Is it ok for an interviewer to ask what your ethnicity/religion is?


I have been fortunate enough to have had several interviews within the last month, and every time the person conducting the interview asks me where I am from. I usually take this as where are you from in the US, and respond accordingly- but this does not seem like a sufficient answer most of the time. I should say that I do have an an unusual name and one of my parents is not originally from the US. I myself was born and raised in a small Midwest town.

While this does not really bother me all that much, the interview often goes into discussing my ethnicity/religion and we spend a fair amount of time talking about it. The conversations are always cordial but I often wonder if this is hurting or helping my chances. Should this be something that even comes up during an interview?

Most of the places I have interviewed in the past have had HR staff and these type of conversations never took place, but it seems like at the smaller firms that I have had interviews lately this is a common occurrence.

Anyone with experience with this?

Nov 18, 10 11:53 am
Distant Unicorn

You should be contacting a lawyer as soon as possible because this is incredibly illegal.

Have fun suing the pants off some people!

Nov 18, 10 12:08 pm

In just about every case (big or small firms) it is a rather inappropriate question to ask about stuff like that particularly religion because it's unecessary.

But chances are when these guys ask you this question, they are probably just making conversation and currious about you as a person. So try not to take it personally unless of course they start spouting off against the religion/ethnicity you tell them you are.

I also look foreign and have a foreign name but was born and raised in the South. So when people see my name they feel compelled to ask me where I'm originally from. Never really bothers me and when a potential employer starts asking me about what my views are I typically tell them I don't know or follow events there which prompts them to change the subject...

So don't worry about it.

Nov 18, 10 12:24 pm
vado retro

just say... i love jesus. it's his followers i can't stand.

Nov 18, 10 1:37 pm

You have to evaluate the situation and context. Sometimes questions like these are annoying and sometimes (most of the time) they are about curiosity and conversational as med. indicated above.
You can also turn this to an opportunity by replaying, "Yes I am connected to that place. Are you working on any projects there? I am very familiar with the culture, speak the language and studied its architecture", etc..
Since they are giving you an interview chance, I don't think they are concerned with the exotics of your racial background..

But yes, if it's like this (exaggerated)

"What kind of a name is it?"
"Well it is from "that" place."
"Thank you. This interview is over. It won't work out."

Then it is incredibly illegal.

Nov 18, 10 2:05 pm

Asking one's nationality/ethnicity or religion is completely illegal!!


I get that "so where are you from?" question the minute I open my mouth at the interviews.It is a tough situation because you know it is illegal for them to ask it but sometimes they themselves don't know it is illegal.Some employers have bad intentions when asking the question (aka discrimination) and some of them are good,they are just being curious and want to know more about you. It is a would definitely NOT work to your advantage if you say something like "That question is ILLEGAL!" because the employer may get the impression that you're not easy to get along with and when a minor problem happens you have the potential to sue them.Instead you can give a blurred not being specific.For example in one interview I said something like I was from around Mediterranean area though the question didn't satisfy him. On another interview I told him about my nationality and actually it worked to my advantage because it turned out the interviewer had friends from my country.I can say it was one of the reasons I got hired. So you may never know. Be always polite though. You can find sources on how to answer not so legal questions.

Asking your religion though like some other questions is rude on so many levels. I never had a person ask my religion so far. If you're asked what your religion is just grab your portfolio and walk away.

Nov 18, 10 2:27 pm

Nope. Nor is it okay for an office to ask for a picture of you along with your CV.

Nov 18, 10 2:31 pm

What about if they ask for the information this way?

· In an effort to comply with Federal Guidelines on Affirmative Action I am sending you this message to ask if you would be willing to complete the attached Voluntary Self Identification Form and return it to me. Submission of this form is strictly voluntary, and refusal to provide it will not submit you to any adverse treatment. The information provided will be kept separately from your application for employment, and will not be divulged to anyone involved in the hiring process.

