Job Interview Questions That Are Illegal

11 Questions That You Don't Want to Ask During an Interview

Some questions at a job interview are borderline illegal and they can open up your company to the threat of litigation.
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The job interview is a powerful factor in the employee selection process. You can use behavioral-based job interview questions to help you select superior candidates. Ask interview questions that help you identify whether the candidate has the behaviors, skills, and experience needed for the job you are filling.

Ask legal interview questions that illuminate the candidate's strengths and weaknesses to determine job fit.

Avoid illegal interview questions and interview practices that could make your company the target of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit.

Illegal Job Interview Questions

Illegal interview questions, while not illegal in the strictest sense of the word, have so much potential to make your company liable in a discrimination lawsuit, that they might as well be illegal. These include any interview questions that are related to a candidate’s:

  • Age
  • Race, ethnicity, or color
  • Gender or sex
  • Country of national origin or birth place
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Marital or family status or pregnancy

Especially in the course of a comfortable interview during which participants are relaxed, don’t let the interview turn into a chat session. This easily happens especially when you take candidates out for lunch or dinner. Seemingly innocuous interview questions such as the following are illegal.

Sample Illegal Job Interview Questions

  • What arrangements are you able to make for child care while you work?
  • How old are your children?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • What does your wife do for a living?
  • Where did you live while you were growing up?
  • Will you need personal time for particular religious holidays?
  • Are you comfortable working for a female boss?
  • There is a large disparity between your age and that of the position’s coworkers. Is this a problem for you?
  • How long do you plan to work until you retire?
  • Have you experienced any serious illnesses in the past year?

During an interview, you must take care to keep your interview questions focused on the behaviors, skills, and experience needed to perform the job. If you find your discussion straying off course or eliciting information you don’t want about potential job discrimination topics, bring the discussion quickly back on topic by asking another job-related interview question.

What to Do When Candidates Offer Answers to Questions You Want to Avoid

If a candidate offers information, such as, “I will need a flexible schedule because I have four children in elementary school,” you can answer the question. Do not, however, pursue that topic further. Another candidate informed me recently that his favorite spare time activity is reading the Bible. I asked him to tell me about why he left his most recent job.

Another candidate leaned closer across the table and said, “The reason I am leaving my current job is that I just had a baby two weeks ago and I need a regular schedule for my child care provider.” Another candidate told me he was a native Polish speaker and that he spent his childhood in an area of the city called Pole Town.

Running late at the interview, a female candidate informed the plant manager she had to run because she was late for football practice. His response, "Oh, you play football?" makes me chuckle every time I think about it. (It was her son's practice.)

Again, do not pursue the discussion and you may not use such information to make your hiring decision. (As an aside, each of these individuals was hired for the position which is why I am comfortable sharing the examples.)

Sample Legal Job Interview Questions

These legal sample interview questions will help you ask legal questions during your candidate interviews. Additionally, for each sample question, I provide guidance about what you are listening for in your candidate's response.

If you know the:

  • behavioral characteristics employees who are effective in the job display (or you have developed a behavior profile from experience),

working from a prepared list of interview questions, you will ensure that you are selecting the most qualified candidate for the job.

Following are sample job interview questions. While a specific trait or skill is listed as the primary behavior, you will find some overlap between the questions and candidate responses in the different categories.

In addition to these questions, you will want to prepare questions that explore the actual job skills and experience you have identified as essential for the position. Prioritize these skills and experiences and explore five to ten of them with the candidate. Your reference checking will also reveal the knowledge and skills of your candidates.

Feel free to use these sample job interview questions in your candidate job interviews.

Sample Job Interview Questions for Employers to Ask

Use these sample job interview questions when you interview potential employees.

Sample Interview Question Answers for Employers

Use these interview question suggested answers to assess your candidate's answers to the questions that you ask during an interview. There are good responses that tell you a lot about the candidate.

These answers provide guidance for you.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.