The Basics of Illegal Interviewing

By: McKenzie

Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates from ages 18-48 the average US citizen will hold 11.7 jobs in their lifetime and a trend seen in recent years, as the BLS studies younger candidates, has found there to be an increase in the number of jobs held from 18 onward. This means the average person will likely experience at a minimum of 11 interviews before they retire.

Jar with colored pens and blank notebook open on a desk. Text: The basics of illegal interviewing.

What is illegal interviewing? 
The term illegal interviewing may inspire images of a shady business deal and other ominous activities but in reality, it is actually rather subtle. Illegal interviewing is when employers ask their prospective employee’s questions which they are not legally allowed to in an interview.

What can’t employers ask me?
Employers can’t ask you questions regarding your age, ethnicity/race, gender/sex, country of national origin/birthplace, religion, disability, marital/family state, and pregnancy.

Why is it important I know about illegal interviewing?
Illegal interviewing can be a way to eliminate you as a candidate for a position—whether intentional or not. You should be aware of it because you if you are the most qualified for employment in the position applied for then you shouldn’t be excluded from the opportunity.

Who should I tell?
If you are up to it, you should start by speaking with the person and say, “I am not comfortable with that question,” and explain to them why it is not appropriate. Doing this could help candidates in the future who may not feel comfortable speaking up. If you don’t feel like you can bring it up to the interviewer then you can bring it up to their HR (Human Resources). Some companies will want to follow-up with you about your experience, that would be another time to bring up any inappropriate questions that may have been asked.

Of Possible Interest: 
Job Questions that are Illegal – The Balance Careers
Interviewing – UMD Career Handbook
Key to Interviewing – our Pinterest board filled with articles & resources

Read McKenzie’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Jessica Lewis

Know How to Use the Tools in the Toolbox

By: Tori

We’ve all been told the tips and tricks for interviews from peers, teachers, and family members. You understand the importance of knowing your strengths and weaknesses, reading over those dreaded situational-based questions, practicing your smile and wave, and making sure you brush your teeth and shower beforehand.

If you’re like me, you still get confused on how to use these tips to help you prepare for an interview. It’s as if you have all the tools in the toolbox, but no idea what any of them are for.

The last time I prepared for an interview it was like studying for a test. Not just your nice, easy 10 point vocabulary quiz. No, it was like those 40% of your grade midterm exams. Do I regret the effort and time I put into this? Absolutely not. It was completely worth it. I firmly believe it is how I landed my internship at Hormel Foods– I got an A on the exam.

I decided to use the tips, or tools, I had heard numerous times before and actually take the initiative to practice them. I think more often than not this is where many people fail when it comes to interviews. You have to practice for them. It’s like writing a speech for class. You don’t practice it once before you speak in front of 30 people; you practice it a bajillion times, still hoping you won’t embarrass yourself when you go up and do the real thing.

One of the most successful ways I prepare for interviews is by making an Experience-Task-Growth Chart. I make three columns and write the role, what I did, and how I grew down on a piece of paper. This allows me to visualize my skills and abilities without having to think too hard. It also makes practicing those dreaded situational-based questions much easier because I can literally see my role, what I did, and how I grew or accomplished a goal, right on the piece of paper in front of me.

Here is an example of my Experience-Task-Growth Chart:

Experience: My role Task: What did I do? Growth: How I grew
Sassy Strawberry Cashier Counted Tills


Assisted Customers

Cleaned the Shop

Managed stock

Held accountable for money and store upkeep

Was a positive influence on the business with my enthusiastic personality and attention to the customers

Problem solved based on customer situation, for example coupons failing
Did what I felt was best; was able to make quick decisions
Followed procedures and safety regulations

Austin Country Club Lifeguard Regulated pool

and safety of patrons

Developed relationships with members


Undivided attention and full alertness to patrons and members

Confidence in my ability and certification in CPR and First Aid

Remained personable toward members


Class Title Teaching Assistant Held one-on-one meetings

Met with professor weekly

Spoke in front of the class weekly

Graded assignments

Adapted to different personalities in order to fulfill criteria

Developed relationships with students and helped them transition into a new environment- I did this by relating to their experiences

Responsible for fair and valued work

Sacrificed my own time to be there for students in a difficult transition

Cru Summer Mission Participant Spent 4 weeks with college students all over the US in Crested Butte, CO.

Experiential learning; hiking, biking, backpacking, whitewater rafting

Grew in relationships with others, community, and leadership

Understood diversity; lived with 10 other girls who were previously strangers

Learned how to be vulnerable in new situations

Cru Leadership Team Member Attended weekly meetings to plan and prepare our large group meeting for 70+ students

Met one-on-one with freshman members

Marketed the organization and conferences

Utilized time management and collaboration skills

Creative; learn to think outside of the box

Problem solving- students were not as involved and their was a change in our organization. I had to use my creative and critical thinking to develop ways for students to be more engaged and apply a different approach


Another thing that helps me while I am being interviewed is bringing a copy of my resume. Usually I just set it to the side, but if I need to answer a question and can’t think of a great example I reference my resume. While many people may think this is distracting, it actually shows you are prepared and provides you with more opportunities to relate your experiences in unique ways.

