During the interview process, it’s important to ask the potential candidate several questions, in order to get a feel for their background, personality, and potential work ethic. However, there are questions you just don’t ask, either because of legal reasons or they simply aren’t helpful in selecting an employee. We’ve rewritten 20 interview questions that you can ask without getting into trouble for discrimination.
1. DON’T ASK: “ARE YOU A U.S. CITIZEN?”
While this may seem like a seemingly straightforward 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. DON’T ASK: “HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED HERE?”
Familiarity with a city or town may be important to the job that which you are hiring. 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?”
3. DON’T ASK: “WHAT RELIGION DO YOU PRACTICE?”
You may want to find out about an interviewee’s religion 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. DON’T 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 want 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?”
5. DON’T ASK: “HOW OLD ARE YOU?”
While this may seem like a seemingly harmless question, it is 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. DON’T 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. DON’T 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. DON’T ASK: “WHO IS YOUR CLOSEST RELATIVE TO NOTIFY IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY?”
Although this question is not completely off-putting, you are assuming 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. DON’T 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 a 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. DON’T 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.”[ Stay tuned for the final half of this segment]
11. DON’T ASK: “IF YOU GET PREGNANT, WILL YOU CONTINUE TO WORK, AND WILL YOU COME BACK AFTER MATERNITY LEAVE?”
Ultimately, you want to be able to invest your time into a candidate that will end up sticking around, but you can’t ask a woman to share her pregnancy plans, or lack thereof, with you.
INSTEAD, ASK: “WHAT ARE YOUR LONG-TERM CAREER GOALS?”
12. DON’T ASK: “HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SUPERVISING MEN or WOMEN?”
This question, although it may seem like a valid concern, is not acceptable. The candidate may not have any issues working with the same gender, opposite gender or various other perceived genders, and you’ll seem crass for even bringing it up.
INSTEAD, ASK: “TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE MANAGING DIVERSE TEAMS.”
13. DON’T ASK: “WHAT DO YOU THINK OF INTEROFFICE DATING?”
Interoffice dating can be distracting, could potentially break up teams, and cause a whole number of other problems in the workplace. However, asking this particular question makes assumptions about the candidate’s marital status and could also be perceived as a come-on.
INSTEAD, ASK: “HAVE YOU EVER BEEN DISCIPLINED FOR YOUR BEHAVIOR AT WORK?”
Health and Physical Abilities
14. DON’T ASK: “DO YOU SMOKE OR DRINK?”
As an employer, you would want to avoid a potential candidate that has a drinking problem or will take multiple smoke breaks throughout the workday. It can also be a potential insurance concern. Instead of directly asking about this, find out if they have had some trouble with health policies in the past.
INSTEAD, ASK: “IN THE PAST, HAVE YOU BEEN DISCIPLINED FOR VIOLATING COMPANY POLICIES FORBIDDING THE USE OF ALCOHOL OR TOBACCO PRODUCTS?”
15. DON’T ASK: “DO YOU TAKE DRUGS?”
This particular question is just a misunderstanding of terms. Your potential candidate may think you are asking them about prescription drugs, which are off-limits. Make sure you are specific about illegal substances instead of legal prescription ones.
INSTEAD, ASK: “DO YOU USE ILLEGAL DRUGS?”
16. DON’T ASK: “HOW MUCH DO YOU WEIGH?”
Asking about someone’s weight is incredibly personal and is often embarrassing for most individuals. Most of the time it is also not necessarily relevant to a candidate’s ability to do even a physical labor job. Avoid making assumptions, and ask about abilities directly.
INSTEAD, ASK: “ARE YOU ABLE TO LIFT BOXES WEIGHING UP TO 50 POUNDS?”
17. DON’T ASK: “DO YOU HAVE ANY DISABILITIES?”
Disabilities, whether they’re physical or mental, may affect a candidate’s ability to do the job assigned, but it is very important, critical even, that you avoid asking about them. Instead, find out if the applicant can handle doing what is required of the job description.
INSTEAD, ASK: “ARE YOU ABLE TO PERFORM THE SPECIFIC DUTIES OF THIS POSITION?”
18. DON’T ASK: “HOW FAR IS YOUR COMMUTE?”
Although hiring an employee who lives close by may be convenient, you cannot choose candidates based on their location. Instead, find out about their availability.
INSTEAD, ASK: “ARE YOU ABLE TO WORK AT 8 A.M.?”
19. DON’T ASK: “HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ARRESTED?”
In sensitive positions, like ones in which people are dealing with money, you may want to find out about your candidate’s legal background. But ensure that you ask only directly about crimes that relate to your concerns.
INSTEAD, ASK: “HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CONVICTED OF “X” (FRAUD, THEFT, ETC.)
20. DON’T ASK: “WERE YOU HONORABLY DISCHARGED FROM THE MILITARY?”
A bad military record can be rather illuminating. However, you cannot ask about it. Instead, ask about the candidate’s experience in the military. They may volunteer this information on their own.
INSTEAD, ASK: “TELL ME HOW YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE MILITARY CAN BENEFIT OUR COMPANY.”
Here is one last interviewing tip: Many interviewers take a cavalier attitude towards interviewing. After all, they’ll never see them again if they didn’t hire them. You never know how a candidate will feel after leaving the interview and what actions they may or may not take because of how they thought they were treated during the interview. Ask the right questions, document their answers, and be consistent in each interview.
And finally, do not interview alone. If possible, have another person interview with you. That way, there will never be an opportunity for a he-said-she-said situation if you are ever charged with discrimination.
If you would like to learn more about the hiring process, be sure to check out the other parts of this interview series.