Job interviews are no longer run-of-the-mill question-answer sessions where you ask about a person’s qualifications, skillsets and generally gauge their suitability to fit into the proposed position. Interviewing has become more of a skillset in itself. And some certain dos and don’ts rule it.
However, HR and hiring managers should be aware of illegal or unethical questions, according to HR and employment law experts. There is a certain question that by law one is not allowed to ask; these include ones about race, sexual orientation, disabilities or anything of sensitive nature.
“There are a bunch of questions that are just simply taboo to ask in an interview, and they all relate to discrimination and have nothing to do with the candidate’s ability to do the job,” explained Jana Tulloch, an HR consultant with DevelopIntelligence, a technical software development company headquartered in Boulder, Colo. “Any question that refers to an individual’s sexual orientation, marital or family status, religion, and so forth are no-gos.”
Employers should also be aware of the grey area questions that one should not stray into. Age and intrusive questions about family life are examples.
Time and again, recruiters get into trouble for asking female candidates, if they are married, about plans on starting a family. This is discriminatory and leaves you open to legal charges and unfair hiring practices.
Another aspect that HR or interviewers should keep in mind is that the questions should be the same for all the candidates as far as general queries are concerned. Questions should be centered on the knowledge, skills and abilities required to be successful in the role the person is being interviewed for.
Charles Vethan, president and CEO of Houston-based Vethan Law Firm, cautioned that it’s wise for employers to know state and federal laws concerning interview questions and procedures.
“Taboo topics are not blatant violations of any law, but they may have the tendency to lead the conversation into illegal territory or may place the employer in a bad public relations light,” says Charles Vethan of Houston-based Vethan Law Firm.
Some examples of taboo topics include:
- Alcohol consumption.
- Any leading questions to determine age.
- “Are you married? Will you be starting a family any time soon?”
- “Your name is very exotic; where are you originally from?”
- “Medical problems or physical prowess to carry out a job. Though making it clear that a particular job requires peak physical condition because of its particular nature is allowed.
- “Did you take any sick days or extended medical leave last year?”Any sick dependents?
- “Do you have children? What kind of child care arrangements have you made?”
- Which school your children go to?
- Your political leanings or affiliations, or even what teams you support.
- Nothing about the religion you follow.
The above questions are outright no-go territories, which could lead you to legal trouble. But there are some questions that are apparently ambiguous but should not be asked. These include:
- What are your stress levels? Will you be able to function optimally in crisis situations?
- Are you open to emails and calls beyond work hours?
- If you were an ice-cream what flavor would you be?
- How many basketballs would fit in an average-sized hippo snout?
The above are questions that add nothing to the interview process except for blindsiding someone. Understanding where to draw the line is important for employers to avoid accusations of unfair hiring practices or lawsuits.