Illegal Interview Questions

Hey employers: What are the questions that, if asked, will get you into very hot water? Would you believe me if I told you that is a trick question, and there actually aren't any? It's not the question, but when you base your hiring decisions on certain pieces of information that you get into trouble. Yes, it is a technicality, but lawyers make a lot of money on technicalities, and part of my job is to keep you from having to pay out any more than is necessary.

I do a lot of hiring, and one thing I've learned is that smart interviewers avoid a bunch of questions because they can’t factor the answers into their hiring decision, and by not asking they avoid any appearance of impropriety. Specifically, you cannot ask any question during an interview that relates to an applicant's race, color, religion, age, gender, national origin, or disability.

Questions to Avoid
• Are you a U.S. citizen?
• Where were you born?
• What is your birth date?
• How old are you?
• Do you have a disability?
• Are you married?
• What is your spouse's name?
• What is your maiden name?
• Do you have any children?
• Do you have child care arrangements?
• What is your race or ethnic origin?
• Which church do you attend?
• What is your religion?

There are some questions that can be asked, but only when there is a bona fide, job-specific reason to ask them. If asked of one candidate, they should be asked of all candidates for the same position.

Acceptable Alternative Questions
• Do you have any responsibilities that conflict with the job's attendance or travel requirements?
• Are you able to work in the United States on an unrestricted basis?
• Are you able to perform the duties on the job description with or without reasonable accommodations?
• Have you ever been convicted of a felony crime?
• If hired, can you provide proof that you are at least 18 years of age?
• Do you have any conflicts that would prevent you from working the schedule discussed?
• What languages do you speak or write fluently?
• Have you worked under any other professional name or nickname?
• Do you have any relatives currently working for this company?
• Would you have any problem working overtime, if required?
• Would anything prohibit you from making a long-term commitment to the position and the company?

It is always acceptable to get the information you need to make a fair judgment about an applicant’s ability to do the job you are hiring for. Some questions, however, give an impression of bias, and that’s what a great interviewer will avoid.

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