What If You’re Asked Illegal Questions During An Interview?

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One of the most important things job candidates can do for their job search is prepare for interviews. Going through a list of the most asked questions can help job seekers formulate answers according to their strengths and skills. But what happens when an interviewer takes the questioning to a more personal place that makes job candidates feel uncomfortable?

Martin Yate, author of the book, Knock ‘em Dead, suggests remaining polite, being straightforward, and moving the conversation in a more appropriate direction by redirecting back to how you can do the job you’re interviewing for.

Yate also lists some key discriminatory items an interviewer may or may not ask about, which may sound illegal but the way it’s asked will leave the question fair game:

  1. Your religion, church, synagogue, parish, the religious holidays you observe, or your political beliefs/affiliations. But, the interviewer may ask if you are available to work on weekends.
  2. Your ancestry, national origin, parentage, birthplace, or the naturalization status of your parents, spouse, or children. Yet, an interviewer may ask whether you are a U.S. citizen or a resident alien with the ability to work in the United States.
  3. Your native language, the language you speak at home, or how you acquired the ability to read, write, or speak a foreign language. But, it is appropriate for the interviewer to ask about the languages in which you are fluent if it is pertinent to the job.
  4. Your age, your date of birth, whether you are married or pregnant, or the ages of your children. However, he or she may ask if you are over 18.
  5. Your maiden name, your marital status, number of children or dependents, your spouse’s occupation, or how you wish to be addressed (i.e. “Miss,” “Mrs.,” or “Ms.”). Yet, the interviewer may ask whether or not you have worked for the company before under a different name.

In addition to the above mentioned areas, I would add questions related to physical disabilities, health, medical history, and criminal records to the list of items that should not be addressed by interviewers. Although these topics are off limits, this does not mean that employers do not utilize indirect methods to ask about these areas.

While the employer may not ask you directly, “Does your religion allow you to work on Saturdays and/or Sundays?” He or she may state, “This job requires work on Saturdays and/or Sundays. Is that a problem?”  In this instance, the employer’s question is acceptable, but what is an appropriate response?

Yate provides a few suggestions:

First, if you do not actively practice a religion, you could say, “I have a set of personal beliefs that are important to me, but I do not attend any organized services. And I do not mix such beliefs with my work, if that’s what you mean.” On the flipside, an applicant might state, “I attend my church/synagogue/mosque regularly, but I am intentional about not making it my practice to involve my personal beliefs at my job. My career and work for the company are far too important for that.”

In the end, as you are pondering the legality of questions, keep in mind, not all interviewers will be asking them intentionally. Some may not be aware of the laws on the matter; however, this does not justify their behavior. As a result, Yate suggests that you should be polite and straightforward, while attempting to move the conversation to discuss your skills and abilities, rather than focusing on your status. In the end, you can always decide that a company is not for you, leaving no obligation to accept the position.

Yates, M. (2010). Knock ‘em dead: The ultimate job search guide. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

For this post, Doostang thanks our friends at OnlineCareerTips.

About the Author: Kristen Carter is a career services contributor for OnlineCareerTips.com. OnlineCareerTips provides advice and resources for advancing your career or successfully transitioning to a new one. Explore OnlineCareerTips for great resources including salary wizard, resumè tips, career focused webcasts, podcasts, and office survival tips.

Doostang Employer Spotlight: William Blair & Company



What sets William Blair & Company apart from other financial services employers?

William Blair’s independence, diversified business model, and strong financial position allow us to remain steadfastly focused on our clients’ success through all market conditions. Our firm was founded by William McCormick Blair in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression. Mr. Blair’s vision was to help clients achieve long-term financial success by identifying Midwestern growth-oriented companies. From that foundation, William Blair & Company has grown into a full-service investment banking and asset management firm with 1,100 employees around the world. While our headquarters remain in Chicago (a rarity in the financial services industry), our vision extends to clients and investment opportunities around the globe. Since 2011, William Blair has opened offices in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Sydney, Australia; and Frankfurt, Germany, giving the firm offices in 12 cities across five continents.

