Guest Post by Kyle O’Brien
Employers are trying to become more creative with the types of interview questions they ask candidates. They understand that finding the right hire takes a little more effort. And beyond standard questions such as “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” or “What’s your best attribute?”, hiring managers may turn to questions that might elicit more in-depth characteristics of a candidate. That being said, there are certain lines that should never be crossed when interviewing.
Here are 7 interview questions that are not only illegal to ask, but frankly just puts both parties in an awkward position.
“How long do you plan to work before you retire?”
Hiring managers who think this question is just the same as, “Will this employee stick around for a long time?” are missing the big picture. This is a question about age. While it doesn’t directly reference it, the mere fact you’re mentioning when they are likely to retire is age discrimination. I’d hope no employer is asking about age in any case, because that’s out of bounds and unethical.
“Are there plans for children in the near future?”
First and foremost, interviews are not a place to go into someone’s personal life. You aren’t here to challenge a candidate’s marital status, or whether they plan to have a family in the near future. It’s practically impossible – and without merit – to judge a candidate’s work ethic and whether or not they’re the right fit for the job based off whether he or she is family material. Your goal is to find out whether they’re job material.
“How many days did you miss last year because of an illness?”
Employers must never ask candidates questions regarding a disability. Trying to sift out whether someone has a medical condition that may or may not sideline them for a number of days is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers are allowed to ask whether a candidate is physically capable of completing a duty, but they can’t mention endurance at any point of the question.
“Are there any particular holidays you need off?”
Never under any circumstances question someone’s religious affiliation. While you might be under the impression that this question is in search of how this person’s annual work schedule will look like, you’re most certainly encroaching upon the candidate’s religious beliefs.
“Have you been arrested before?”
This question shouldn’t have to be answered if you just look at the person’s resume. Even if it’s not listed there, most companies will do background checks during the new hire process anyways – so why risk legal action from that person by requesting their criminal history before then?
“How do you feel working for a female manager?”
Gender questions are illegal for a multitude of reasons. Trying to insinuate that a candidate would feel uneasy working underneath an employee of the opposite sex is unacceptable. While this is some kind of question that surely would have been common back in the 1950s (still wrong then), it’s unthinkable to ask it now. Again, you should already assume that every candidate is a team player. Besides, would you really consider hiring that candidate if they said “no”? Of course not.
“Are you a social drinker?”
To be quite honest, I wasn’t aware of this one right away because I would never think an employer would ask this. But apparently it’s been asked before. And however a candidate is asked what their drinking routines are, it’s in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s because if a candidate were a recovering alcoholic and was in rehab, that qualifies as a personal disability.
Final Thoughts on Interview Questions
All interview questions must have some job-specific theme to them. While some employers might just be saying to themselves, “Hey, I’m just trying to make idle chit-chat by asking if they like sports,” the reality is you can’t assume the person on the other side of the desk will take offense and feel under attack. Hiring managers should only be invested with conducting interviews that seek to find whether this person will offer the right skill set to become a better asset for the company.
Kyle is the Community Manager for an e-learning company, ej4, and has written many articles concerning daily workplace struggles, how to improve one’s leadership abilities and how to motivate employees the right way. Follow them on Google + for more.
Join the Conversation
7 Interview Questions Employers Should Never Ask
Kyle, it’s hard for me to imagine people asking these kinds of questions, but I guess there are those out there! I find that some of these issues, if important to the job seeker, will be raised by themselves when I allow them to ask me questions. For instance, in a recent case, one of the job candidates had only one question to ask me BOTH on the initial phone screen and then when I met her in person: “How much travel will this involve, as I have a small baby?” Whether or not she remembered what I told her the first time she asked, clearly any amount of travel was going to be an issue for her. That’s just one example, but I’d say just let the candidates’ questions reveal sensitive potential “deal breakers” without violating anyone’s privacy.
Thanks for the reply, Alice! And you make a wonderful point about letting candidates reveal the sensitive information first – especially with commuting concerns.
Wow, Kyle, some of these questions are really beyond inappropriate! I have been asked crazy questions like about my commute and how it could affect my job or about childcare arrangements. Stick to the job at hand. Thanks!
Thanks for the reply, Terri! Definitely agree that interviewers should just be focused on whether or not this candidate will perform at a high level, regardless of how long the commute is. I’ve known people who’ve had to commute 60 miles each way every day and they were terrific employees. Same goes for the person who’s just 5 miles up the road.
One of my favorite jobs ever started off with completely inappropriate “small talk” questions as I walked with the VP down the hallway on the way to the interview: “Do you have kids? How old are they? Oh! Preschool? Which one the church or the other one in town…” I couldn’t believe it! Beyond inappropriate. Was a big point of discussion once I was on board.
The questions you’ve highlighted here are critical for leaders, interviewers, and HR everywhere to read and understand. Thanks, Kyle!
Thanks for reading, Alli! And it looks like that VP just about hit half of these questions before the interview! Wow. I’m glad you were able to bring that up after you were hired. Thanks again!