when a recruiter asks for your height, weight, age, and marital status

A reader writes:

I sent a resume to a recruiter and he then sent me a survey to complete. The survey was laden with questions that are illegal to ask in the employment process. Yet several friends of mine said this is how employers are bypassing EEO requirements. They simply use an outside firm and say, “We want an unmarried male under the age of 30 with the appropriate height and weight.” They can’t advertise this but they can certainly tell the recruiting firm they want this profile in a candidate. As an older career changer on the stocky side, I tend to rather sensitive about questions about my marital status, height and weight.

I stated this in my response to this particular recruiter and I was amazed by his email to me, which follows:

Thanks for responding – in reference to your comments – we don’t discriminate for any reason – it is illegal to not hire someone because of their answers to those questions…frankly, we don’t care..it is just information that many times we are asked by clients – it may open a door, not close one. We are not the enemy, we are your best ally – we try to get you in the door.

I’m amazed that people fill that information out in every other walk of life..i.e…life insurance forms, license forms, census.. etc.. and they never complain.

This reader forwarded me the questionnaire he was asked to fill out. Here are the questions it contains, in its entirety:

1) Current or most recent base salary? Bonus earned? Auto program?
2) Do you own your home? Are you open to relocation? Any location preferences?
3) Are you married? Children?
4) What is your birth date? Health? Height? Weight?
5) Why are you looking for a new opportunity?
6) If separated from company, separation date?
7) Any special parameters you want us to keep in mind for your search?
8) Any other information you feel we should know that is not on your resume?

As I’ve said before, the act of asking about things like marriage, children, and age isn’t illegal, but considering the answers in an employment decision is. So it’s just stupid to ask them, and anyone who’s done hiring and ever talked to a lawyer doesn’t use them. (In the U.S., that is. I know they’re not uncommon elsewhere.)

This questionnaire is amazing. Who is this recruiter? (Also, how stupid is he? If he really wanted to know this stuff, he could figure most of it out in person through casual conversation.)

I especially love his last paragraph, defending himself. You fill out this information on insurance forms (where it’s, uh, relevant), so why not turn it all over to him too? And why not throw in a naked photo while you’re at it?

Anyone want to take a whack at this guy? Or defend him?

{ 29 comments… read them below }

  1. spence*

    of course it's "technically illegal"

    but its also a fed gov regulation which is never… ever… enforced…

    in the employers minds? "do you want the job or not… if so you will answer…"

    unless you are applying for a fed gov position the employee has no viable recourse…

  2. Deirdre*

    I think it would be really fun to put his/her name on your blog, send it to every HR blogger online, on FB and on Twitter and shame this loser into a new field.

    And we could all do a blog of shame on this recruiter. I will.

    Jeez, I can't EVEN imagine this.

  3. The Gold Digger*

    Not only that, but I do complain when asked for this information. I tried putting "human" when asked for "race" on both my marriage license and on the census. (And when I was signing up to take Portuguese at night school in Miami. My race was relevant why?)

    The woman at the county clerk's office refused to process my marriage license with that answer. The census bureau actually called me to ask for a different answer and I refused to cooperate. None of their business and irrelevant.

    So this guy is wrong. I complain all the time and only answer when I have no recourse.

    1. Melissa*

      The Census Bureau asks for that information because the job of the Census is to draw a picture of the population of the United States. They want accurate counts of how many people are in what racial and ethnic groups, and where they live. Thousands of researchers all over the country use that data to do research and create social benefits programs.

      I work as a researcher myself, and people often think it’s cute to put “human” as their race on forms like they’re making some kind of statement. All you’re doing is making sure that you don’t get counted in the study, because if we’re doing analyses on things that we KNOW are influenced by race and we need to statistically adjust for that – or if we are trying to see if certain important social issue are influenced by race (like test scores so we can start a free testing prep program for kids of color, or like disease transmission so we can make sure doctors are culturally prepared to work with people from that racial/ethnic group) – we drop from our analyses people who refuse to state their race or put things like “human.” The analysis doesn’t work if they are included. That decreases the predictive power our tests have.

      It’s your right, of course, but you’re only frustrating the researchers who are trying to do things like that. Same thing with vital statistics, since researchers also use that information.

  4. Inside the Philosophy Factory*

    It seems to me that any company using this bozo to do hiring is opening themselves up to a lawsuit — why ask the question if it isn't going to impact hiring?

  5. Kerry*

    If the questionnaire didn't tell you the headhunter was an idiot, the last paragraph in the email surely did.