What is the work culture like at  William Blair & Company?

Our culture encourages collaboration, demands professionalism, and rewards hard work. The environment is respectful and collegial; additionally, employees are given responsibility, autonomy, and the resources needed to do outstanding work on behalf of our clients. We have a flat organizational structure where about 170 of the firm’s 1,100 employees are partners, and the average tenure of our employees far exceeds industry norms. There is a sense that people here are in it for the long haul.

What are the common attributes of your top performers?

Our firm is a true meritocracy where employees distinguish themselves based on their ability to deliver outstanding results for our clients. The firm also demands that these results be achieved with the highest levels of professionalism and integrity. Our business is built on relationships, so leaders at William Blair often are very skilled at building strong relationships both inside and outside of the firm.

Interested in learning more about William Blair & Company? Visit their website here. 

Doostang Employer Spotlight: Thornburg Investment Management


What sets Thornburg Investment Management apart from other financial services employers?

One of our values is that “we are committed to employees.”  This is our mandate, and we take it seriously.  The fact that we are a privately owned firm – unlike many other financial services companies – means that we can offer our employees growth and opportunity without interference from a third party who may only be concerned about our bottom line.

What is the work culture like at Thornburg Investment Management?

We are a collegial firm that is fairly flat in organizational structure.  This means that anyone in the company has access to upper management. We pride ourselves on our professionalism, but are also able to maintain a friendly work environment.  That “family” atmosphere is a core part of our culture.

What are the common attributes of your top performers?

Beyond their individual talents, the common attributes of Thornburg’s top performers are those that embody the company’s shared cultural norms and values.

We do the right thing
We act with integrity and put our clients first.

We think for the long term
We engage in thoughtful decision making and believe that investment excellence should drive our decisions.

We work together to achieve common goals
We show respect and humility towards each other and our clients.
We believe in creating a supportive work environment that fosters teamwork, collegiality, and effective communication.

We strive for excellence
We make the extra effort, practice continuous improvement, and stay flexible to adapt to changing circumstances.

We are committed to employees
We foster an environment that provides flexibility and opportunity for growth, while also requiring accountability.

We are independent
We will remain a privately owned, independent firm to ensure that we act in the best interest of our clients and employees.

We are community minded
We support philanthropic giving and encourage employee volunteerism.
What are you looking for in a new hire?

We are looking for people who are naturally collaborative, creative, and driven. We want employees who are never satisfied with the status quo.

Three Reasons to work here:

1. Room for advancement: Thornburg is committed to the development of employees and is a great place to build a career. Additionally, an educational reimbursement program is available for eligible employees who seek further education.  Training and educational advancements are also integrated into the employee annual review process.

2. Retention programs: We offer a competitive base salary, discretionary annual bonus, company-wide profit sharing, and the potential for employee ownership.

3. Culture: Thornburg Investment Management’s collegial work environment creates a great place to work.

Any advice for job seekers interested in Thornburg Investment Management?

One open position can garner hundreds of applicants. We receive many qualified applicants so highlight your uniqueness through a cover letter. A resume is more of a list of facts about you, while the cover letter gives us insight into your personality. We hire people, not resumes.

Interested in learning more about Thornburg Invesment Management? Visit their website and connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

Doostang Employer Spotlight: Janes Capital Partners


Janes Capital Partners (Irvine, CA) is a boutique investment bank, specializing in the aerospace and defense industry.  Their clients are middle market firms, and their primary product is Mergers & Acquisitions.

Interested in learning more about Janes Capital? Visit their website, and connect on LinkedIn.

Interview with Rick Phillips, Managing Director at Janes Capital Partners

What is the work culture like at Janes Capital?

The work culture is team based.  We are a small business, so everybody has to work together in a team.  We are collegial, but success driven because we are bankers.  We are very focused on achieving success for our clients.

What are the common attributes of your top performers?

