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Interviewing > Talent Acquisition

Ask This, Not That: How to Avoid Asking Inappropriate Interview Questions

interview best practicesRecruiters and hiring managers should already know that any question that asks a candidate to reveal information about his or her national origin, citizenship, age, marital status, disabilities, arrest and conviction record, military discharges, or personal information is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But while avoiding these subjects sounds easy enough, it’s not always glaringly obvious what questions might be construed as inappropriate – even when they seem harmless on the surface.

Below is a guideline to avoiding 10 inappropriate interview questions – while still getting the information you’re looking for.

Ask this: What is your current address and phone number? or Do you have any alternative locations where you can be reached? Not that… How long have you lived here? Like the question above, this one alludes to a candidate’s citizenship. Stay away.

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 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 candidates 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… How much longer do you plan to work before you retire? While you may not want to hire 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. Cut to the chase by asking directly about the candidate’s availability.

Ask this: Are you available to work within our required schedule? Not that…What religion do you practice? 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 high school? 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.?” Be sure to 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?”).

From Q&A to Z: Your Complete Guide to Effective Interviewing

There is nothing more important in the hiring process than the interview. At the very least, the interview process is a networking event – an opportunity to brand your company in the eyes of a potential employee, brand advocate or customer.

At the very most, the interview process will help you find the right fit for both the job and your organization overall (and, as a bonus, reflect well on you for finding this person). Either way, the interview is a crucial process that – if executed correctly – will ultimately help move your business forward.

CareerBuilder’s quick-and-easy interviewing guide – From Q&A to Z: The Hiring Manager’s Complete Interviewing Guide - covers everything from preparing for the interview to evaluating candidates afterward.

Readers will walk away with the following takeaways:

  • Steps to take to prepare for the interview
  • The importance of body language
  • When to raise the red flag (and when to let it go)
  • The best and worst interview questions
  • How to avoid asking inappropriate interview questions
  • What the candidate wants to know

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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  1. […] Mary Lorenz from CareerBuilder has this to say about how interviewers should get around illegal interview questions. […]

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