How to Know If You’re Being Discriminated Against in the Hiring Process

By Biron Clark

Published:

Misc Tips

Biron Clark

Biron Clark

Writer & Career Coach

Discrimination in a hiring process is illegal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, preconceived notions and prejudices of the hiring manager may prevent you from getting a job that you’re qualified for.

Job search discrimination can come in many different forms, from racial and age discrimination to sexist questions and attitudes. Many people face discrimination during interviews every day.

But how can you know if you’re being discriminated against in job interviews, or if you’re just not right for the job?

What is Job Interview Discrimination?

Job search discrimination occurs when the hiring manager or company lets their prejudices or opinions stand in the way of giving all job candidates a fair interview and chance at the job. If an employer will not hire you because of your gender, your sexual orientation or your ethnicity, that’s considered discrimination.

Job discrimination can also appear after you’ve been hired. If you are consistently passed over for promotions or fired because of personal characteristics that do not interfere with your ability to do your job, you may continue to face discrimination in the workforce.

How Do You Know if You’re Being Discriminated Against in a Hiring Process?

Job search discrimination is difficult to prove, and it’s difficult to know whether or not you’ve been discriminated against in the hiring process.

Employers are usually very vague when providing interview feedback and will say something like, “Sorry, we chose to move forward with someone who we felt was a slightly better fit,” when they reject you.

This is in part to AVOID discrimination lawsuits. It’s not that every employer who gives generic interview feedback is discriminating! Not at all. But their lawyers still instruct them to do this, just to protect themselves and avoid any risk.

That’s the truth that I learned working as a recruiter.

So while a company may occasionally will “slip up” and incriminate themselves as being guilty of job interview discrimination, it’s rare.

More often than not, you might be suspicious you’ve faced interview discrimination, but won’t have a way of knowing if you have been discriminated against.

Interview Discrimination: What Questions During the Hiring Process are Legal?

When you’re sitting in a job interview, you may be faced with certain questions that make you wonder whether or not they can be asked. If a hiring manager or other individual at the company you’re interviewing with asks about having children, whether or not you’re married, or about your ethnicity or religion, you may feel a bit uncomfortable.

However, these questions are not considered discrimination and they are not illegal to ask. The line is crossed if the information you provide is then used as a reason not to hire you. If the hiring manager asks these questions and does not hire you based on that, then you’ve been discriminated against.

However, they may also have chosen not to hire you for other reasons – like factors related to your ability to do the job, your experience, your desired salary, etc. And this would not be considered discrimination.

And when the interviewer asks somewhat personal questions (like, “do you have any children?”) it can be difficult to know if the interviewer is merely looking to get to know you or if they’re using that information to discriminate in the hiring process.

Questions about your desire to have children or your background can seem like small talk, but they can also be considered inappropriate and in some cases lead to discrimination.

So when you’re faced with questions like these, do your best to judge where the interviewer is coming from. Understand the interviewer’s intentions and try to answer according to what they are looking for.

If you’ve been building a good rapport with the hiring manager and they’ve told you a bit about their personal life (kids, family, etc.), then it may be normal for them to ask you the same.

However, if you’re not comfortable answering a question like this, you can say:

I feel that’s a private matter and would prefer to discuss my professional background and how it pertains to the job. I understand you also want to get to know me as a person; I just feel that particular detail is private.”

That’s a good way to handle uncomfortable questions that you feel may constitute discrimination in the interview.

What to Do If You’ve Been Discriminated Against for a Job

Knowing whether or not you’ve truly been discriminated against can be difficult since most employers don’t share specific reasons why you were rejected.

(Most employers will simply say they chose to move forward with another candidate, or they just didn’t feel it was the right fit to work together right now).

While everyone likes to believe that their skills and abilities are enough to land the job, sometimes they just aren’t what the company is looking for. Not getting hired for a position that you’re qualified for doesn’t automatically mean you’ve been discriminated against.

Employers have the right to hire whoever they believe is the best fit for the open position. This includes hiring someone with less experience or ability if they believe they would fit better in the office or could be trained more easily to do the job.

The reasons for not hiring you may have nothing to do with your religion, race, age, sexual orientation, or gender.

When there’s only one position to fill, employers can argue that the individual they hired was just a better fit — even if discrimination did play a part in why you weren’t hired. They may simply argue that you made a mistake in an interview, that you did not have the same connection or you’re missing some skill the other individual had.

However, if you have sufficient evidence that you’ve been discriminated against, one answer may be to file a discrimination claim. If you decide to go down this path, you need to be prepared to argue and support your case.

Preventing and Avoiding Discrimination in the Hiring Process

If you’re worried about discrimination in your job search, you can be proactive to avoid it or efficiently handle it when it does appear. Be aware of the kind of questions that may lead to discrimination and answer them in a way that the hiring manager cannot use the information against you.