Everybody at our firm is intelligent and capable.  The number one thing that sets people apart is attitude.  You have to really want to succeed as an investment banker.  You should be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve success for your client.  Also, raw intelligence to figure out problems and the financial skills to do the work counts.  Our top performers have great people skills: the skills to get along with the client, the people in the firm, and the other organizations that are on the other side of the deal.

You also have to be very good at handling and juggling multiple priorities.  The ability to meet commitments makes a good performer.  Work migrates to the people you can count on to do the work right, on time, with minimal errors.

What are you looking for in a new hire?

Attitude, skills, and intelligence, with some amount of experience.  One of the things that sets our hiring process apart is that we have a skills-based project as an integral part of our hiring process.  All of our candidates submit a project that demonstrates basic investment banking skills including quantitative, qualitative and writing aspects.

We’re also looking for people that we think will be fun to work with and who enjoy the industry, which is required to succeed in investment banking.

3 reasons to work here:

-Opportunity to contribute to a growing firm.

-Learn a ton.

-It’s a place that wants everybody in the organization to succeed.

Any advice for job seekers interested in Janes Capital?

You really need to understand both the job you’re applying for and the company you’re applying to when you send in the application and cover letter.  You can tell who actually knows what they are getting into.  We’re a growing boutique investment bank and we’re always looking for people who have the capability to succeed in a small, client focused bank, and who are interested in aerospace and defense.



Doostang Employer Spotlight: McLaughlin Asset Management, Inc.


Interview with Linda McLaughlin: Director, Marketing and Business Development for McLaughlin Asset Management, Inc.


What sets McLaughlin Asset Management, Inc. apart from other financial services employers?

There are many different types of financial services employers in terms of size, mission, service or product offered, and so on.  Our firm is a smaller, fee-based boutique wealth management firm working independently with advisors offering investment advisory, wealth management & retirement plan consulting to individuals and businesses.   Our main office is in Haddonfield, NJ and we serve clients primarily in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida as well as in other parts of the US.

What is the work culture like at McLaughlin Asset Management, Inc.?

The primary goal of our firm is to do what is right and best for our clients.  We work together as a team toward that goal every day.  That being said, the work environment at our firm is one that is flexible on both sides of the fence.   Sometimes that means staff members going above and beyond the call of duty to get the job done.  We also, however, respect the personal lives of our staff and that sometimes that means providing for time flexibility.   Being a smaller, independent firm, we are able to do this much more easily than might be possible in a larger institution.  In addition, there is significant opportunity for employees to grow in their positions.  Given our size, independence, and future plans for growth, career opportunity is what you make of it at McLaughlin Asset Management, Inc.

What are the common attributes of your top performers?  

We have two types of people working with our firm……support staff and financial advisors.  There are common attributes among all of our people which include first and foremost integrity and a commitment to excellence.   Our top staff members are professional, organized, detail-oriented, able to work well as a team, have the desire to learn and grow, possess a positive attitude, are self-starters, understand that the client comes first, and are willing to go above and beyond when the need arises.   Our top financial advisors are trustworthy, client-focused, set high standards for themselves, forward-thinking, action-oriented, tenacious and always looking for new opportunities.  They have a desire to continue to learn more about the industry and above all are excellent listeners.  If they can’t listen to our clients and really understand what they need, they can’t help do what is right for that client.

What are you looking for in a new hire?

People who want to become part of our team, are willing to work hard and make a difference, and come into the job with a sense of professional commitment.  We want honest, hard-working, committed employees who want to grow themselves professionally with us.  We want people who plan to stay around, not people who are passing through for short-term hire.  We want team players, people who are open-minded and willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.  We are always looking for quality people to work with and represent our firm as we take much pride in who we are, what we represent, and the value we deliver to our clients.

 3 Reasons to work here:

1. Being a part of a top wealth management firm providing superior service to our clients;

2. Significant opportunity to grow and creating your own career path in an entrepreneurial atmosphere;

3. Potential for added income based upon firm performance.

Any advice for job seekers interested in McLaughlin Asset Management, Inc.?

Apply if you want to become part of our team.  We are a hard-working and fun group of people to work with every day!

