Refresher: 8 things you can't ask candidates during an interview

Aug 28, 2018 | Article

Interviewers must be careful not to ask questions that violate U.S. equal opportunity laws.

Interviews are a great tool to get to know candidates better. However, interviewers must be careful not to ask questions that violate U.S. equal opportunity laws.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers cannot discriminate against candidates because of race, color, religion, sex or gender, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.

Whether you're new to the hiring process or just need a refresher, here are eight interview questions to avoid:

1. How old are you?

Hiring decisions should never be made based on a candidate's age. In fact, the only age-related question you are allowed to ask is to determine if the candidate is over the age of 18. Asking anything else could be seen as discriminatory. If you're worried that a candidate won't be able to fulfill the physical demands of the position, you may ask if the candidate how s/he would plan to perform the duties specific to the role, as well as if they may need any reasonable accommodations to perform their job effectively.

"Throughout the entire hiring process – posting the job, collecting applications, interviewing – it is important to focus on the 'how' rather than the 'what'," says Chris Wilcock, Senior Marketing Coordinator at Beacon Hill Staffing Group. "All that matters is a candidate's ability to perform the job, so avoid questions that focus on superficial traits, and instead rely on the candidate's explanation of how they'd complete all tasks and responsibilities."

2. Do you work well with women/men?

As a rule, any conversation you have with candidates should steer clear of gender. You should never assume a candidate's gender, nor should you assume his or her private sexual preferences. Asking about gender relations is considered discriminatory under U.S. law.

3. Are you a cigarette smoker?

Asking candidates about their health is very risky. Assumptions about another individual's habits can lead to discriminatory hiring practices. If you are worried that an interviewee's health situation may interfere with their performance (for example, taking too many cigarette breaks), ask instead how the person plans to perform the functions of the job and meet deadlines. Otherwise, stay away from the subject.

4. Do you plan on retiring soon?

As with questions about age, hiring managers cannot ask prospective candidates about their retirement plans. A candidate's personal financial state is not your business. Furthermore, such questions violate laws designed to protect against age discrimination. However, you are able to ask candidates about their future career aspirations.

Interviewers should avoid all questions pertaining to gender.

5. On average, how often do you get sick?

In the U.S., employers are not allowed to pry into a candidate's health history. If you want to know if a candidate will abuse your organization's sick day policy, you can ask if they have ever been reprimanded for such an offense in the past. But you cannot directly question candidates about their physical or mental health.

6. Do you have children or plan to have them?

Questions about children fall under the category of gender discrimination. Employers cannot ask candidates about their current children or their future plans regarding pregnancy. These rules apply to male candidates as well as female. Furthermore, questions about past or current marital status should be avoided.

7. Do you live close to the office?

It's natural to want to know if a candidate will be able to come into the office on time every day. However, questions about a candidate's residency are strictly prohibited. You can however, ask a candidate about his or her availability. Essentially, you can ask if a candidate is able to start work at 9 a.m., but you can't ask how far he or she lives from the office.

8. What is your ethnicity?

U.S. law prohibits employers from asking candidates about their race, ethnicity, color or religion. Generally speaking, you should focus any line of questioning on the job itself – if the candidate can adhere to the required work schedule, what specific proficiencies would allow the candidate to excel in the role etc. Do not make an assumption regarding someone's fitness for the job based on their ethnicity or status as a member of a protected class.

For more tips on how to improve your hiring process, check out our resource center today.

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