Refresher for HR: Never Ask These Questions During an Interview

July 27th, 2018

HR pros know there are certain things they legally cannot ask candidates during job interviews, but it’s easy to become complacent and slip up. Unfortunately, even a minor a slip can be costly, putting the organization at risk of lawsuits. Here’s your back-to-basics guide on questions you should never ask during an interview.

Interview 101: Subjects to Avoid

According to the EEOC, it is illegal to ask a candidate about their:

  • Race, color or national origin
  • Religion
  • Sex, sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Pregnancy status
  • Disability
  • Age or genetic information
  • Citizenship
  • Marital status or number of children

Topics like these can sneak up on you if the interview takes place in an informal setting or if you’re developing a real rapport with a candidate. It is important never to let your guard down, even when you feel comfortable with the person sitting across from you.

Simple Rules to Keep Interviews Above Board

Sometimes, interviewers try to be clever by asking irrelevant questions to glean information. They know they can’t say, “How old are you,” so they may ask “What year did you graduate college?” They know they cannot ask someone if they are a U.S. citizen, so they may ask, “Is English your first language?”

Dancing around topics that can be construed as a basis for discrimination is never a good idea. You can be certain your interview will always be compliant if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Ask only questions that directly relate to the job itself.
  2. Don’t ask vague questions. If you want to know about punctuality, ask direct questions about work history. Don’t try to deduce answers by asking irrelevant questions like whether they own a car.
  3. Don’t get personal. Small talk is one thing, but don’t fall into the trap of discussing your personal life or the candidate’s.
  4. Don’t ask anything a background check will cover. You don’t have to ask about legal convictions, bad credit or other red flags if a simple background check will provide the answers.

What to Do When You Need Information

Interviews are all about gathering information, and questions that have relevance to the job can be construed as illegal if they are not worded properly. Questions can be legal if they qualify as a “bona fide occupational qualification” (BFOQ). However the rules for BFOQs are quite strict, so if you have any concern about whether a topic or question is legal, consult with your company’s legal team before asking.

The Best Way to Avoid Illegal Interview Questions

If you are concerned about compliance, the best way to thoroughly vet a candidate and remain EEOC compliant is to work with a professional recruiting firm. Synerfac, a premier technical, engineering and scientific recruiting agency, can match you with the exact talent you need, thoroughly vetting them to ensure a strong match. Contact us today to learn how we can help you achieve your recruiting goals.

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