department to let them know you have concerns about the screening process. Ask for specific feedback regarding the differences between the candidate who was selected and you. Did they interview better? Can they provide examples? Many HR representatives are happy to share feedback, if you ask them directly. It’s also important that you notify HR if the hiring manager asked you a discriminatory question.
  3. Finally, notify the EEOC. If you still believe discrimination occurred and haven’t made any progress with the organization, you can elect to file a complaint with the EEOC, who will thoroughly investigate and determine whether evidence exists to support the employer’s selection or your claim. If the EEOC sides in your favor, the employer may be required to pay penalties and fees and/or change their decision regarding your employment.


In case that you feel like you are mistreated, or in the opposing case, had a wonderful experience, let kununu know about it! Together we can create more transparency in the job market and help future employees find the best place possible to work at! Also remember, that a job interview gives you the opportunity to ask question about the company yourself. Here are 15 great questions you might consider asking the next time.


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