What You Can (and Can’t) Ask in an Interview

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An interview is a big deal—not just for the candidate, but for the company as well. When you’re interviewing a potential new member of your team, you get your best chance at determining whether or not this person would actually be capable of doing the job, and how well they would fit into your company culture. Needless to say, it’s important that you, as the interviewer, put a good amount of thought and preparation into the questions you ask during an interview.

 

However, as you may know, there are some questions that you may feel naturally inclined to ask that are simply not permitted in a professional interview setting. The answers to these questions could make you liable if the candidate feels that he/she missed out on the job for discriminatory reasons.

 

Here are some general categories you should avoid in interview questions, along with sample illegal questions for each. (Note: this list is not comprehensive, but rather a short list of examples.)

 

  • Gender/sex/sexual orientation
    • Your boss in this position would be a woman. Is that a problem?
    • We’ve interviewed only men for this position so far. What do you think you can offer than they can’t?
  • Age
    • Would an age gap between you and your coworkers bother you?
    • How old are you?
  • Family
    • Are you married?
    • Do you have any kids?
    • What are your childcare arrangements?
  • Race/nationality/birthplace
    • Are you a U.S. citizen?
    • Where is your family from?
    • Were you born in the U.S.?

Note: In this case, it’s acceptable to ask if the candidate is eligible to work in the U.S.

 

  • Religion
    • Will you need to take any days off for religious holidays or other religious reasons?
    • How did your religion affect your upbringing?
    • What religion do you belong to?
  • Disability/health
    • Do you have any disabilities we should know about?
    • How severe is your disability?
    • Do you smoke?
    • How much do you weigh?
  • Location
    • How far away do you live?
    • What would your commute be like every day?

 

Other smaller categories you shouldn’t ask about include:

 

  • Military status
  • Financial status
  • Housing
  • Social security
  • Past arrests
  • Pregnancy or family planning
  • Past salary

 

After hiring, it will be appropriate to share some of this information, as employers will need to have certain information for tax purposes.

 

When making your list of interview questions, follow these general rules:

 

  • Focus on skills and qualifications.
  • Determine ability to perform specific job skills (as outlined in the job description)
  • Talk about past work experiences the candidate has had, along with lessons learned from those experiences.
  • Ask culture-related questions that don’t violate the above rules. You can ask about work habits, commitment to teamwork, how well they take feedback, etc.
  • Discuss personal motivation and short- and long-term career goals.

 

These basic guidelines will be a great starting point when it comes to keeping your interviews both legal and productive. By following these best practices, you’re more likely to find the employee you want without putting your company at risk.

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