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Did You Know: There are Questions You Can’t Ask in an Interview?

08 Oct


Interviewing can be a challenge. It can be difficult for both the candidate and the interviewer. This is even more apparent when you consider an interviewer needs to figure out what to ask, when to ask it, and if they are even allowed to ask the question they’re considering.

That’s right—there are in fact questions you can’t ask in an interview.

Some of these questions may be obvious, and some a bit more thought-provoking. As a rule of thumb: if it’s a doubt, it’s a don’t. You should never have to question whether or not something you’re asking is appropriate. Inappropriate or illegal questions could put your company at risk of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit.

Here are six questions you can’t ask in an interview and why:

Are You a U.S. Citizen?

This is the easiest, most direct, and harmless way to find out if a candidate is able to work for you, right? Wrong.

A candidate does not actually have to be a citizen of the United States to work for a company. In fact, the answer to this question may receive a discriminatory response from an interviewer, thus the reason you can’t ask this question during an interview.

However, a candidate DOES have to be authorized to work in the United States. Instead of asking, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” Ask, “Are you authorized in to work in the U.S.?” You are obligated to confirm a candidate is authorized for work.

Do You Have Children or Plan on Having Children?

This is a sensitive subject to ask questions about. Of course, no company can forbid anyone from having children, but a company could pass on a candidate because it may not believe the candidate can meet the time requirements.

While you can’t ask this questing during an interview, you can explicitly explain to a candidate the time demands of the position. If applicable, explain to the candidate that the position may require travel or overtime work.

At this point, the candidate can give you an idea of how much time they have to offer and you can make a safe decision whether they are able to provide what you need.

How Old Are You?

This question carries a considerable amount of weight and it can certainly put you on the path of discrimination issues down the road. While you can’t ask for a specific age, you can ask if they are legally old enough to work for your company. For example, many companies requires its employees to be at least 18-years-old.

If you don’t keep this question specifically to the legality of their age, a candidate that doesn’t get the job can claim it is because they are either too old or too young.

Do You Take Drugs?

Asking someone if they take drugs can cause a lot of confusion on both ends of an interview. The interviewer may be asking a question about illegal substances while a candidate may think they are being asked about prescription medication that they need to take and are legally allowed to.

Even if you and the candidate are on the same page, asking about prescription medication is off-limits because you shouldn’t be inquiring about their personal health.

When it comes to questions about drug use, it’s better not to ask about them at all. You are legally allowed to ask for a pre-employment drug screening if the candidate is offered and accepts a job—the screening should tell you what you want to know.

What Was Your Most Recent Salary? What Is Your Salary History?

Questions about salary are a no-go, more times than they are acceptable. Usually, the only question you should ask about salary is how a candidate would like to be compensated.

Further, a candidate could make the argument that if a company was to know their salary history, they could be low-balled with their offer.

Salary questions are also risky when asking women or minorities because of pay gaps within these groups. According to a report from payscale, in 2021, women earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Your safest option is to set the compensation up front and make candidates aware of it.

What Religion Do You Practice?

When it comes to questions you can’t ask in an interview, questions about religion are completely off the table. Avoid them completely.

Questions about religion can come off as rude or discriminatory and leave plenty of room for EEOC issues. Furthermore, a candidate’s religious beliefs are irrelevant to their working capabilities.

The only time religion may be relevant is when you’re trying to figure out if holidays will keep them from working a required schedule. In that case, all you need to ask is, “Are you able to work with our required schedule?”

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Keep it Relevant.

Always find a way to relate the question to specific work related topics like occupational qualifications and requirements. Ask yourself: Would the answer to this question mean that the candidate cannot perform the job functions without disrupting the work environment? If you answered no, then you should ask a different question.

If you’re having difficulty determining which questions you should and shouldn’t ask, VensureHR can help. Our team of human resource professionals will help you prepare for candidate interviews so you can be confident you are asking all the right, and legal, questions prior to the interview. You can also download our free Business Owner’s Guide to Recruiting and our free Interview Questionnaire Form to keep on hand and reference whenever you need it. Contact VensureHR to learn more about how we can assist you with interviews and additional HR needs.

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