Knowing why you may be discriminated against is also important if you want to avoid it during an interview. If you believe your religion, sexual orientation, or desire to have children could prevent you from getting hired, avoid having personal conversations that may prompt you to reveal this information.

As mentioned earlier, here’s a good script you can use in response to questions about these topics:

I feel this is a private matter and would prefer to discuss my professional background and how it pertains to the job. I understand you also want to get to know me as a person; I just feel that particular detail is private.”

Finally, pay attention to the behaviors and attitudes of your hiring manager after revealing potentially sensitive information. If you tell the interviewer that you hope to have children someday soon and they immediately close up or end the interview, then you’re likely being discriminated against in the hiring process.

Dealing with Job Interview Discrimination – Final Advice

While it’s difficult to know if you are being discriminated against in a hiring process or interview, the tips above will help you politely decline questions you’re not comfortable with while still giving yourself the best chance of getting the job.

It’s not possible to know with 100% certainty whether you are being discriminated against by an employer, but you can take steps to protect yourself, and you can contact a discrimination/employment lawyer if you do have evidence of hiring discrimination.

Note: This article is for informational purposes and is not professional legal advice. If you feel you’ve been a victim of interview discrimination/employment discrimination and want to pursue it further, contact an attorney who specializes in employment law and discrimination cases.

The following expert contributed to this post:how to prepare for informational interview

Sarah Landrum is a leading millennial career expert and the founder of Punched Clocks, a career and happiness blog for young professionals. Follow Sarah on social media @SarahLandrum for more advice on creating a career you love!


Biron Clark

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30 thoughts on “How to Know If You’re Being Discriminated Against in the Hiring Process”

  1. I was informed that one of my previous supervisors is blackmailing me, because I requested that our office get diversity training, because another supervisor sent me a racially charged email. I had to leave my job due to medical reasons. But I’m trying to go back. I have rehire rights but he is trying not to hire me. He is not contacting my references and I was informed that he asked another supervisor who is a reference if I should be hired because I was the cause of them having to do diversity training.

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for this excellent article. I have a question, please. If I suspect discrimination in my hiring process, can I ask the employer to provide information about the age, gender and race of the newly hired applicant?
    Thank you

    • Hi Nabil,

      I’m not a lawyer, but my best guess is that they will not provide this info. It seems like it would be a violation of the other candidate’s privacy, among other issues. Also, even if they hired a Caucasian male (for example), that doesn’t necessarily mean it was discrimination, right?

      This is just my opinion and not direct advice.

    • Hi Patricia,

      I’m not a lawyer and cannot give individual advice on this. I also do not know where you’re located. Sorry I couldn’t help more directly here. My guess is that yes, they can decide not to hire you if you previously worked for a company that they’re very close with and have a great relationship with. Some companies have agreements to not “poach”/take employees from each other.

  3. This was an interesting and informative article. I have had a lot of employers send me rejection letters with comments like “we’ve chosen another candidate who was a slightly better fit” or something similar. I recently had a Zoom interview with a freight company and I could tell by the way those 2 white women were looking at me that they weren’t gonna hire me because they were disappointed that I wasn’t white. I’m mixed race POC, but when people see my name they think I’m Italian because I changed my name. I’ve also seen several companies repost ads on Indeed after they rejected me. I had enough self respect not to waste my time reapplying for those jobs.

  4. So my husband recently went in an interview and they immediately looked at him and sent him to another affiliate in a less desirable area. He die not apply to work there. Also the person he met with told him 3 times that he will steal her property and give to his “girlfriend”. I still cannot believe that someone did and said that. Not sure if clear cut case but definitely looking to find legal help.

  5. What if they don’t allow you to go to the second interview because they think you are too chatty and the they think one of the bosses won’t like you. Even though they said you have a great personality in the interview and in the response to your thank you.

  6. Sorry Sarah (if this is a real person), another waste of time article. Your title is “How to TELL if you’re a victim”. But after dragging yourself through reading, it’s entire premise is the opposite- that there is NO way to tell if you’re being discriminated against.