    Just find another headhunter. There are good ones out there, so there's no need to deal with this crap.

  6. Anonymous*

    In my opinion, a 'recruiter' is nothing but a salesperson. They are selling your profile. They engage in tactics that are just as smarmy as any salesman, and they know no more about the law than any other salesman.

    I would notify the state labor board that they are demanding to know this information and appear to not accept applicants who decline this information. Maybe the labor board won't do anything or will find no illegal act. And maybe a light inquiry from the labor board will get the recruiter to straighten up his act.

  7. Anonymous*

    Several years ago, I had a recruiter ask me for my marital status during a telephone interview. I answered the question, but then I asked him "why do you need to know that?" He basically said that the employer wants to know. The conversation went downhill quickly from there. He basically told me that employers hired him so that he could ask the questions that would be illegal for them to ask themselves. I have had a hard time trusting any outside recruiters or headhunters after that, and I have never gotten a position through one.

  8. Anonymous*

    I used to work for a recruiting firm, and many of my colleagues did not believe that, as agents of the employer, we had a responsibility to conduct ourselves in EXACTLY the same manner the employer would need to.


    I mean, just because you can get away with it doesn't mean you should do it. :eye roll:

  9. Heather*

    GoldDigger: The reason they ask for race on applications is usually for EEO stuff. But most of them state that it is optional to answer (which I believe it should be!)

    I think this recruiter is an idiot!

  10. fridayprofgroup*

    We are 3rd party recruiters. I can tell you that what this recruiter is doing is wrong. He is exposing his employer to a license review and/or lawsuit.

    If a client ever came to me looking to hire a "white, male, in his mid 30s, who's single" I'd first remind him of the fact that we do not discriminate, we present the best candidate for the role, period. If there's a problem I don't accept the order and I don't work with that company again. It's that simple.

    For the job seekers, if a recruiter was too lazy to pick up the phone and have a conversation with me and instead sent me an e-mail like this (even with the questionable questions removed) I'd run. I want a recruiter to know me and to represent me. I don't want to be a number on a computer.

  11. Anonymous*

    My guess is…I don't think the client wanted the information; I think only the recruiter did. He gets paid if his candidate gets hired, right? He probably asks these questions because he feels if he sends, say, a 5'8", 105 lb, 23 year old unmarried blonde female to the interview, she'll be more likely to get hired, and he'll be more likely to collect his commission.

  12. Cavalier*

    With the number of personal questions, maybe the recruiters also do personals on the side. Imagine the slogan:

    "A great career AND a great relationship – all from one place."

    Seriously though, could you imagine the trouble you could get in to for requesting height, weight, marital status, etc. for a (female) secretary?

  13. The Gold Digger*

    I worked in Chile for a few years. They would actually ask for attractive young women in job ads and request that you submit a photo.

    1. Lisa*

      I get it for jobs that require you to be pretty only. Ie. acting, modeling, hostesses on ocean drive in miami. If being attractive is the main reason the job exists, then yes asking for a photo is important.

      Most hostess jobs require you to look good (doll yourself up, and wear 4 inch heels and short skirts) in miami and while a funny outgoing average looking male host can prob get more people in the restaurant than a twig with no personality using her wheel of fortune “eat here” assets, miami doesnt hire men to stand outside to attract customers only model-looking hostesses. I personally won’t eat at a restaurant on that street where the hostess is so bored / annoyed and thinks her presence pointing to a menu is enough to get my attention. I will however stop at a place that is bursting with personality and a host / hostess that actually looks like that care if people eat there (ie – people that are actively doing their job). ok rant over, but i was in miami recently and this behavior really got to me.

  14. Kathy*

    When I was fresh out of school I worked for a recruiter. I was young, poor, and needed to get my clients jobs so that I could get commissions and pay the rent. We were told that when an employer gave us discriminatory requirements, we must not write them down but we must remember that if we didn't send the sort of person he wanted, he wouldn't hire and we wouldn't get paid. So we wrote admin job specs specifying "perky" if a woman was required or "must do heavy lifting" if a man. ("Well, he might have to lift a *lot* of paper.") One agent would occasionally tear through the office telling everyone that a candidate had to be 36-24-36 and blond; don't bother sending anyone else.

    In the six months I worked there I had one successful month, in which I was awarded a mug with the name "Sandy" on it. My name isn't Sandy but the company required the use of pseudonyms. On my first day my boss went to the supply cabinet, grabbed a half-used box of business cards put them in my hands and said, "There. You're Sandy Scott now."

