Addressing Illegal Questions
Various federal, state, and local laws regulate the questions a prospective employer can ask you. Questions must relate to the job for which you are applying!
You have options if you are asked an illegal question
- Choose to answer the question knowing you are providing information that isn't job related. You take the risk that a "wrong" answer could harm your chances for a position.
- Refust to answer the question. You will be within your rights, but you may come off as uncooperative or confrontational which could put off potential employers.
- Examine the intent behind the question and respond with an answer to this. For example, if you are asked if you are married or engaged, you might choose to respond that your personal life allows you to meet all the requirements for the position.
Questions that might be asked - illegally and legally
National Origin / Citizenship
Employers are allowed to ask if you are authorized to work in the US. They are not allowed to ask if you are a US citizen, were born in the US, or your native language.
Employers are allowed to ask if you are over the age of 18. They are not allowed to ask how old you are, your birthdate, or the year your graduated from college if it isn't on your résumé.
Marital / Family Status
Employers need to know if you are able to perform the requirements of the job - including working overtime, relocating, or traveling if necessary. These questions should be asked directly. They are not allowed to ask about your marital status, children, or daycare arrangements so they can make assumptions if you are able to meet these requirements.
The social organizations or clubs you belong to are personal. The employer may aks if your membership in any organization might be relevant to your ability to perform the job.
Your height and weight is personal. The employer's right is restricted to knowing if you can fulfill the physical requirements of the position (e.g., lifting a 50-pound weight).
Employers are not allowed to ask if you are disabled or for your, or your family's, medical history. They may ask if you are able to perform the essential functions of the job and even request you demonstrate job-related functions. Once hired, companies are allowed to have you undergo a physical examination. Results are confidential with the exception that medical/safety personnel may be notified of conditions which could require medical treatment and supervisors regarding the needed accommodations.
For more information on when and how to disclose a disability, check out The National Organization on Disability and National Mental Health Center.
Employers are not allowed to ask if you have been arrested but may ask if you been convicted of a crime that is resonably related to the performance of the job.
Employers are not allowed to ask if you were honorably discharged from the military. They must limit their questions to the branch of service or training and education received during your time in the military.
Make Your Cover Letter Count in a Competitive Job Market
Today’s primary modes of communication are e-mail, text messages, and web pages. The job search process is no different. Most job searches are done on the Internet, and job seekers e-mail their resumes or complete online applications.
Given these facts: Are cover letters still necessary?
While the answer varies, the majority of human resource representatives and recruiters say yes. Done the right way, a cover letter can capture the second glance needed in a competitive job market.
There are two tips for crafting a catchy cover letter: follow the formula and personalize it.
Tip #1: Follow the formula
Cover letters contain four components with one essential question answered in each.
Paragraph One – Introduction
Who are you and why are you writing?
Paragraph Two – Highlight of Qualifications
How has your education, previous employment, or other experiences repared you for the position?
Paragraph Three – Connection to the Company
Why is this company or job a good fit for you?
Paragraph Four – Closing Statement
How interested are you and where can you be reached for an interview?
Tip #2: Personalize it
Paragraphs one and four follow standard formats. The opportunity for your application to connect with a recruiter is in paragraphs two and three.
Paragraph Two: Draw attention to yourself
When you read the job description and you declared, “I’m perfect for this job!” Tell the recruiter why. Is it because of a particular course you studied? Did you complete an internship that allowed you to perform similar duties and responsibilities? Were you able to develop a skill set through a part-time job or campus activity that is applicable to this position?
Make the connection between your past and this job. Don’t repeat your resume, but rather make reference to items on it that you especially want the recruiter to be aware of.
Paragraph Three: “Professional Flattery”
Your job search will reveal many positions for which you are qualified, but not all of them are of interest. What makes this position or company different? Pinpoint specifics about the job description that catch your eye. Research the organization. If the company product or workplace philosophy is appealing, tell the recruiter why.
Avoid empty compliments. Recruiters can spot meaningless sweet talk a mile away.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Applicants sometimes forget professionalism, and even common sense, when it comes to e-mailing and the job search. If your e-mail contains any of the following, hit the delete button.
- A risqué e-mail address. Use a basic e-mail address comprised of your name, initials, or something similar. Save
for corresponding with friends.
- Greeting the recruiter by their first name. If you know the recruiter’s name, don’t forget that Mr. or Ms. is still necessary. Just because Ms. Jane Doe lists her first name doesn’t mean you can call her Jane.
- A salutation that doesn’t begin with “Dear.” This is a business letter. Beginning the correspondence with “Greetings,” “Hello,” or “Hi There!” is not acceptable.
- Emoticons. 8-) :-( ;-) Emoticons are used to convey attitudes or emotions, both of which are irrelevant in a cover letter.
- Acronyms. LOL, COB, FAQs. As with emoticons, acronyms have no place in job-search correspondence, unless they are standard acronyms, such as that used for a company or association. For example: NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) is appropriate. “The 411 about NACE is very positive” is not.
by Kelli Robinson
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