During the hiring process, managers learn about a candidate’s fit for a position by asking about experience, communication skills, and other professional questions. However, hiring managers will often take more liberties with their process, inquiring about protected information like age, identity, disabilities, or family.

In April, ResumeBuilder.com surveyed 1,000 U.S. hiring managers to better understand illegal questions asked in the hiring process.

Key findings:

  • 32% of hiring managers admit they knowingly ask illegal questions
  • 3 in 5 regularly ask about a candidate’s identity during the hiring process
  • 56% regularly illegally inquire about job seekers’ family (i.e., pregnancy, marital status)
  • Half ask illegal health, disability status questions
  • 62% inquire about prior salary

1 in 3 Hiring Managers Say They Knowingly Ask Illegal Questions

Many hiring managers ask protected questions during the hiring process with the knowledge that they are illegal. Of hiring managers, 13% frequently (5%) or often (8%) ask these questions, and 8% sometimes do. Additionally, 11% rarely ask, and 69% never do.

“There are a variety of reasons why hiring managers will ask illegal questions, even though they know they are illegal,” says Resume Builder’s resume and career strategist Julia Toothacre. “Many job seekers are desperate for work and they believe that not answering a question might take them out of the running for a position, especially if it’s a question where the answer would work in their favor. Many people also don’t know what is illegal to ask, so they answer questions openly, not thinking about the consequences or bias someone might have.

“Hiring managers also don’t want other priorities and situations to hinder employees’ ability to work. If you’re a parent or have a disability, people believe there is a higher likelihood of you using sick time, asking for flexibility, or having emergencies. In the eyes of a hiring manager or owner, time is money, especially if these are things they don’t have experience with personally.

“In some cases, the hiring manager may have experiences that prompt these questions. People create bias, both positive and negative, from their lived experiences. A hiring manager could have a disability and wants to ensure that other people with disabilities are given a shot. Maybe there is a team member who has children and calls out a lot, so they want to hire someone without children, assuming they will be at work more consistently.”

Among hiring managers, men are more likely to knowingly ask illegal questions than women. Of the men we surveyed, 18% ask illegal questions all the time (7%) or often (11%). Additionally, 10% sometimes inquire about protected topics, while 11% rarely and 62% never do. Of female hiring managers, only 3% ask all the time, and 5% often ask. Further, 5% sometimes ask, 10% rarely ask, and 77% never do.

“I’m not surprised that women ask these illegal questions less,” explains Toothacre. “In many cases, they are targeted at them, so they know how it feels to be on the other side of an illegal question and lose an opportunity because of it.”

Identity questions – such as race, citizenship, and sexual orientation – are protected under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to our study, hiring managers nonetheless ask these questions, with 47% of hiring managers always (23%) or often (24%) asking about identity in interviews. Conversely, 11% sometimes inquire about identity, 11% rarely ask, and 32% never do.

Of those who ask about these topics, 83% ask about citizenship status, 53% inquire about native language, and 48% ask about race/ethnicity. Additionally, 34% bring up sexual orientation, and 26% about religion.

Seventy-two percent say an applicant’s answer is very likely (27%) or somewhat likely (36%) to affect whether they were hired, while 28% said that it is not likely to affect their hiring decision, and 4% do not know the impact.

“Language and religion questions can be asked if the position requires you to speak another language or if the organization is faith-based,” says Toothacre. “This can get confusing for applicants if they don’t realize the company is religious when they apply. In some cases, you need to sign a declaration of your faith, submit a statement about your faith, or sign a lifestyle expectations document.”

“When it comes to speaking multiple languages, make sure you get paid extra! Many people don’t ask about additional compensation for multiple languages, but you need to. If you’re getting paid the same as someone who only speaks one language, usually the native language, you need to ask for additional compensation.”

3 in 5 ask candidates their age

Asking a candidate how old they are is another protected question under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Of hiring managers surveyed, 32% say they always inquire about age, and 18% often do so. Additionally, 9% sometimes ask a candidate’s age, and 7% rarely do, while 34% never do.

The majority (63%) say the job seeker’s answer is likely to affect whether they are hired, while 37% say this is unlikely, and 6% are not sure of its impact.

