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6 Questions Employers Should Never Ask a Job Candidate

Oct 18, 2021 10:00:00 AM
By Linda Trzyna

in Interview, Hiring

Interviews are an essential part of the hiring process. They enable employers and candidates to meet and discuss the company and the open position. There are many questions an interviewer could ask a job applicant – but do you know the questions you should not ask?

Applicants Have Rights

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “applicants… are protected from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity) national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information (including family medical history).”

As an interviewer, you should avoid asking your potential hires questions that touch on any protected status. Otherwise, you risk exposing your company to accusations of unfair hiring practices, or even a discrimination lawsuit.

Questions to Avoid

The types of questions relating to a protected status are not necessarily straightforward. There are times when even casual comments meant to break the ice may potentially cross the line.

Let’s examine the topics to avoid, along with a couple of carefully worded alternative questions to use in special situations.

  1. Interviewers should never ask a candidate for their birthdate, date of high school graduation or any other information that might indicate their age. In rare cases where age is a legal requirement of the job, such as wait staff who serve alcohol, clarify that you will need to verify the applicant’s age before hiring.
  2. “Where were you born?”, “What language do you speak at home?” or “What is the origin of your last name?” are among questions that could imply cultural bias. Don’t go there.
  3. Marriage or children. Even if you’re just making small talk, questions about whether an applicant is married, has children, or plans to marry or start a family, are best left unasked. Ditto any gender-related questions, or inquiries about whether the applicant needs to arrange for child care.
  4. Questions such as “What church do you attend?” open you to accusations of religious bias. And unless you’re hiring the pastor of your church, the applicant’s religious preference is not relevant to the job description.
  5. Medical history. Your job application likely inquired about disabilities, so there really is no need to bring it up in an interview. You also shouldn’t ask if the candidate recently has taken medical leave or been on disability. However, notes SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management), you can ask if they will be able to meet attendance requirements, and if they are capable of performing the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.
  6. Creative questions. Some interviewers like to throw an oddball question into the mix. While not strictly taboo, such questions generally aren’t helpful in selecting a qualified candidate. Your applicant is probably nervous enough, without the added stress of wondering how to answer your quirky question correctly.

The hiring process is complex. By focusing on a candidate’s skills and qualifications, you’ll remove one complication by avoiding interviewing pitfalls that could lead to claims of bias.


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Filed under Interview, Hiring

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