10 Questions Employers Should Never Ask During an Interview
Ask interview questions that are legal and provide useful information
Conducting job interviews is a hard task. Most people don't conduct interviews all that often and so they don't get a lot of practice. Of course, if you're a recruiter, you should have refined skills, but for the hiring managers, most don't hire more than once or twice a year. So their skills are rusty—at best.
While many articles focus on the interview questions you should ask, there are also questions that you should never ask. You don't ask some questions because of legal reasons and others because they aren't helpful in selecting an employee.
Here are ten questions that you should never ask. Some of them might surprise you.
- Oh! I Went to South High School, Too. What Year Did You Graduate?: High school graduation is a sticky question because it indicates your candidate's age—give or take a year. Age discrimination for people over 40 is illegal, and the only age that you need to know is if they are over 18 or 21, depending on the job.
Most interviewers would never ask a candidate how old he or she is, but questions like this slip out, especially when the topic comes up in a normal conversation. When you find out that your candidate has something in common with you, it's natural to try to build connections.
Hold off on this connection, though, until after you have made a job offer. If you hire the person, you will have plenty of time to laugh about running laps in Mrs. Jones' PE class.
- I Love Your Accent. Where Are You From?: First of all, have you looked at the person's resume? That will give you an idea of where your candidate has lived, but otherwise, national origin is a protected class. Lots of people love cool accents. You mean nothing discriminatory by the question. But, if you don't hire the person, they could look back on that question as national origin discrimination.
Likewise, the same goes for an individual who looks like they aren't from the United States. If their resume says their address is Pittsburgh, then as far as you're concerned, they come from Pittsburgh.
- How Many Kids Do You Have?: This question often comes up in the small talk portion of the job interview or if you take your candidate out to lunch. The children subject is often brought up by the interviewee. She'll see a picture of your kids on your desk and comment, and the polite thing to do is to ask her the same question back.
Except, in a job interview, you want to let that question go. The proper questions are related to the ability of your candidate to do the job. You can say, “This job doesn't have good flexibility. We're pretty rigid about our hours. Will that work for you?” You especially don't want to get into plans for future children, as pregnancy discrimination violates the law.
- Are You a US Citizen?: The question you can ask regarding this issue is, “Are you authorized to work in the United States?” And the hiring manager shouldn't need to ask this question at all. Your job application should ask this question, and the recruiter was responsible for weeding out candidates who can't legally work here.
- What Language Do You Speak at Home?: This question also puts you into national origin discrimination territory. If you're hiring an employee for a position that requires multi-lingual capabilities, the question to ask is, “What languages do you speak?” And, for further clarification, “How well do you speak that language?” Ideally, you should have a current employee who speaks the language you are looking for to interview the candidate and assess their language skills.
- Do You Have Any Disabilities?: Some disabilities are obvious. If the person is in a wheelchair, you'll know it. But, many disabilities that are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act aren't obvious during a job interview. Don't ask. Again, even though you would never intentionally discriminate against someone with a disability, once you know, you have set yourself up for the accusation that you did.
You can ask the candidate if they are capable of doing the job. If a candidate does have a disability that needs accommodation, the candidate should bring it up to you after you've made a job offer.
- What Would You Do if a Penguin With a Sombrero Walked in the Front Door?: Some hiring managers like to ask these fun and creative questions they found on the internet. Please don't. Unless you're in the business of zoo animal fiestas, there is no answer to this question that will help you evaluate the candidate.
Keep your questions relevant to the job. Don't try to pry into personality. Unless you're a trained psychologist, you won't even know how to interpret the candidate's answers. Ask about knowledge, skills, and abilities instead.
- Do You Need Health Insurance?: Yes, everyone needs health insurance. If you're asking because the job doesn't offer health insurance, and you want to make them aware, just say it flat out during the phone screen. “This job doesn't offer health insurance. Are you still interested in interviewing?”
By waiting until the interview and asking your candidate if he needs health insurance, what you're doing is prying into their marital status, the employment status of their spouse, their health status, and their financial independence. Don't ask.
- What Did You Hate About Your Last Job?: It can seem like a good question, as you can use it as a set up a situation in which you are extolling the virtues of the position you're offering. But, the question opens up the opportunity for your candidate to become very negative.
Candidates dislike something about their current job, or they wouldn't be job searching. But, they are generally trying hard to stay positive. Instead, ask questions about what they are looking for in their new job. “What are you looking for in your new job?” is a better, more positive question.
- What Church Do You Attend?: Unless you're hiring for a faith-based organization, this question is a no-go. Again, it often comes up in small talk and seems harmless, but you cannot discriminate on the basis of religion unless it's pertinent to the job. (So, yes, you can require that the minister for your Lutheran church is Lutheran, but you can't require that your grocery store cashier has the same beliefs as you.)
The only time religion is relevant in a secular interview is if the person needs an accommodation, in which case it is their responsibility to bring it up after you've made an offer. Then, you can decide together if an accommodation is possible.
When you're conducting job interviews, keep your focus on the actual job, and the skills you need the new employee to possess and you won't go wrong or off-track with your interview questions. These are ten examples of questions you don't want to ask and why you don't want to ask them.
Suzanne Lucas is a freelance journalist specializing in Human Resources. Suzanne's work has been featured on notes publications including Forbes, CBS, Business Insider and Yahoo.