Now that you know how to use a few of those tips, or tools in your toolbox, you’ll be better prepared for your next interview.

Good luck, and remember to be authentic!

Of Possible Interest: 

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A College Student’s Guide to Interviews: Part 2

By: Willow

In my last blog post I talked about two starter steps to get ready for interviews. In this blog post I want to give a few tips on what to do in the actual interview, ways to really shine, and get the job you’re perfect for.

In an interview, employers are looking for a lot of things. Some focus just on skills you have, some focus on personality and if you will fit with their team, and some focus on a number of other little things that add up to an employee. It is important to know what your strengths are, a good place to start is by taking the StrengthsQuest assessment at Career & Internship Services. StrengthsQuest gives you your top five strengths and breaks them down into different categories, after you get your results you can have a meeting with a career counselor in the office to help you figure out how you can apply those strengths in your life. The cool thing about StrengthsQuest is that a lot of businesses are using these for team building and employee development so if you already know your strengths you’re a step ahead.

You have far more than five strengths though, and StrengthsQuest isn’t going to be able to tell you that you can come up with really creative campaign slogans, and that certainly is a skill to be proud of. Make a list of everything you bring to the table, big and small. Read over the list and think of specific times you used those skills you could talk about in your interview. Remember that interviews are a time for you to talk about yourself. I know it’s not easy, a lot of people have troubling talking about their strengths, but there is a difference between being cocky and being confident. It can be a difficult line to walk but practicing can really help, just like in my last blog post, I HIGHLY recommend doing a practice interview with the career office.

Remember, you have skills, you are awesome, and everyone wants to hire you, just don’t be a jerk about it. If you apply for jobs you are passionate about, you want to be good at, and you want to work hard at, you’re already halfway there. Do what you love folks, and the rest will fall in line.

Of Possible Interest:

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The Interview: What do They Want to Know?

By: Glen

I had my first interview for a full-time position during spring break of my last semester of college. I had read pro tips for interviewing, had a mock interview, and had a previous internship interview at a large company. My best friend had given me his big takeaways from his 9 month circuit of interviews before landing his first job. I thought I had all the knowledge I needed to perform in an interview situation.

I was wrong.

There are a few different types of interview: the unstructured interview, the semi-structured interview, and the structured interview. You will almost always see a semi-structured or structured interview. In these interviews, the interviewer will have a specific set of questions prepared, and will generally not stray from those questions. Whether or not they do is the difference between a structured interview and a semi-structured interview.

Why is it important to know how an interview is structured? The reason it is preferred to have structure to the interview is because each question is designed to answer certain questions about the potential employee. The employer wants to find (or reaffirm) that a potential hire has specific qualities, skills, and work styles that fit with the position.

Before my first interview, I had taken a personality/work style assessment for the employer I wished to work for. My set of scores got me an interview, and some of the questions they asked me were specifically related to the scores I received. However, I was unaware of this until the last piece of the interview.

Luckily for me, I had a trained interviewer working with me, who was willing to be direct when my answers to their initial questions did not quite answer their questions. It was then that I learned I could have done much better in the interview if I understood what answers they were trying to get from me with the questions they asked.

Here is my challenge to you: before you interview, understand what qualifications they are looking for that might not be possible to address in your resume. Things like teamwork, handling problems, making decisions, and leadership are just a few of the possibilities. Use your resources! The recruiter, and the job posting are good starts. You will feel much more prepared if you have an idea of what is coming up.

Of Possible Interest:

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How to Prepare for Interviews

By: Ashley

Hey everyone! So the last time I left you I talked about post-baccalaureate programs and I mentioned that I received an invitation for an interview at the Mayo. I decided the best thing to do next would be to share with you all the process I went through to get myself ready for my interview. The two biggest things that helped me were research and mock interviews.

To start out, I began researching everything possible on the program that I wanted to get into. I researched the curriculum including all classes and descriptions of what each course would entail. I researched the faculty members who were going to be on the panel interviewing me. It wasn’t super in-depth research just their biographies listed on the program web site. I think it helped knowing who I was going to be interviewed by, it relieved some stress being able to put a face to the name. I also made sure to research the goals and competencies that the program director and faculty put in place for the program so I would know what they stand for.

The next step was getting comfortable in the interviewing environment. Being under the pressure of having someone firing questions at you and having to think of appropriate answers to the questions off the top of your head can be very stressful. Being able to keep your cool and answer the questions effectively is an important part of projecting confidence during an interview. To get ready I scheduled a one on one mock interview with a career counselor in our office and then a follow-up with her and another career counselor to simulate a mock panel interview. Not only did the counselors interview me but then they provided feedback and helpful hints. Some hints they gave me that were particularly helpful were:

  • Write down your strengths and weaknesses ahead of time – even if they don’t ask you the dreaded “tell me your weaknesses” question, they may come in handy in other questions.
  • Come up with questions for the interviewers ahead of time – it never hurts to ask them about themselves, you know ask them how they got into the field you want to get into.
  • Know what you can contribute, what makes you unique, and how you differ from the other candidates.