  7. A few years ago I was diagnosed with MS. Many times unnoticeable, except this time after a long walk to meet a recruiter prior to them escorting me to a company for an interview.
    Since my legs needed a break I told the recruiter I had MS, which they replied their spouse was just diagnosed the prior week. While the interview went well and hiring manager liked me, internal politics occurred and I did not secure the job.The hiring manager wanted me to stay in touch. Meanwhile, after receiving praise from the entire recruiting firm, they have not spoken with me, even though I made several attempts to connect. The generic response I receive is “time has been flying, when am I available the the upcoming weeks”. After sharing my availability, I re-initiate the email cycle again two weeks later when I don’t hear back from them.
    Thanks

  8. Recently I’ve been diagnosed with, Anxiety and depression, Walmart’s management and HR gave me the run around about being rehired since I finally found this out and got medications for it, however, I decided since the were giving me the run around at that Walmart, I would apply at a different Walmart, they said the would have to call the other Walmart I’ve worked at to get there feedback on me and my situation, I called the Walmart I was looking into and they said that the other Walmart I was at gave me a bad recommendation and that they wouldn’t be able to hire me because of it, also not only that but every job I have applied at since won’t hire me, I have the feeling it’s Walmart’s bad recommendation from a medical reason as to why I’m not being hired now, especially when they see my time frame of working for Walmart for almost 6 years prior to my newer job hunt!

    • I feel you i suffer depression and anxiety. not that i have wrote it down on a job application they do not need to know this in my eyes , it is all about your work , if you had a job for 6 years i do not see why this is not good enough to prove that your depression does not get in your way of your work. I would make this point and ask for more detailed feedback. I am sorry to hear this. i am going through the same thing at the moment. 30 jobs applied for 3 job interviews and the feedback is some generic lies . even when i smash the interview. it really gets you down, (keep your head up girl)

  9. The part of your article where you mention the importance of taking charge when being asked a personal question that may not directly pertain to the hiring process is the one that I am most thankful you included. Additionally, I personally believe that should the situation become too serious, hiring the services of a lawyer may also be necessary. My brother in law is currently job hunting but is worried that he may be discriminated against due to his heritage.

  10. I have an arabic name so I can’t really avoid putting that out there. I applied for a job I’m perfectly qualified to do because it is identical to a job I was doing in another state. I applied for the job with my real name and resume, and applied with a westernised name and the same resume. I only got a call back on my westernised name. Can I do something about that??

  11. Sorry have to remain anonymous. The IT market seems to be flooded by certain people from South Asia. Any job I apply, get a call from that part of the world. Unfortunately, once they determine my ethnic background, there is deafening and perpetual silence from them. They have large IT project with some multinationals who claim to be EEOC compliant. However, it is the opposite here. They are trying to reject as many people as they can and get their own people hired on H1B visa. This is a big scam that some one in the government must look into.

  12. I just had a quick question I currently work for a company and I have been working there for about 2 1/2 years now a new job opening opened up and several people internally at the job site that I am working at applied for this job everyone got an interview except for me and they have filled the job what would my substance be in terms of trying to fight this?

    • Hi Bobby,

      I don’t know how you’d fight this, and I don’t think I’d recommend it.

      There are a million reasons why you wouldn’t be considered for an internal promotion. And making a big deal out of it could strain your relationship with your boss at work.

      If you really feel you were the best candidate for this promotion, and you were passed up for it, then I’d use that as motivation to start looking at new opportunities.

      Conduct a passive job search while continuing to work at this company.

      But I wouldn’t “fight” it. I’d just find a company that values my skills more.

      Hope this helps!

  13. I know for a fact I was discriminated against during a job interview. One of the interviewers through up gang sign hands during the interview and it implied to me that she thought I was raised a certain way which I wasn’t. They also implied that I would have an attitude at some point because of my race which was very hurtful and the following morning they wrote that I didnt get the job which I already figured because they had a great time at my expense stereotyping me.

  14. I think i was discriminated agianst by one of the managers. they are new managers for the food place, and my friend that worked there (was hired by the old owners, way easier to get hired before this) said that she was “traditional”. i am pretty sure that she judged me for my hair, as it is short and dyed, and for my sex. She also didnt use my preferred name after i mentioned it. Blantantly calling me by my legal name-which i only let my family call me cause they knew me my whole life. I didn’t even have any LGBTQ+ stuff on, i do wear LGBTQ+ stuff now, but if she did it may be more obvious if it was discriminating agianst me.

    I have a alternate style, kinda i guess. But i didnt really think it would make finding a job this hard. (I didnt think ‘dyed hair makes it hard getting a job’ was actually true) i’ve been trying for 3 years to get a damn job. i didn’t even have short or dyed hair for half of the first year i tried. The other manager was much nicer, but sadly too busy to do a interview with me.

    she said she woudn’t fill out my work permit (which most places don’t need, and i will turn 18 in 3 months, but it is policy for the food chain) but will keep it, maybe contact me. she also took the guide book of rules, and the applications, one with my social security code on it. my friend recommending me only got him a cash reward, and didn’t do anything for me-though he told her that she should contact me-THEY ARE STILL LOOKING FOR WORKERS

    As far as i can tell, she AT LEAST judged me for my looks-doesnt matter if i was male or female if i had dyed, short hair. I don’t want to play the race discrimination on this, but i feel like that is what my friend meant by “traditional” besides by what people look like with hair or clothes, possibly.