The form asks for ethnic origin, race, gender and disability status.

What do you think?

Nov 18, 10 3:05 pm


In many (most?) western/northern European countries that's par for the course though (along with including your DOB).

While that seems intrusive (even offensive) to those of us raised in North America, it's perfectly accepted overseas.

Just something to be aware of / prepared for.

As for the specific question at hand, yeah it's probably in bad taste, but don't automatically assume they're doing it on discriminatory grounds. Some people are just curious. Besides, where you come from could have relevance in regards to your education, previous work experience, language abilities, etc.. Just answer politely and move-on from there.
I happen to ask most people I meet where they come from (regardless of outward appearances), so don't necessarily take it so personally. IF you're living in a multi-cultural, international city it's only normal to come across people that aren't "from here".
Religion on the other hand seems like a no-go. If they're asking you that, you're perfectly justified in getting frustrated.

Nov 18, 10 3:13 pm
On the fence

I've been asked things like that. Sometimes it is just small talk. You have to ask yourself if you believe it is small talk or something deeper.

btw. I'm a white male. My response is usually "I'm from the xxxx but my family comes from xxxxx" It usually sparks more questions like, "hey I've been there, did you ever see or do xxxx?"

Nov 18, 10 3:53 pm

Ask them if you can have a tour of their office. If there is and international flavor about the place then you know their courious, if the place is filled with Mr Smith and Ms Smith and nothing in between you might want toss the question back in their face. " Have you ever thought about adding a little international flavor to your blah office?
Then give them the "Hairy Eyeball!"

Nov 18, 10 4:01 pm

One time I was at the Canadian border trying to get back into the US right around Thanksgiving... It was just my Mother and I....

Once we told the border patrol what nationality we were "originally of" he made me park my car and they wanted to do a thorough search of us and the car and do a background check. It wasn't that big of a deal but what struck me was the assinine small talk from this redneck upstate New Yorker who kept asking me shit about the country I trace my ethnicity to as if I knew everything about it and the funniest thing is he asked me "we" celebrated thanksgiving in that I was thinking "hmmmmm Yeah the goddamn Pilgrims took a pit stop with the the Mayflower into Messopotamia enjoyed a nice clam bake, some Middle Eastern turkey, and cornbread, before heading out to Plymouth Rock..."

I was thinking -- "Are these idiots the best we have to protect the borders???"

Nov 18, 10 4:07 pm

I usually try to preemptively answer the question of origin since it comes up anyways. I say that I was born on a very, very cold night at the border of Serbia, Siberia, and Syria. My family were camel and polar bear herders who migrated to new world in a helicopter since all our airports had to be plowed over during the great plumb brandy famine.

Truth or fabrication, my explanations are always taken in with a certain deer-in-the-headlights look in interviewer's eyes. Americans suck at geography. Even their own. At interviewer in the south was shocked to hear that architects who went to school in Canada were allowed to work for US firms.

That said, you will occasionally run into people who know more about your country of origin than you do. I like those types of nosy bastards the best.

Nov 18, 10 4:16 pm

med.: "Once we told the border patrol what nationality we were "originally of" he made me park my car and they wanted to do a thorough search of us and the car and do a background check."

Upstate NY guards are the worst. To be fair, the pool of potential candidates in that region is not exactly promising to begin with. Their Canadian counterparts are just as surprisingly rednecky.

The trick is to mention Buffalo Bills, and shake your head in disappointment. That will get you through with no hustle.

Nov 18, 10 4:22 pm

err. hassle, not hustle. Damn dirty immigrant me.

Nov 18, 10 4:25 pm
Distant Unicorn

замолчи́, армянская королева!

Nov 18, 10 4:33 pm

I was told that it isn't illegal to ask in the interview process but that it is illegal to make a hiring decision based on the answer to the question.

So it is a stupid question to ask because you are gong to have a hard time saying you didn't take the answer into account when making a decision.