    It's a strange and sometimes nasty business but it had an upside: it was an eye-opening introduction to the working world for a fresh grad like me.

  15. Chad*

    I have heard of jobs where you have to crawl inside the small cramped parts of airplanes. Even I was recruiting for that job I would not ask the height, I would explain the size of the small space. Mostly I think that it is better customer service to let the candidate decide for themselves.

    What Kathy/Sandy described was weird. That one is for the record book of crappy first employers.

  16. Justin*

    Working for a small company, those questions sound like ones that would allow an employer to determine if their health insurance rates would go down or up…Sometimes recruiters have you on their health plans when you're working "temp to hire" or just a temporary position. Maybe they would use this information based on whether they could afford to have you on their temp health plan or know to not offer it to you (though this would be extraordinarily illegal).

    1. Anonymous*

      I don’t think they can predict if their insurance rates will go up or down as people get injured or sick all the time, which could change their rates suddenly.

      1. Lisa*

        in the US, the younger the average worker is in your company means lower health insurance premiums. We were all in our 20’s but the owner was 46, so he purposely got his own insurance outside of the company to keep the average worker age down and he saved thousands of dollars per month.

  17. Anonymous*

    It would be illegal in the UK to ask those questions if it could affect your application for a specific role on the other hand if you are being “registered” to asses your suitability for roles generally then it isn’t illegal.

    There are situations that regardless of the law a recruiter has to match to a role based on the feasibility of the candidate getting the job. After all that is what they are paid to do, not educate companies on the legality of hiring.

    Here are some examples:-

    Role — training staff how to fit underwear on women in a retailer, could a man do this?

    Role — A removal person who is required to lift heavy loads up a down stairs regularly, would an overweight woman be suitable?

    Role – Trainee Manager where the length of training programme is three years, would a 64 year old person be suitable?

    Role — Police fire arms unit, 18 year old school leaver?

    Regardless of how recruiters feel personally about the client requirements they have to match people who will get the job, any recruiter that says that age, sex etc don’t come into their short listing/matching criteria are lying or wasting their clients time.

    If you don’t like it don’t use the recruiter.

  18. Laura*

    You know as much as you complain about all this it’s one of the first things people will notice about you when you walk into the interview. I recognize that I wouldn’t want to tell my prospective employer, my age or weight or height but they can certainly guess just from looking, and you can bet it plays a role in their hiring decision. I mean they’re only human, it has to play a role.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sure. But it’s still wildly inappropriate to ask those questions. Most good people doing hiring will at least try to ignore those sorts of biases; for a recruiter to come right out and announcing that she not only has those biases but considers them relevant to the hiring process is messed up. Not to mention illegal.

  19. Anonymous*

    I just had an interview with the owner (strange to begin with). He asked to to describe in detail where I came from and how I got here (probably thoguht I got here from Europe illegally). Then he asked me if I was single. But he also asked me where my parents work, to give him exact name of the company where my mother works. I’m an adult and these questions were unprofessional. I wrote a letter to him just saying that he should not ask people these questions during the interview, and that I will not accept the position if in case he decids to hire me.

  20. Queen*

    As I know it is not legal for an employer to ask a person’s age. I would like to know if the recruiter at the Dpt of Labor have the rights to ask the client to put your date of birth on the back of your resume? What is this all about this is suppose to be illegal to my knowledge? as to it puts up a red flag for age discrimination? Please give me more information. Thank you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s actually legal to ask. It’s just illegal to use it as a factor in the hiring decision (if the person is 40 or over; age discrimination laws don’t kick in until then). But of course, if they’re not allowed to use the information, there’s no point in them asking it. I’d ask your recruiter why they’re asking for that info, since they can’t use it in their hiring decisions.

  21. Anonymous*

    I think most people on here need a reality check! A client will brief a recruiter to find them the most suitable person for the job and that fits into the team culture – I know for a fact that 9/10 employers would not take on a 55 year old to work in a team of 20-30 somethings!

    And it is perfectly legitimate to ask a candidate about marital status, kids etc…we are working WITH those people and need to know about their personal lives. I doubt a client would be very happy if I candidate turned down a job because of childcare arrangements and we had no idea they were a single parent!!!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Um, it’s not perfectly legitimate — it’s illegal to make a hiring decision based on those things. Are you seriously in this industry and unaware of that?

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