56. The “Secret” Illegal Question


Much more frequent than the Illegal question (see Question 55) is the secret illegal question. It’s secret because it’s asked only in the interviewer’s mind. Since it’s not even expressed to you, you have no way to respond to it, and it can there be most damaging.

Example: You’re physically challenged, or a single mother returning to your professional career, or over 50, or a member of an ethnic minority, or fit any of a dozen other categories that do not strictly conform to the majority in a given company.

Your interviewer wonders, “Is this person really able to handle the job?”…”Is he or she a ‘good fit’ at a place like ours?”…”Will the chemistry ever be right with someone like this?” But the interviewer never raises such questions because they’re illegal. So what can you do?


Remember that just because the interviewer doesn’t ask an illegal question doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it. More than likely, he is going to come up with his own answer. So you might as well help him out.

How? Well, you obviously can’t respond to an illegal question if he hasn’t even asked. This may well offend him. And there’s always the chance he wasn’t even concerned about the issue until you brought it up, and only then begins to wonder.

So you can’t address “secret” illegal questions head-on. But what you can do is make sure there’s enough counterbalancing information to more than reassure him that there’s no problem in the area he may be doubtful about.

For example, let’s say you’re a sales rep who had polio as a child and you need a cane to walk. You know your condition has never impeded your performance, yet you’re concerned that your interviewer may secretly be wondering about your stamina or ability to travel. Well, make sure that you hit these abilities very hard, leaving no doubt about your capacity to handle them well.

So, too, if you’re in any different from what passes for “normal”. Make sure, without in any way seeming defensive about yourself that you mention strengths, accomplishments, preferences and affiliations that strongly counterbalance any unspoken concern your interviewer may have.

57. What was the toughest part of your last job?


This is slightly different from the question raised earlier, “What’s the most difficult part of being a (job title…)” because this asks what you personally have found most difficult in your last position. This question is more difficult to redefine into something positive. Your interviewer will assume that whatever you found toughest may give you a problem in your new position.


State that there was nothing in your prior position that you found overly difficult, and let your answer go at that. If pressed to expand your answer, you could describe the aspects of the position you enjoyed more than others, making sure that you express maximum enjoyment for those tasks most important to the open position, and you enjoyed least those tasks that are unimportant to the position at hand.