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Avoid Asking Job Candidates These Questions During Interviews

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

November 6, 2020

The process of hiring can be challenging. Posting a job vacancy, filtering resumes, conducting one-on-one interviews and finally figuring out the best fit for the specified role in your company is probably the most difficult part.

While you’re asking all the right questions that seek relevant information about the applicant like educational and professional qualifications, you should avoid questions that could land you in trouble. During any interview, you have to strike the right balance between making the interviewee comfortable and sliding into innocuous chatter, which might lead to a question that shouldn’t be asked, and may fall under unlawful discriminatory hiring practices. For one wrong question, you could face possible legal action, which puts you in danger of appearing discriminatory and facing litigation, impacting your overall business reputation.

For any business owner, it’s crucial to know the inappropriate interview questions that should be avoided. Below are some questions to steer clear of as an employer in most situations. Of course, there may be instances (such as jobs involving law enforcement or childcare) where some questions may be relevant to the job and are therefore allowable in certain circumstances, but the questions below pertain to most general positions. Check them out so you can understand what’s really off limits and illegal.

How Old Are You?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits any interview questions that could indicate age discrimination. While it may seem like a valid question, it also underlines the fact that you have taken note of their age, which could be a reason not to hire.

How Many Kids Do You Have?

Do not ask this even if the interviewee has mentioned their family and kids. Avoid asking any other questions around this particular topic, because it might lead the candidate to think you are opposed to hiring a parent.

What Does Your Spouse Do for A Living?

This is a very personal question and has no relation to the hiring criteria.

Are You Single, Married, Divorced, Or Engaged?

You need to be unbiased. Rule out this question completely.

What Are Your Plans If You Get Pregnant?

This is clearly discrimination. It may seem like the organization is not welcoming toward working mothers and do not have maternity facilities or policies in place.

Where Did You Get Your Accent?

This is a red flag question. It clearly shows that you are curious to know the nationality of the person, and might differentiate against a potential employee as their accent is different and they may hail from a different country. If the question is for a role where language fluency is important, then please specify or ask – how fluent or comfortable you are in this language?

How Much Are You Currently Making?

In some places, there are bans on asking job candidates about their salary histories. So, when asking candidates about their previous salaries, you may want to check the state laws. Instead, consider asking them about their salary expectations for the new role.

Will You Need Personal Time for Particular Religious Holidays?

Anything that concerns religion or religious beliefs should be clearly avoided.

Are You Comfortable Working for A Male or Female Boss?

This implies that you are gender-biased and doubting the capability of a candidate.

Have You Had A Brush with The Law or Do You Have Any Outstanding Debt?

You can perform a background or reference check to determine whether the candidate violated any laws relevant to your company policy. Regarding debt, do not enter that territory.

Do You Socially Drink?

A very personal question that doesn’t have anything to do with most jobs, so it should be avoided.

When Was the Last Time You Used Illegal Drugs?

You are not allowed to discriminate against people who take prescription drugs or are recovering addicts. Strike off this question completely from your interview question list, and replace it with something like ”Are you are fine taking a drug test prior to and during your employment with us?”

Some Topics Are Off Limits

As mentioned above, areas like race, religion, gender, marital status, number of children, childcare arrangements, etc. are inappropriate and deemed to be discriminatory. In addition, it is unlawful to deny a female candidate a job because she is pregnant, or planning to have a child.

There are laws which prohibit certain interview questions. As an entrepreneur, employer or any small business owner, you must be aware of federal and state laws against discrimination at workplace. A few of them are listed below.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination. These laws include the:

  • Equal Pay Act of 1963
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA)

Another federal law that protects individuals is the:

  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Selective states enforce further protections for workers, through laws like:

  • Salary history laws by state
  • Ban-the-box laws by state
  • Equal pay laws by state

These laws are applicable to specific employers in some cases. The Civil Rights Act, ADA, and GINA are applicable to employers with 15 or more employees. Likewise, the ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees. Make sure that you are aware of the state discrimination laws.

The act or appearance of discrimination could destroy your company’s reputation, resulting in legal battles. So be very careful when you conduct your next interview. Your questions should be focused on the candidate’s educational background, professional skills, experience or anything that is relevant to the role offered.

Check out the following infographic to help you remember which questions you should avoid asking at job interviews.



Tasnim Ahmed
Tasnim Ahmed

Tasnim Ahmed is a content writer at Escalon Business Services who enjoys writing on a multitude of subjects that include finops, peopleops, risk management, entrepreneurship, VC and startup culture. Based in Delhi NCR, she previously contributed to ANI, Qatar Tribune, Marhaba, Havas Worldwide, and curated content for top-notch brands in the PR sphere. On weekends, she loves to explore the city on a motorcycle and binge watch new OTT releases with a plateful of piping hot dumplings!

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