10 Interview Questions You Can't Ask and 10 Legal Alternatives

 

Here at GetPayroll, we believe it is very important to know what to ask in an interview and what not to ask.  That is why this will be a two-part series on the most commonly asked interview questions and how to best avoid any kind of trouble or headache for you and your business in the long run.

During every job interview, there is certain information you are looking to obtain through friendly banter with the potential candidate.  However, some questions you may be currently asking interviewees could come across as a little too friendly.  In order to protect yourself and your company, here is a list of 10 questions you are not allowed to ask and their alternatives.

Nationality

1. What not to ask: "Are you a U.S. citizen?"

While this may seem like a seemingly straight forward question to decide workplace eligibility, it is strictly hands-off.  Instead of asking about citizenship, pose the question in a light that is reflective of authorization to work period.

Instead, ask: "Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?"

2. What not to ask: "How long have you lived here?"

Familiarity with a city or town may be important to the job you are hiring for.  However, it is important not to ask an interviewee about their residency.  Instead, try asking directly about their current situation.  They can always volunteer more information later.

Instead ask: "What is your current address? Do you have any alternative locations where you can be reached?" 

Religion

3. What not to ask: "What religion do you practice?"

You may want to find out about an interviewees religion in order to determine their weekend availability, but it is important you do not ask this question.  Alternatively, directly ask about their availability to work on the weekends. 

Instead, ask: "What days are you available to work?"

4. What not to ask: "Do you belong to a club or social organization?"

This particular question could be too revealing of political or religious affiliation or activity. Also, this question has little or no relevance to a job candidate's abilities or qualifications. However, if you are wanting to ask this question, it is important to focus the wording on work. 

Instead, ask: "Are you a member of a professional or trade group that is relevant to our industry?"

Age

5. What not to ask: "How old are you?"

While this may seem like a seemingly harmless question, it is actually quite loaded. Asking about an interviewee's age can ultimately set you up for discrimination based on age. Just to be safe, you can make sure they are old enough to work for you.

Instead, ask: "Are you over the age of 18?"

6. What not to ask: "How much longer do you plan to work before you retire?"

Once again, this type of question leaves you vulnerable to discrimination allegations later on down the road.  While you may not want to hire someone who is planning on retiring in a few years, you can not dismiss an interviewee for these reasons alone.  Instead, ask about the candidate's future career goals.

Instead, ask: "What are your long-term career goals?" 

Marital and Family Status

7. What not to ask: "Do you plan to have children?"

It is clear that with this question the concern is any family obligations that may interfere with work hours.  Instead of making it personal and asking about family issues, get straight to the point of work schedules and availability.

Instead ask: "Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel?"

8. What not to ask: "Who is your closest relative to notify in case of an emergency?"

Although this question is not completely off-putting, you are making the assumption about the interviewee's personal life.  They could very easily not be close with any of their family members.  

Instead, ask: "In the case of an emergency, who should we notify?"

9. What not to ask: "Do you have kids?"

This particular question is for people who may be working with children.  The fact that they may have additional experience with children at home may be an added bonus for you. However, refrain from asking this question. Instead, ask about the interviewee's experience and they may volunteer additional information that way. 

Instead, ask: "What is your experience with "x" age group?"

10. What not to ask: "What do your parents do for a living?"

Asking an interviewee about their parents can reveal a lot.  However, this job is not directly related to their ability to do this job.  However, if you are trying to find out if your interviewee's family has worked in your industry before, this question is a good way to find out.

Instead ask: "Tell me how you became interested in the "x" industry."
 

Finding good, eligible employees is very important.  Making sure you protect yourself and your business is even more important, and we are here to help with that.

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