10 Questions Never to Ask in an Interview

January 4, 2016

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Employee hiring is an important and unavoidable part of small business HR. And the most common way most small businesses handle their employee hiring? Through interviews.

While asking questions during an interview is obviously one effective and necessary way to determine whether a candidate is right for the job, there are some questions that are simply off limits. These questions, even if asked innocently, could imply possible discrimination and maybe even lead to legal action from the candidate.

Take a look below at these 10 questions to avoid during an interview, and be sure to jot them down as part of your HR management solutions.


  1. What is Your Religion?
    Unless your organization is specifically religious, such as a church or religious camp, there's no reason to ask about a person's belief system. Some job candidates may bring up the subject without any prompting from you. Just redirect them to addressing job requirements and don't engage in the discussion. If you are concerned that an employee's religious beliefs will prevent them from working certain days and schedules, just ask, "Can you work the days/schedules required for this position?"

  2. How Old Are You?
    As long as you know the job candidate is legally old enough to work, age shouldn't be a factor at all in your employee hiring decision. If there is a question about the candidate's age and age is a requirement for the job (like driving), you may ask something like, "Are you over 18 years of age?" or "Do you have a valid driver's license?" Don't go any further.

  3. What is Your Political Affiliation?
    No, no and no! While political opinions have a way of making themselves known, and certainly have an appropriate place and time to rear their heads, a job interview is not that place or that time. With the presidential campaign already off and running, politics are on everyone's mind. But someone's feelings on our future president have no effect on his or her ability to perform the job in question. No substitute questions - just don't ask!

  4. Do You Plan to Become Pregnant?
    Some women of a certain age are likely planning to have children. It's a fact that their family lives will no doubt affect their careers. Even so, it's never appropriate to ask a woman if she's planning to become pregnant.

  5. Do You Have Children?
    This one is a close relative to the above question, and just as inappropriate. Unless the job candidate specifically requests a flexible schedule because of his or her children, it shouldn't be addressed. If the job requires overtime or extensive travel, just ask "Can you work overtime on short notice or can you travel as part of your job?"

  6. Are You Married?
    Marriage has nothing whatsoever to do with a person's career. This question relates to the previous two questions and have no business in the interview process. There's no benefit to asking about marriage status during the employee hiring process. No alternate questions for this one!

  7. Are You in Debt?
    Believe it or not, this question has been asked during interviews. Maybe the employer thought a person's credit history said a lot about his or her level of responsibility. This may be the case in some situations, but often the reason behind debt is an uncontrollable circumstance. As an aside, using credit reports as a basis for hiring decisions is inappropriate and even illegal in seven states. These reports can lead to litigation when used to make adverse decisions.

  8. Do You Smoke?
    Frankly, what a person does in his or her spare time away from work is none of your concern as an employer. Even if you have a non-smoking environment, you may not ask this question prior to hiring. By asking such a question, you violate the applicant's privacy and even run the risk of a claim of discrimination. After all, cigarettes are legal.

  9. Is Career or Family More Important to You?
    There's no right answer to this question for your potential employee. If he or she claims career to be most important, the interviewer might consider him or her shallow. On the other hand, if family is said to be the first priority, the employer might worry that the candidate won't give 100 percent on the job. Why ask it at all? Again, questions like this open you up to claims of discrimination.

  10. Where is Your Spouse Employed?
    Just like the marriage and children questions, a spouse's employment is no indicator of how capable your candidate is to perform the necessary duties. In fact, this question runs afoul of question number six about the candidate's marital status. Stay away from this type of discriminatory questioning.



What's Next?

When it comes to employee hiring, it's important to know which questions to avoid asking in order to prevent discrimination lawsuits and other potentially costly situations. This philosophy is a crucial part of valuable HR solutions for your organization.

Margaret Jacoby, SPHR, is the founder and president of MJ Management Solutions, a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive. This article first appeared on the MJ Management Solutions blog.

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