Q: How old are you?
A: I'm 37 years old. In those 37 years, I've raised three children, volunteered at our local public library as a storyteller, worked for the Big Brother/Big Sister organization in town, and been a Cub Scout leader for my son's troop. I've had varied and diverse experiences with primary-level children and would hope to bring all those experiences to Pinedale Elementary School as a second-grade teacher.
The key to answering an illegal question is to subtly shift the focus away from the easy one- or two-word answer and onto one of your strengths. Demonstrate how the "illegality" can be viewed as a positive quality, and you've effectively put out a fire, while demonstrating your spark.
Here are four other examples of illegal questions and how you might respond:
Q: How long have you had that disability?
A: I lost my finger when I was a young child helping my grandfather on his
farm. I grew up in a rural environment, and I guess I've always enjoyed the outdoors. I'd like to be able to contribute my interest and fascination with flora and fauna with this new generation of learners. I've been fortunate to live most of my life hiking, exploring, and enjoying nature, and I believe I can help young people appreciate, and become part of, the natural world through an inquiry-based science curriculum—one that offers lots of outdoor experiences and takes advantage of their natural inquisitiveness about nature.
Q: Do you plan to get pregnant?
A: My husband and I have no immediate plans to have children, but you never know. We both love children and have always gotten a lot of pleasure working as camp counselors and in numerous after-school projects. I love opportunities where I can help youngsters become their best, realize their potential, and grow and learn as members of society. I guess I'm just passionate about children and look forward to the possibility of affecting their lives in as many positive ways as possible.
Q: Where were you born?
A: I was born in northern California. I grew up in the Bay Area and had the pleasure of attending schools that were ethnically diverse, racially mixed, and multicultural. I've eaten varied foods, celebrated interesting holidays, participated in several cultural traditions, and been to any number of religious ceremonies. I believe I can bring that diversity of experiences into my classroom to show children how we can all live together if we just take the time to learn about each other's customs, traditions, and beliefs. I want to give students the same kinds of experiences I was fortunate enough to have in my early years.
Q: Are you divorced?
A: My former husband and I separated a few years ago. We had separate goals in life. Mine was to be a teacher. Ever since I became the room mother for my son's first grade classroom, I've had a yearning to be a classroom teacher. I'm fascinated with how kids learn and especially with the ways that teachers can positively influence that learning. I've always had a burning desire to work with children—helping them grow, learn, and develop—and teaching seemed to be the most natural way to do that.
You need to decide ahead of time how you might respond to an illegal question. What are you most comfortable with? What type of response will put you in the best light without giving away sensitive or unnecessary information? In short, how can you turn a negative situation into a positive one?
Following is a list of selected illegal questions. Take some time to practice how you might respond to several of these. As you review this list, you will quickly note that the bulk of these questions tend to be posed more to women than to men. This factor is as much a part of outdated stereotypes as it is of antiquated perceptions about the role of women in the workplace. Know that this bias is there, but also know that there are ways you can deal with it (whether male or female) that will help push those stereotypes out of the public consciousness and to the back pages of history books.
When were you born?
Are you married, divorced, separated, single, or gay?
Do you attend church regularly?
What illnesses kept you from student teaching this semester?
Do you plan to get pregnant?
Are you on the pill?
How often do you see a doctor?
Have you ever been diagnosed with ADHD?
What do your parents do?
How long have you had that disability?
Have you ever been treated for depression?
That's an interesting accent. What country are you from?
Do you have any medical or psychiatric problems?
Are you living with anyone?
Where did your family come from?
Have you ever sued an employer or co-worker?
Have you ever declared bankruptcy?
When are you planning to start a family?
What political party do you belong to?
What is your religion?
Do you have many debts?
Do you own or rent your home?
Where were you born?
Do you observe any religious holidays?
How many children do you have? How old are they?
How old are you?
What branch of the military were you in? What kind of discharge were you given?
What is your native language?
What does your spouse think about your career choice?
How much do you weigh?
How tall are you?
What kinds of political or religious organizations do you belong to?
Have you ever filed a Worker's Compensation claim?
What kind of insurance do you carry?
Have you ever been arrested?
FROM THE PRINCIPAL'S DESK:
"I once made the mistake of asking a non-traditional candidate how old she was. She replied, 'These gray hairs are from raising three kids, coaching an after-school soccer program, teaching Sunday School for eleven years, and volunteering at the local library. That's experience you're seeing!' We both chuckled and had a great conversation for the rest of the interview. But I never asked that question again."
Believe it or not, an illegal question gives you a unique opportunity to demonstrate how your strengths and experiences can be used to impress an interviewer. With sufficient practice, you can effectively show how to turn a potential "negative" into a solid "positive."