If you’re looking for a job, you’ve undoubtedly come across countless resources that talk about what employers can and can’t ask during an interview. For instance, potential employers can’t ask how old you are, whether you’re married or have children, or whether you have any debt. But a lot of job seekers don’t realize that employers who are aware of the law really, really don’t want you to volunteer that information. It’s a matter of “ignorance is bliss.” They know they can’t be sued for discrimination based on knowledge they didn’t have.
With that in mind, here are three types of “illegal” information frequently volunteered by applicants:
- Whether you’re married and/or have children: Job applicants probably wander into this “no-no” area more than any other. It’s natural to want to talk about the people who matter to you. But it’s illegal for employers to discriminate based on marital or parenting status. So let’s say you have a baby and a toddler at home, and you’re applying for a job that requires a lot of travel. If you voluntarily tell the interviewer that you have young children, you put him in a tight spot. He has to be very careful asking you about how that will affect your ability to travel. But, if he doesn’t ask and ends up not hiring you, you could sue for discrimination and say that the interviewer seemed to lose interest as soon as you mentioned your kids. That’s going to make the interviewer very uncomfortable, and people don’t hire applicants who make them uncomfortable.
- Arrest record/dishonorable discharge: A lot of people like to anticipate objections by getting negative information out there right away. But here’s the thing: employers can only ask about convictions, not arrests. If you tell an employer, “One time I got arrested because a security guard thought I was shoplifting, but the case got thrown out,” he now has information he’s not legally entitled to have. If he later chooses not to hire you and you sue for discrimination, he’d have to prove that knowing about your arrest record was not a factor. The same is true for a dishonorable discharge from the military. It’s natural to want to get it out there to overcome any concerns the interviewer might have, but you’re placing an additional legal burden on him by offering that information.
- Religious beliefs: This is a really touchy area. Even if you’re comfortable talking about your religion, that doesn’t mean your interviewer is comfortable hearing it. One obvious reason to stay away from the topic is that you don’t want to cause any awkwardness between the two of you. But an even bigger reason is that religious discrimination is strictly prohibited. Once the employer knows your religion, he becomes responsible for that information. And you really don’t want a potential employer to go digging for tangible reasons not to hire you. But that’s just what could happen if he’s worried about getting sued for religious discrimination.
So much interviewing advice centers on building a rapport with the interviewer that it’s easy to forget there’s such a thing as too much rapport. Even if you find out that you both love golden retrievers, went to the same high school, and root for the same football team, don’t get so comfortable that you offer information the interviewer would be better off not knowing.