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3 Things to Never Ask a Candidate in an Interview

March 10, 2016

interview-2.jpgWhen performing an internet search, you can find tons and tons of articles/blogs around how to conduct interviews and what questions you should be asking candidates. However, not too many articles tell you what you should NOT ask and how to perform interviews properly. Asking the wrong questions in an interview can be costly. If your company is reported for using non-job-related questions or questions focused on protected areas in interviews, you could be challenged legally. On top of this, your company reputation could be permanently tarnished. Below are a few basic question topics that should be avoided by interviewers. You may know some of these already, but a refresher never hurts!

1) Race, Color, and National Origin

Questions about race, gender, and national origin should never be asked during an interview. Questions that relate to these topics, like native language, accent, birthplace of a candidate or candidate’s family members, should also never be asked. These areas are protected under Title VII; any question falling under these categories are not job-relevant and thus, could lead to litigation if your organization is unfairly discriminating against candidates based on these areas.

In particular, if the EEOC were to find that a specific company was asking such questions in order to reach a particular quota of the company’s employee population, that company would be in serious legal trouble.

2) Disabilities and Health Status

Like the questions about race, color, and national origin, interview questions about disabilities and health status should not be asked during an interview. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) amended Title I and Title V to prohibit employment discrimination in state, private, and federal sectors. One thing to remember is that companies can grant a reasonable accommodation to candidates with certain disabilities or health statuses for particular roles.

For example, physically demanding jobs such as a material handler on a production floor may have certain job requirements of which can be reasonably accommodated. If candidates applying for this position need to stand for long periods of time, the company may be able to accommodate someone who is unable to do so by allowing them to sit down at certain times or while performing certain tasks (e.g., sorting, picking, packing materials). When jobs do require certain, physical tasks to be performed, it is okay to ask candidates if they are able to complete these requirements with or without reasonable accommodation given that these tasks are essential functions of the job. The question should be phrased similarly to the following:

“This job requires you to____. With or without reasonable accommodation, are you willing and able to perform these tasks?”

Before asking such questions, we recommend that a company’s legal counsel be consulted.

3) Age, gender, and religion

Lastly, age, gender, and religion are also protected areas in which interview questions should not be asked around. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects candidates 40 and over, and Title VII extends to gender and religion in terms of job discrimination. Topics related to these protected areas include birth date, date of school graduation, marital status, sexual preference, religious practices, and holiday observations.

In some cases, employers are able to legally base decisions on protected areas if they are granted a bona fide occupational qualification. For example, pilots and bus drivers have mandatory retirement ages due to safety reasons. Thus, companies in these industries would be able to ask particular questions about age to candidates applying for related jobs. In almost all other cases, these questions are seen as discriminatory and should not be asked.

Interviewer Tips

Lindsey Burke Lindsey Burke is a Senior Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. She is largely responsible for client support and managing clients in industries including manufacturing, sales, and healthcare. Lindsey completed her M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Xavier University and earned a B.A. and B.S. in Psychology from Kent State University.