Questions to Avoid Asking During a Job Interview

Apr 28 · 5 min read

Conducting an employment interview is a difficult and stressful endeavor for all parties involved. The interviewer is looking for the most skilled and adequate addition to the company, whereas the candidate is striving to make the best possible impression, while presenting their unique talents and traits.

In today’s competitive business environment, the composition and organization of a team are essential for the company’s success. Therefore, you as the manager must ensure that every new member brought into the enterprise is willing and able to perform their duties and bring their contribution to its overall accomplishment. But, no matter how much you would like to ask every question that comes through your mind in order to ensure a perfect professional fit, you must be aware that certain areas and aspects of the candidate’s life are off limits — not just from a personal viewpoint, but also a legal one. The law prevents you from asking anything that might lead to discrimination or bias against the applicant, such as details related to: age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, birthplace, religion, marital status, disabilities or health issues, and even salary history in certain cases.

It sounds fairly simple and straightforward, but once you are faced with the prospect of an interview, you will find out that it’s really not. Thousands of thoughts and ideas come rushing through: what you can ask, what you cannot, what you might ask but would be best to avoid, what you really need to know in order to hire the person and how you can phrase the question so as to learn what you need, while not offending the candidate.

How to ask the questions

Here are a few examples of how to best ask the questions you might be most interested in, so as to make an educated hiring decision, while maintaining a professional and unbiased tone and language:

Place of origin — if this is of importance to the job or the tasks involved, remember that it’s not alright to just ask this directly, especially if the person being interviewed has a particular accent or physical trait that indicates a foreign countrry. The legislation states that you cannot discriminate a person based on their national origin, and even if the candidate is rejected due to a completely other reason, they might still accuse you of using the origin factor to victimize them, if you somehow brought up this specific aspect during your discussion. Instead, ask if they are eligible to work in your country and if they may produce documents to attest this. Ask what other languages they can read, write and speak fluently, in order to get an idea of where they may come from. Also, it’s safe to ask for how long they have lived at their current address, which might be some indication of how long they have been in the country for.

Gender and marital status — the legislation states that one cannot be discriminated against based on gender or marital status, therefore avoid asking if they are married or, in the case of women, what their maiden name is. Apart from the fact that they may be in a relationship with a person of the same sex and thus never changed their name, in today’s society, even women who marry men tend to prefer not to take on their husband’s name, which could create an awkward moment during the course of an interview. Moreover, people who have undergone a sex change operation might not be comfortable talking about the reason why their name is now different — you can ask if they ever worked under another name, in order to get references and check their professional past, but no more details about this aspect are allowed.

Age — the law states that employers cannot disfavor applicants over the age of 40, so avoid asking how old they are, their year of birth or even more subtle questions, such as the year when they graduated from high school. If you have a minimum age requirement, you can ask if they are older than 18 or the respective age that the legislation imposes for certain positions.

Family planning — you should avoid asking people if they have or plan to have children, because this may lead to discrimination against women for the mere reason that they may one day take maternity leave or choose to become more involved in the raising of their children. Focus on aspects that are relevant to the job description and type of work involved, thus standing clear of any backfiring coming from rejected applicants.

Health status — it is illegal to ask women if they are pregnant or anyone if they have disabilities or illnesses, but if the job implies heavy lifting or physical activities, describe the tasks involved and inquire whether they believe they are fit for performing these operations adequately and safely. You cannot ask them if they are recovering from alcoholism or any other kind of addiction, but if there are certain psychological or mental conditions that they must fulfill, find a neutral way of asking them if they are up for the assignment.

Focusing on what is relevant

At TRISOFT, we believe that In order to safely sail across the minefield of interview questions, we need to concentrate on what is truly relevant for the job requirements and try to determine whether the candidate meets the criteria for that position.

Create a list of questions beforehand and attempt to stick to it, regardless of who is standing in front of you — consistency will show that everyone gets asked the same questions and you don’t have anything against one particular person.

Don’t pry too much into their personal life and make sure that you understand what is legal and what is not legal to inquire during a job interview. This way, you will surely and safely find people with the right skills, abilities and knowledge to join your company.

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