Other resources that can be used are InterviewStream, even if you don’t want to record yourself you can look through thousands of questions and have a friend ask you them, or you can practice in from of a mirror. Overall, there are multiple ways to get prepared for an interview. I think the most priceless of these is the mock interview. I think that many people do not use this resource to their advantage and many may be unaware that it is a service provided by our office. I think an appropriate quote to end this post would be by Arthur Ashe and it goes “one important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”

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College Connect: Interviewing and More

By: Glen

After meeting my mentor at the kick-off event, despite my knowledge that they have had numerous experiences in fields that I am interested in, I was still inexplicably skeptical that I would be able to work the relationship in a way that would be educational and positive for the two of us. I knew I needed to keep an open heart to make this work. With this in mind, I jumped into my next two meetings with my mentor to figure out some goals.

Lunch is Good

At the kick-off event, my mentor and I had scheduled a time to meet up for lunch before the next College Connect event. As it turned out, this was a spectacular idea. My mentor showed up with numerous ideas to involve me in their work process, so I can learn the different aspects of the positon. What better way to learn about a specific job in a specific environment than to get in and observe? Besides discussing ways to make this a real mentor/mentee relationship, we were able to talk about common interests. I found out that my mentor has spent time in the past participating in theatre, as I do currently. Overall, I was glad I gave our relationship a second chance, as my mentor and I were beginning to relate to one another much more easily.

Passionate Interviewing

Upon arrival to the second College Connect event (hosted at UMD this time) many of the mentors and mentees were confused as to what was going on that night. Originally, we were supposed to have a dining etiquette night, but our event registration was titled “Speed Networking,” which was what we did at our first event. With a skeptical crowd piled into a lecture hall, the organizers of the College Connect program surprised us with a good lesson.

To open the event, we watched an advertisement that showed a company doing a “normal” interview with people, before switching it up and creating an interview that went through things such as the interviewer collapsing, a fire drill, and a person jumping from a building into a firefighter trampoline. The oddities and invalidity aside, the advertisement has a point. Good interviews should leave the employer with knowledge about the person they interviewed. Will the person fit in with the goals and vision of the company?

With those ideas in mind, we spent the rest of the event talking with our mentors and other mentors about our “brand.” What are you passionate about? Can you effectively communicate that passion to a stranger? After discussing passions, we took turns practicing listening skills. We were only allowed to ask questions, and not allowed to insert any comments. These communication practice sessions were useful tools to discover the different aspects that go into an interview. The person being interviewed can control the conversation to play into their strengths by answering questions in a way that directs questions toward your passions.

So far, I feel the College Connect program has been a successful endeavor. I have learned a number of lessons about myself, including the willingness to open up to someone outside of my age range, communicating effectively, starting random conversation, and discussing strengths.

Of Possible Interest:

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Hobbies & Interests: Application and Interview Tips

By: Michael

If you’ve applied for a job before, it is likely that you have seen the question “what are your interests or hobbies?” on the application or have been asked it in an interview. It might seem trivial at first, but hobbies and interests are great ways to stand out on paper and can provide the possibility of revealing common interests with an employer during an interview. Many people get thrown off by questions about hobbies or interests or are not sure how to answer and although the question might seem like a trick at first, there are ways to turn it in your favor. One way to be prepared to answer these questions is to practice your answer in advance by thinking about your hobbies and how they relate to the job you are applying for. Talking about how you watch television or hang out with friends outside of work is most likely not a relevant or related hobby whereas an interest in reading and writing can probably be more applicable. Try writing a list of all of your favorite activities that come to mind and compare them to the job description provided by the company or employer and match activities by relevance. Here is a brief example:

Analysis of Landscaping Position

Hobby Job Description Relevance
Hiking, jogging, exercise Work Outdoors Mid-High
Manual Labor High

Based on this example you can see how someone’s interest in exercising and spending time outdoors can be a relevant topic of discussion for a landscaping position because of crossover attributes between the activity and job description. In this example, it can be surmised that the activity of ‘hiking, jogging, exercise’ is a good example and could be used on an application.

There are also some pretty handy tricks to adding a preview of your hobbies and interests on your resume that employers might notice such as including study abroad experience, extra-curricular involvement, and volunteer history. Although these are subjects that should be on your resume anyway, it is important to note that these are topics that may be brought up during an interview. Although you might not reiterate these items on an application to avoid redundancy, you should still be prepared to talk about them in the event that an employer asks. From my experience, an employer might ask these questions primarily for one or two reasons including, but not limited to the following:

  1. Employer might be personally interested in the hobby or share their interest
  2. Employer recognizes relevance between the activity and position you are applying for

A good rule of thumb to determine relevance is to think about whether it makes sense to describe your hobby and end with you explaining why you believe you would be a perfect candidate.

Important side note: this should go without saying, do not lie about your hobbies and interests. It is much more difficult to elaborate on an activity that you have no experience with.

This article further explains how to determine relevance when considering your hobbies and interests in an employment setting. Remember that having activities and hobbies is a human trait that is shared differently by everyone and that it is impossible to imagine what life would be like if hobbies did not exist. Knowing this, you should be able to identify your own hobbies in your life and begin to connect them to your work life.

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