Nov 18, 10 5:55 pm
zen maker

I always get asked that question during interview because of my accent, but I don't take it against anybody, sometimes, people just curious about where you are from to continue the conversation, I don't get angry at them, or ashamed.

Nov 18, 10 10:33 pm

I always, always get asked about my ethnicity, because it's sort of obviously non-american. It also always, always leads to great conversations and opportunities for me to dazzle 'em with my exotic flair...

...kind of kidding but not really. I mean it really does lead to good conversations, in that it provides a quick, common ground conversation starter and we can all relax and get past the stiffness of the interview situation. So, I love talking about stuff like that. I doubt I ever suffered a hiring handicap from it. In my experience Americans tend to be naturally curious about geography/ethnicity, in direct proportion to their ignorance about said subjects, which is kind of charming and refreshing. Then again I've never interviewed at a redneck firm. My experience with Louisiana leads me to believe that there, I would say "I'm from Chicago" and leave it at that. Guess it depends on the context you find yourself in...

That said, I would find ANY question about religion EXTREMELY discomfiting. I would side-step it for sure.

Nov 18, 10 11:33 pm

induct is right, of course they prejudice, have you ever seen a fat girl get turned away from a club for being "under-dressed"? Questions about race and ethnicity are only insulting and inappropriate for those who make it an issue, otherwise it is a normal question which I would ask to any candidate if I owned a firm.

Nov 19, 10 8:57 am

I love the random checking at Airports....My mrs is Brazilian so every time we would go thru an airport flying in the country or out of the country we get the step aside and get the checkaroo...pat down....wand waving experience. I blame it on me cause I look much older than her...well I am but who is to say you can't marry someone younger than yourself. Funny thing is she has a handful of languages in her pocket, so she usually understands everything going on in the background. I just have to watch her eyes to get the general drift of the conversation.

Nov 19, 10 9:37 am
Justin Ather Maud

Unpaid internships are illegal, too, but that doesn't obviate their existence.

Nov 19, 10 10:22 am

I'm with manta. I am always what nationality my name is. It seems to work in my favor and allows me to introduce the international flair I've accrued over my life. The religion part is a little disconcerting. I would almost be prone to have a short answer and then segue into a different topic.

Nov 19, 10 2:44 pm

being a white male has it's ups and downs.....

Nov 19, 10 2:49 pm

It is completely illegal for a potential employer to ask about the following:

religious beliefs
medical issues
sexual orientation
(they do have a right to ask if you are a US citizen / if you have legal immigration status)

If this happens again (and you want the job), inform the interviewer that they are in clear violation of anti-discrimination laws. The have 2 options - 1. hire you on the spot, 2. get the be-jesus sued out of them. While not totally a great situation, it would be funny as hell to see their reaction

Nov 20, 10 9:02 am

but, druf, asking about where someone is from is not asking about race or ethnicity. just so long as that's clear.

the list above is absolutely taboo in any interview. however, to hit on the point above, i've always asked where people are from, no matter who they are, what they look like, their name, etc. because knowing something about them, their life experiences, their perspective on the world is a good thing. one doesn't have to hit the 'hot topics' (and i'd throw politics in there as well) in order to learn something about what a candidate will bring to your office. 90% of whether that conversation is productive, legal, and clearly beneficial is up to the employer to lead it appropriately.

Nov 20, 10 7:44 pm

be proud of your heritage and the fact that someone gives a shit. dont be a sellout-sue.

Nov 24, 10 2:26 am

i worship Zaha, wonder if that count as religion?

Nov 24, 10 5:11 am
creativity expert

I think worshiping Zaha means you belong to a cult, kind of how there are cults B film crazies.

Nov 24, 10 2:12 pm

"Is it ok for an interviewer to ask what your ethnicity/religion is?"

..of course, as long as you live in a truly free country and don't live in some politically correct communist country (where some are more equal than others and speech is only as free as some nameless, faceless, soulless, identity less fascist at the FCC dictates).

