Would you ever hire someone without conducting a job interview? Of course not. Job interviews are an essential step in the hiring process. This is often the first chance hiring managers have to meet job candidates face-to-face. It is the ideal opportunity to get to know a potential new hire beyond their job application, resume, and cover letter.
During the job interview, it’s your job to ask candidates in-depth questions to determine if they can do the job, if they will be a good fit for the company, and if they will be an asset to your team. Ask the right questions and it can reveal a lot about the job candidate. Ask the wrong questions and you might find yourself in a bit of legal trouble. There are a handful of job interview questions that are strictly forbidden because they are illegal under federal and state laws.
Is it surprising to you to learn that illegal interview questions exist? You’re not alone. According to a 2015 study from CareerBuilder.com, 1 in 5 employers has unknowingly asked an illegal interview question and at least 1 in 3 employers are unsure about the legality of certain interview questions.
As an HR professional, it’s your job to know that illegal interview questions exist and to ensure that your team avoids these questions at all costs. Illegal interview questions include anything that is not directly related to the job at hand. Interview questions pertaining to the following topics are off-limits so take a look at WHY you want to know the answer and consider the workaround questions that may get at the heart of why you feel the information is relevant to the job:
- Illegal: How old are you?
- Legal: Are you over 18?
- Illegal: What ethnicity are you?
- Legal: Tell me what interests you in X industry.
- Illegal: How do you feel about being the only woman on an all male team?
- Legal: Tell me about your previous experience working in teams.
- Illegal: How much do you weight? (Plus this one is just rude!)
- Legal: Are you able to lift X amount as required for this job?
- Lifestyle Choices
- Illegal: What religion are you?
- Legal: Here is the schedule for this job, can you foresee any conflicts in availability?
- National Origin
- Illegal: Where were you born?
- Legal: What languages do you read, speak or write fluently?
- Illegal: Are you a U.S. Citizen?
- Legal: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?
- Illegal: Are you disabled in any way?
- Legal: Are you able to perform the duties of this job?
- Marital Status
- Illegal: Are you married?
- Legal: Have you ever worked under another name?
- Sexual Orientation
- Illegal: Do you identify as LGBTQ?
- Legal: Here are our core values, does this seem like an atmosphere that you would want to be a part of?
- Arrest and Conviction Record
- Illegal: Have you ever been charged with a crime?
- Legal: Would you be willing to submit to a background check as required for this position?
- Military Status
- Illegal: Are you a current member of the National Guard?
- Legal: Do you have any events coming up that would take you out of work for an extended period of time?
- Pregnancy Status
- Illegal: Do you have kids?
- Legal: Are you comfortable with traveling X times per year for this job?
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid any questions that are not immediately relevant to the job you are hiring for. If you ask about any of the protected categories listed above, it’s easy for a job seeker to argue that they were discriminated against. This is not good for you and it’s not good for your company.
To avoid asking illegal interview questions brainstorm a game plan before every interview. Create a structured outline. Write down the job interview questions that you are going to ask. Do not stray from that list. Communicate the plan to your team.
In the event that someone who is not on your HR team conducts the interview, sit down with that interviewer and coach them through what they can and cannot ask – or better yet sit in on the interview to ensure no illegal interview questions are asked by accident.
Consult your company’s legal team for more information on illegal interview questions and topics to avoid. They are the most up-to-date source of information for all legal issues that affect your business.
Share this post with your team and your friends in the HR world.
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