“Age discrimination is one of the most common things I hear about,” says Toothacre. “My challenge to hiring managers is to see the benefits from both ends of the age spectrum and not assume how or why someone is making career choices. Many older candidates I’ve spoken to are interested in lower-level positions because they don’t want stress at the end of their careers. It means they will stay in the position longer and don’t care about being promoted.”

Asking about a candidate’s family, including marital status, pregnancy, and family background, is also illegal. Despite this, 17% of hiring managers always ask about these topics, 22% often inquire, and 17% sometimes do. Conversely, 13% rarely ask, and 32% never do.

Of this group, 67% ask about marital status, 60% ask if they have kids, and 35% discuss family history/background. Pregnancy is also a common subject, with 33% of hiring managers asking if a candidate is pregnant and 21% if they plan to become pregnant.

Fifty-seven percent say their answer was likely to affect whether they are hired, while 43% say that this information is unlikely to have implications, and 6% are unsure.

“Hiring managers bring up family topics because they either want to know where your priorities will be throughout the day, or they had a bad experience with a previous employee,” explains Toothacre. “A hiring manager might prefer to hire someone without kids because it’s assumed they will need less time off. The argument here is that everyone is given a certain amount of time off and should be able to use it when needed, regardless of the reason. It’s also not fair to assume that someone without kids will be more available.”

1 in 2 Ask Unlawful Health, Disability Questions

Hiring managers cannot legally ask about candidates’ health and disabilities. In spite of this, 29% of hiring managers report that they always (19%) or often (20%) ask about medical history, while 10% sometimes do so. Additionally, 8% rarely and 43% never ask.

The vast majority (75%) say candidate responses are likely to affect whether they are hired, 25% report that they are unlikely to affect decisions, and 7% are not sure of the effect.

Hiring managers also ask about candidates’ disabilities: 23% always ask disability-related questions, and 18% often do. Meanwhile, 17% sometimes discuss disabilities, and 43% rarely (13%) or never (30%) do. Of this group, 68% said their answer was likely to affect whether they are hired, while 32% report being unlikely to affect the process and 7% are unsure.

3 in 5 Regularly Inquire About Candidate’s Prior Salary

In 30 states, it is illegal to ask about a candidate’s salary history; nonetheless, 39% of hiring managers always (15%) or often (24%) ask. Conversely, 23% sometimes ask, 15% rarely ask, and 24% never do.

“A person’s previous salary doesn’t have any bearing on the future salary,” explains Toothacre. “There are too many inconsistencies between location, industry, function, and size of the company to use a previous salary to inform a future salary. Most companies have salary bands for all their positions that are based on location, industry, level, and other factors from the organization. Companies should be using those bands in combination with the candidate’s experience to determine the offer.”

1 in 3 Bring Up Controversial Political Topics

While not illegal, it is controversial to discuss political views during the hiring process, yet many hiring managers do so anyway. Of surveyed hiring managers, 19% always (5%) or often (14%) ask candidates about political beliefs, while 10% sometimes bring up these topics. Additionally, 9% rarely and 63% never ask about politics.

Of those who do, 57% say they are more likely to hire a candidate who supports Biden, and 26% report being more likely to hire someone pro-Trump. Meanwhile, 13% say they are less likely to hire a Biden supporter, and 20% are less likely to hire someone who backs Trump. Finally, 30% are no more or less likely to hire a Biden supporter, and 54% feel neutral about hiring a pro-Trump candidate.

“Hiring bias and discrimination is a huge problem, even with all the laws in place,” says Toothacre. “Hiring managers and owners know that it’s unlikely someone sues them for discrimination in hiring because it’s hard to prove. It doesn’t make it any less of an issue. Hiring managers need to realize that they are hiring people, and you never know what will happen in someone’s life that might impact their work. In many cases, it’s outside of their control.

“Think about all the talent going to waste because there was a bias or assumption made about someone. Imagine if people were given the benefit of the doubt and then held accountable within their positions to meet specific goals versus being judged for their life choices.”


This survey was commissioned by ResumeBuilder.com and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish. It was launched on April 3, 2024. Overall, 1,000 hiring managers completed the full survey.

To qualify for the survey, all participants had to meet demographic criteria, including being currently employed, 25 or older, having an organizational role of middle management or higher, having an income of at least $50,000, and working for a company with at least 11 employees.

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