Interested in McLaughlin Asset Management, Inc? Visit their
website for more information.

Doostang Employer Spotlight: China First Capital


Interview with Peter Fuhrman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of China First Capital.


What sets China First Capital apart from other financial services employers?

We are an internationally-owned China-focused investment bank and advisory firm. Our belief is an investment bank can, and should, be a force for good. This is especially true in China. The purpose and goal of our work each day is to assist in the positive transformation of China. We do this by working selectively, and at the highest level of professionalism and integrity,  with some of China’s most important and successful companies, both private sector and state-owned. We measure our success not by the fees we earn or the bonuses we pay, but by helping our clients achieve their business goals. We choose our clients and transactions carefully, working only on those that promise to deliver wider benefits to China, by increasing wealth, consumer choice, China’s international competitiveness, the efficiency and transparency of the country’s financial sector.

We are in business to make a positive, lasting difference.

We enjoy both a leading position and a strong reputation in China investment banking.  Along with our investment banking and advisory work for clients, we are also a “thought leader” in the industry. Our research reports and commentaries, both in English and Chinese, circulate widely among business leaders, and are published in China’s leading newspapers and magazines. An example, our research into the developing crisis in China’s capital markets and private equity has had significant impacts on large capital flows as well as opening new and productive opportunities for M&A deals across the country.

What is the work culture like at China First Capital?

We are highly collaborative. But, in the end, the source of our strength and success is the strong commitment and very high standards of each individual at our firm. In other words, our company aims to be a place where high achievers with strong self-direction can flourish, their goals nurtured by the chairman and backed by the collective intelligence and experience of the entire team.  We are straight-talkers, both with one another and with clients. Bureaucracy, BS and hierarchy are not tolerated.

We try to combine positive aspects of both East and West. We draw heavily on the Confucian traditions of humility, conscientiousness, simplicity and honesty. Equally, we strive to be path-breakers in the investment banking and advisory industry in China, by making available for China’s private sector entrepreneurs the best practices, deal structures, financial innovation and rigorous analysis of large Wall Street institutions.

Though based in the southern city of Shenzhen, where the private sector first took root in modern China, we have a business that as broad and diversified as China itself. We have clients from every region as well as most industries in China.  (For a look at some of China First Capital’s recent clients and transactions, click here. )

We have more and better opportunities than most firms our size. So, we try continually to expand the range of our skills and the real-world value of our knowledge and experience. This is the fuel we use as an investment bank to help propel China’s long-term growth and prosperity.

What are you looking for in a new hire?

Above all, a person with a “higher calling”, a deep and unchangeable desire to devote one’s energy, talents, education and intellect towards a useful and positive purpose — not purely towards accumulating higher sums in one’s bank account.

We build relationships of deep trust with entrepreneurs and business leaders who are far more accomplished than we are. And yet, they seek to rely on our judgment, professionalism, honesty and strong morals. As a result, we look for people who, though often younger than the Chinese CEOs we work with,  can inspire and earn such levels of trust and respect.

3 Reasons to work here:

Each day you will leave the office knowing that you are engaged in work that will help change China for the better. You will learn more about more than you could just about anywhere else. China is a country undergoing history’s most successful sustained economic transformation. You will both witness and participate constructively in that process of positive change. It’s our belief there is no better work, anywhere, than jobs that allow you do this.

Any advice for job seekers interested in China First Capital?

Take the time to read closely and evaluate the materials and introduction on our website, www.chinafirstcapital.com.

If we seem to be articulating goals and a world view that is in harmony with yours, then please send us your resume, along with an explanation (not a canned cover letter) about why you think our company, and the work we do, are the best place for you to learn, grow and flourish in a long-term career.

We are committed first to our clients’ success, not to our own glory, status or wealth. This is our greatest competitive advantage as a company and a reason so many of China’s best companies seek us out and seek our help to achieve their ambitious goals.

Interested in learning more about China First Capital?  Visit their blog for information about key trends in China’s private equity industry, M&A and capital markets. You can also view China First Capital’s recent research reports here.