Ask This, Not That to Avoid Inappropriate Interview Questions

November 8th, 2016 Comments off
Candidate's interview experience

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.


Want more expert advice? Get CareerBuilder’s recruitment tips and advice delivered to your inbox.

Hiring? Be Aware of Asking Illegal Job Interview Questions

June 16th, 2016 Comments off
illegal interview questions

During the course of conversing with a job candidate, asking a question such as “Are you married?” can seem perfectly natural. In the eyes of the law, however, the question is not innocent – it is illegal. Regardless of intention, hiring managers who venture into “off limit” territory put their company at risk for legal action because an applicant can argue that certain questions were used to discriminate against him or her.

No company wants to deal with a lawsuit, but such action can be especially troublesome for small businesses. Such firms likely do not have a legal team at their disposal and will need to spend their already limited time and money to assemble one. This redirection of resources may greatly affect the company’s ability to operate and grow. Bouncing back may not be quick, easy, or even possible.

Yet while hiring managers at small businesses really need to take the seriousness of the issue to heart, many fall short. Recent CareerBuilder research showed that nearly 1 in 5 small business employers (18 percent) have asked a question in an interview, only to find out later that it was illegal. Likewise, the following questions are illegal for hiring managers to ask; yet, when asked if they knew if these questions were illegal, at least one third of hiring managers in small businesses indicated they didn’t know:

  • What is your religious affiliation?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • What is your political affiliation?
  • What is your race, color or ethnicity?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you disabled?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children or plan to?
  • Are you in debt?
  • Do you social drink or smoke?


Preparation now can prevent problems down the line. Consider these actions to rid interviews of illegal questions:

Know the sticky areas. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states, “It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” Avoid questions that reveal such information.

 Train all interviewers. If others from your company will be asking questions, be sure they know what types of things they can’t ask. Better yet, have them run a list by you beforehand. Sticking primarily to preplanned questions prevents treading into murky water and helps ensure equal treatment of all being interviewed.

 Focus on the position. Often the legality of the question is in how the interviewer asks it. For instance, 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 fine. Similarly, go ahead and inquire whether or not an applicant will be okay putting in extra hours occasionally, but don’t ask if she has adequate childcare arrangements to handle overtime. Remember that your task consists of finding someone capable of performing essential duties for your small business, not evaluating a candidate’s personal life.

 Want more small business hiring advice and resources? Learn about the The Anatomy of a Powerful Job Posting. You can also request to get more information on our Small Business Subscription Package.

1 in 5 Employers Has Unknowingly Asked Illegal Interview Questions

April 13th, 2015 Comments off

The job interview is a crucial component of the hiring process. Chances are you’ve asked unusual — even eccentric — questions to assess a candidate’s competencies and gauge cultural fit, but have you ever asked something illegal? 1 in 5 employers admits to asking a question during a job interview — only to find out later that it was illegal to ask.

A new CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,100 hiring and HR managers across the U.S. shows that the boundaries aren’t clear when it comes to what’s OK to ask versus what’s off limits from a legal perspective when it comes to interview questions.

1 in 5 Employers Has Unknowingly Asked Illegal Interview Questions
Even something as simple as “How old are you?” or “What is your political affiliation?” could land an employer in hot water.

So would questions like these:
• What is your religious affiliation?
• Are you pregnant?
• Are you disabled?
• Do you have children or plan to?
• Are you in debt?
• Do you drink or smoke socially?

What does this mean for you?

As Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, puts it:

“It’s important for both interviewer and interviewee to understand what employers do and don’t have a legal right to ask in a job interview — for both parties’ protection. Though their intentions may be harmless, hiring managers could unknowingly be putting themselves at risk for legal action, as a job candidate could argue that certain questions were used to discriminate against him or her.”

That’s why you should take extra precaution when formulating interview questions to assess whether or not a candidate will be a good fit for your organization.

Want to receive Talent Factor by email? Subscribe here and get a brand new recruiting industry statistic delivered to your inbox every Monday. Join the conversation on Twitter: #TalentFactor.