    Like i didn’t even pick ‘Other’ for the gender thing, though they should have it. and i feel like i got rejected from a previous job partially for that-as right after another friend said the cashier mentioned the need for workers-WHEN I APPLIED AND GOT REJECTED.

    Im just a negative ball of neither XD.

    Have a nice day!
    Hope you enjoyed this rant and it doesnt sound too whiney.

  15. Look at the paragraph under “About this guest author”. It says “…Sarah Landrum is a leading millennial career expert and the founder of Punched Clocks, a career and happiness blog for young professionals.”

    Isn’t this an oxymoron? You write an article about discrimination, but you emphasize that you cater to “young professionals”. Isn’t that shows that you already discriminating against “ripe professionals”…!?

    Sheesh…

  16. Have you noticed that most employer discrimination articles are written by 25 year old millennials who couldn’t even find the nearest gas station without their phone!? No offense, but who are these people with virtually zero life experience giving advice on discrimination!?

    I feel bad for all millennials. They think they have it all. Well, just wait and see what is coming your way! An article was posted in the Wall Street Journal in November 28, 2018 about how some companies are starting to “interview” people via an automated messaging system. On this “interview” you don’t talk to a live person. You answer questions asked by a robot. You don’t have the chance to ask questions or make comments. Your recorded answers will be evaluated. I have a question to all the millennials posing with a smiley face.

    What do you think will happen to you when you get to be 20-30 years older and you will find yourself without a job? By that time all job search activities will be replaced by AI and robots and automated systems. It is already happening now. When you get to that age, just remember: YOU were part of the system who created this! And then you will start crying that no one will hire you, and there is not a single human you can talk to. Well, cheers!

    You created this mess dear millennial HR director, so by the time you get to a “ripe” age, be prepared to deal with it and see how it will feel when AI and robots will discriminate against you!

    In the last 3 years I have came to understand why some people put stickers on their bumpers that reads: “I prefer a dog over a human.”

  17. Hi i feel like i got dicriminated he asked about cashier work i said i have a learning dissability and i may have to have more time working with me then get an email not phone call saying that i did not get the job is this discrimination do to dissability cause of learning

    • Hi Maryellen,

      This doesn’t sound like discrimination to me. Well, it’s hard to tell, but it doesn’t sound like discrimination you could prove. Many employers send rejection emails instead of a phone call.

      I’d recommend moving on and continuing your job search. You won’t get a job offer from every employer, but you will find one that’s the right fit and wants to offer you the job.

  18. After, the death of my exhusband I had to stay home with my children. I decided to go back into the work force. I was unable to find employment I applied and applied. Then I decided to go back to school and applied for jobs while I attended school to no avail. Now, three degrees later I apply for positions as soon as I hit the submit button I receive an automatic rejection email. I really need a job. I am barely making it. I am not eligible for any type if assistance but I can keep going to school just to help with keep me a live and from being homeless. I moved from Illinois to Indiana I see all these positions that I am qualified for only to be shot down by the Franciscan Network and every other position in the state of Indiana I have been trying to get back in the workforce since I was 37 now I’m 47.

  19. Hi my brother got offered a job, they then later got back to him and said he no longer had the position.
    He later found out the job was revoked because he had locs.
    Is there anything we could do?

  20. This does not answer the question at all. I’m sure it’s optimized for bringing in traffic, but it’s really not helpful.

    • Hi Julieann,

      Sorry the post didn’t help you. We don’t publish pieces only to try to bring in traffic.

      That said, this is an older post and probably could be updated to be more helpful, so I’ll look into it!

      Unfortunately it’s not easy to know if you’re being discriminated against in general. But I do know discrimination is real, I’ve seen it a LOT unfortunately. Both age discrimination and sex discrimination.

      So I’ll revisit this article soon to try to update it with more relevant content and specific tips to help.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment here and I hope the rest of your job search goes well.

  21. I’m an older worker looking for entry level positions and the reason I don’t get hired is not due to my age or qualifications. I think it’s because of racial hiring bias against white ppl in mostly minority workplaces, and maybe it’s true because one education job had many openings and the hiring manager wouldn’t even give me another interview after going through the first round which went ok. They don’t have to like me as a candidate but at least give me a chance to interview. Just bad luck.

  22. Well, worker at State Employment Agency in Michigan told me that she cannot tell me who is the employer .
    Only (If)after employer decide to call me for an interview she would release information, I guess she could not
    send me to the Moon for that interview
    I said to her it is very unusual and see it as kind of discrimination. And that I cannot answer in my best knowledge
    her interview question as well that I feel it is creepy sending my information (resume ) to Anonymous

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