Almost everyone has experienced that mind-blowing moment when something you always thought to be true turned out to be false – like learning that all Froot Loops taste the same or that the Bearenstein Bears were actually the Bearenstain Bears. For some hiring managers, that “aha!” moment could come with major consequences.
A 2015 CareerBuilder survey found that 1 in 5 hiring managers has asked a question in a job interview only to find out later that it was illegal to ask. While it’s understandable how these mistakes are made – for one thing, very few hiring managers receive formal interview training, and the lines between what is OK to ask and what isn’t aren’t always clear – it only takes one error to land an employer in some very hot water.
While you may already know that asking candidates about their national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, disabilities, arrest record, military discharges or personal information is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sometimes a seemingly harmless interview question could be construed as inappropriate, or even illegal.
Below is a guideline to avoiding 10 potentially dangerous interview questions – while still getting the information you’re looking for.
- Ask this: Are you legally authorized to work in the United States? Not that: Are you a U.S. citizen? Or Where were your parents born? Questions about national origin or ancestry are prohibited as they have no relevance to the job at hand or work status. The exception to this rule, of course, is if the position specifically requires one to be a U.S. citizen (and it should state so in the job posting).
- Ask this: Are you willing to relocate? Not that: Where do you live? Asking candidates where they live could be interpreted as a way to discriminate based on their location and is therefore illegal. Asking them if they are willing to relocate, however, is OK.
- Ask this: Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position? Not that: Do you have any disabilities? or Have you had any recent or past illnesses and operations? You may want to know about a candidate’s ability to handle certain responsibilities or perform certain jobs, but asking about disabilities or illnesses of any sort is not the way to find out (legally, at least).
- Ask this: Are you a member of any professional or trade groups that are relevant to our industry? Not that: Do you belong to any clubs or social organizations? You might simply be trying to learn about a candidate’s interests and activities outside of work, but a general question about organizational membership could tap into a candidate’s political and religious affiliations or other personal matters.
- Ask this: Have you ever been convicted of “x” [something that is substantially related to the job]? Not that: Have you ever been arrested? Questions about arrests or pending charges for jobs that are NOT substantially related to the particular job are off-limits.
- Ask this: What are your long-term career goals? Not that: When do you plan to retire? While you may have concerns about hiring an older worker who will retire in a few years, you can’t dismiss an applicant for this reason.
- Ask this: Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel? Not that: Do you have children? or Can you get a babysitter on short notice for overtime or travel? You might be concerned that family obligations will get in the way of work, but you can’t ask or make assumptions about family situations.
- Ask this: Are you available to work within our required schedule? Not that: What is your religious affiliation? or What religious holidays do you observe? Again, you might simply be trying to discern a candidate’s availability, but leave religion out of it.
- Ask this: Are you over the age of 18? Not that: How old are you? or When did you graduate from college? If you know a candidate’s age, you could find yourself facing discrimination charges at some point. Your only concern should be as to whether the candidate is legally old enough to work for your organization.
- Ask this: Is additional information, such as a different name or nickname necessary in order to check job references? Not that: Is this your maiden name? or Do you prefer to be called “Ms.,” “Miss,” or “Mrs.?” Avoid any question that alludes to a woman’s marital status – as well as anything that could be construed as a question referring to national origin or ancestry (e.g. “Your name is interesting. What nationality is it?”).
When in doubt, keep it work-related. The best way to ensure you are staying compliant is to phrase questions so they directly relate to specific occupational qualifications.
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