What not to ask when interviewing

The Do’s and Don’ts of Interviewing and Hiring

In Business 101, Independent Contractors by Shannon Montgomery

Summer is winding down, and we’re getting close to the fourth quarter of the year. Some businesses like to wind things down while others truly ramp it up to finish the year off strong. If you fall into the second category, and you’re considering hiring help whether that be permanent, seasonal, or on a contract basis, there are certain things you need to know about the hiring and interview process.

Conducting a job interview is an art that takes quite a while to perfect. It is likely that your main priority is to find out as much as you can about the person you are interviewing, all while trying to envision this person as part of your team. This process requires the interviewer to come up with an assortment of questions that will display the candidates work experience and educational qualifications. But, legally speaking, there are standards for these questions and you need to be careful not to violate one of the many laws regulating employers.

What happens if you don’t follow the rules?

Laws such as the Civil Rights Act, the Employee Free Choice Act, and various state laws require employers to refrain from asking certain types of questions in an interview. The best way to think about this is, the personal lives of your potential candidates are off limits. I’ve spoken about it before in my article discussing social media and the hiring process.

It is important that everyone is given an equal opportunity in their pursuit of a career regardless of their gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation and so forth. It is always important to steer clear of asking a question that would lead you down the path of determining these things. You don’t want a discrimination lawsuit on your hands just before the holidays, do you?

Another odd but important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to show any sign of developing a personal preference towards one candidate over the other. Stay away from personal questions such as what sports teams someone supports, or whether they’re into CrossFit or not. It is in our nature to develop certain biases towards people with similar interests to ours and in turn, develop prejudices against people that are different. So, although you are going to likely know some of the above based on their resume and of course seeing the person in real time at the interview, directly asking the questions to gain answers around these topics is not advised.

What can you talk about?

Enough about what you shouldn’t do what exactly can you ask in an interview? Questions related to the person’s skills, education, work experience and even motivation for wanting the position are generally acceptable.

Questions such as:

-Why are you the perfect applicant for the job?

-What is your relevant experience?

-Why are you applying for this position?

-Give one example of a time you handled X issue in your last position.

Keep things open-ended and geared towards the person’s experience and qualifications only. And no, whether they’re married or not has no bearing on their ability to do the job for you so don’t ask. Even if you’re asking because you’d love a single gal pal to hit up happy hour with after you’re done for the day.

Let’s recap things that you probably shouldn’t be asking an interviewee…

-Are you married or single?

-Do you have children, do you want children, or are you pregnant? Big NO here

-How old are you?

-Are you religious, or What is your religion?

-Are you a citizen? (yes you have the right to know if the person is legally allowed to work here, but no you don’t have the right to know the status of their citizenship at this point.)

 -What is your medical history?

-Do you like to party? Ok, I know you won’t ask that, but you can’t ask whether a person drinks or not either because alcoholism is considered a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act, so it’s protected information.

-What is your debt situation?

-Where do your children attend school?

-Will you require time away from work, or seek a promotion?

And lastly, something like this as innocent as it may seem is still a NO…

-This job requires full-time, hard work and dedication. Can you devote the proper amount of time to this position, and your family or and your personal responsibilities?

There you have it. Of course, this list is not an exhaustive list of things you should never ask a prospective employee but hopefully you get the idea of the line you must toe when conducting interviews.

I understand that building your team with the right people is of the utmost importance when growing your business but you have to keep things focused when looking for those people. Do not get into their personal background, stay on track with their relevant experience and education and you should be just fine!

If you have questions or need help developing your HR interviewing process feel free to email me at Shannon@montgomerypllc.com.


Please note that this is not meant to be legal advice for you or your situation, this is merely some legal research and knowledge on the given topic