All Heil the USSA!

"All men in the US were originally created as equals before the law. Unfortunately, within a couple of hundred years the people became so mentally lazy and incompetent that they were easily convinced by those who would be their marxist taskmasters that the phrase "all men are created equal" meant that not only were men destined to begin life's journey from before the same starting line, but that they were all actually destined to literally be equals before they crossed the finish line as well. Unfortunately, little did the dimwits realize that when they destroyed all the rules in the mythological name of equality, they also destroy the exceptions to the rules, and the only beneficiaries are those in a position within the ruling elite to garner the power and benefit."

Orwell said it best, "Some are more equal than others".

By the time any formerly great society has "embraced" myths like anti-discimination (really just a euphemism for anti-free choice and thought) and multi-culturalism (the tower of babble ring a bell?), the proverbial writing has long since been on the wall which reads: This society is soon to be hurled upon the ash heap of history.

If I hear one more sycophant parrot trite phrases like "the greatest generation" or "diversity is our strength"...I think I am going to puke.

America, Rome, Greece, Egypt, Babylon, Mesopotamia, etc. ad nauseum...history just rolls on and on and puny humans forget and remember and forget and remember and repeat.

Nov 24, 10 3:28 pm

and your point is?

Nov 24, 10 5:44 pm
creativity expert

Lately Ive been going in for interviews, I dress appropriately, show up with my CD sets, resume, portfolio, and winning smile, only thing is that I'm wondering, what if I don't take my wedding ring? Though I do feel I should explain we are a relatively young family, the typical trio of husband wife and a baby son. The last couple of interviews I can't help but notice that the interviewers keeps looking at my wedding band, thin as it is. I could literally see a subconscious look of caution that says " Oh shit he is married, probably has a huge family, which will cost us in health insurance". On the other hand I feel it is none of their business. What do you guys think? I mean lets face it if these guys are hiring people on contract to save on taxes, and not offering benefits, what are the chances I would be hired on permanently? probably slim to none.

I should add that my last Four interviews responses were:

1. When we do start to hire, hopefully in a month, I will call you in for a face to face interview. (phone interview)

2. You are very qualified, but we think you are a little overqualified for the position.

3. Your qualifications are very impressive, you interviewed very well, but we went with someone who has slightly more recent experience in our market sector.

4. still waiting on response.

Dec 1, 10 1:32 am
creativity expert

Ps. so guess my question is does it seem appropriate to bring up the topic of marriage and family?

Dec 1, 10 1:37 am

"and your point is?"

You just made it.

Dec 1, 10 1:45 am

"topic of marriage and family"

From a contemporary standpoint, this is the deconstructionist's and critical theorist's greatest "success". (remember the dialectic, i.e. translation for "success" = failure in the world of newspeak).

Dec 1, 10 1:49 am

"Is it ok for an interviewer to ask what your ethnicity/religion is?"

In a free country, of course.

Dec 1, 10 1:56 am
creativity expert

so, you think we all live in "1984" a novel written in 1949? maybe in other parts of the world like North Korea for instance. In 1949 my dad was not born yet, and in 1984 i was busy playing with my hotwheels cars to even care what year it was.

Dec 1, 10 2:52 am
creativity expert

^ that was just the first thing that popped into my mind Ihatemarxists, not meant to be a rebuttal, not looking for any arguments, just trying to figure out what do at my next interview in a couple days.

Dec 1, 10 2:57 am

how in the world do you guys find time to talk about religion, family, ethnicity in these interviews? i have a pretty fucked up name, as does a close friend of mine, and we've never had these experiences...

between going over resume/experience and my portfolio, and then the Q&A session where i interview them about firm, work, fiscal soundness, etc... there has never been anything remotely personal in any job interview i've gone too... and that's with a variety of firms (big/small, well known/unknown)

induct is correct that it's illegal to discriminate in the hiring process based on those answers. this isn't a socialist construct, despite ilovemarxists incorrect protestations.

ilovemarxist's absolutist theories also don't come close to the intent of the framers of the constitution (e.g. 'to form a more perfect Union') - note that nowhere in the constitution, bill of rights or declaration of independence is there a reference to the United States being a truly 'free country'. anarchy's got quite a hangover.

laws regarding prohibition of hiring practices is completely within the intent of the framers, and hardly makes the United States a 'communist country'

maybe one should tune out the idiotic glenn beck diatribes before regurgitating complete drivel.

also, i'm now pretty convinced you lied in the wikileaks thread about not watching fox and glenn beck. why? because just last week, beck was talking about the new EU parliament looking like the tower of babel (not babble) - which is patently absurd, as there is no record of what the tower actually looked like. only a breugel the elder painting. and there is no way that reference just manifested in your brain while writing such nonsense.

Dec 1, 10 4:45 am

Well, holz, not only that, but IhateMarxists is evidently attempting to claim that this country started out with all men as equals and has devolved from there. Hmm. Or at least that's what I think he was trying to say in all the drivel...

Dec 1, 10 8:59 am

1984 is about an idea (ideas transcend time), not the specific date, you idiot.

And read the real thing. You can't get the idea from cliff notes.

Dec 1, 10 11:02 am

"how in the world do you guys find time to talk about religion, family, ethnicity in these interviews?"

how can anyone NOT find the time. Oh yeah, back to your zombie "existence".

By the way that post of yours was quite long in and of itself, which I likedvery much. thank you.

"just last week, beck was talking about the new EU parliament looking like the tower of babel (not babble) - which is patently absurd, as there is no record of what the tower actually looked like"\

Please refer to my post to creativityexpert re 1984 on this one.

...the cliff notes version of reality as well as other's people's interpretations of reality do never adequately reflect the main ideas of either the theory of society resembling Orwell's 1984 or the tower of Babbel, either. Beck says go to the source for yourself. On this one, I agree with him. His point about hte tower of Babel wasn't really about how the building looked (but then again, so what if it was) it was much deeper than that? So why waste time on something so superficial? Oh yeah, I am on a forum frequented by contemporary architects and aspiring architects who have been taught by corrupt teachers to generally seek for the ephemeral and esoteric out of life.

Dec 1, 10 11:09 am
creativity expert

"1984 is about an idea (ideas transcend time), not the specific date, you idiot.

And read the real thing. You can't get the idea from cliff notes." - ihatemarxists

You really didn't get what my response was, Sounds to me like you need to retake a few humanities courses.

They let idiots like you into medicine?

Where are you going to practice medicine so i can stay away from that part of the country?

ps. most of my reading is in the Non fiction area, i did read 1984, cliff notes? you kidding me?

Why are you gracing every thread on this website with your jaded outlook on life?

Dec 1, 10 11:23 am

"Why are you gracing every thread on this website with your jaded outlook on life?"

Why not?

You say "jaded", I say reasonable conclusion.

Mostly, in the end, I suppose, for completely personal reasons.

And like Neo says at the end of his epic battle with Agent Smith, "Because I choose to."

Dec 1, 10 11:44 am

Illusions, IHATMARXISTS. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as hate for Marxists.

Dec 1, 10 10:32 pm

Illusions, IHATMARXISTS. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as hate for Marxists.

Dec 1, 10 10:32 pm

nice jetvancake. seriously. :)

Dec 1, 10 11:08 pm
Distant Unicorn

Man’s reflections on the forms of social life, and consequently, also, his scientific analysis of those forms, take a course directly opposite to that of their actual historical development. He begins, post festum, with the results of the process of development ready to hand before him.

Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter One

Dec 3, 10 1:05 pm

""Is it ok for an interviewer to ask what your ethnicity/religion is?"
In a free country, of course."

IHATEMARXISTS, Freedom is an illusion just like Equality is an illusion as you said.

Dec 3, 10 6:09 pm

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