Let’s Not Go There: Interview Topics to Avoid

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Let’s Not Go There:  Interview Topics to Avoid

Whether you are an experienced or brand new hiring manager, it is important to understand the interview topics and questions to avoid asking job candidates.

At one time or another in social and professional interactions, many people ask inappropriate questions.  However, when interviewing a job applicant, asking inappropriate questions could spell legal trouble for an employer or a recruiter.

Under regulations enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), discrimination against an individual on the basis of certain criteria is prohibited.  Those criteria include:

  • National origin
  • Age (40 years of age or older)
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Race
  • Genetic background
  • Disability

While it might seem easy to avoid these interview topics in an everyday interview situation—it is not.  A friendly conversation, about children or ages of children, could be considered discriminatory.  Informal comments about years in the workforce could be considered an attempt to discover age.  Steer clear of questions that could be construed as discriminatory by your job candidate—or the EEOC. 

Trouble interview topics—know what to avoid 

Keep your recruiting cycle above board and avoid questions and conversations concerning these interview topics:

  • Age: Other than asking a teen if they are of legal age to work, avoid asking questions about date of birth, time in the work force, or age.  A resume offers clear information about the type and amount of experience of each candidate.
  • Sex: Gender identity, pregnancy, and sexual orientation are topics to avoid. Asking a candidate what their spouse does could be considered fishing for sexual orientation.  While you can ask male and female applicants if they have commitments that would conflict with their regular schedule, you cannot ask child-related questions.  Any questions with regard to pregnancy are off-limits.
  • Arrest: While “ban the box” campaigns are developing across the United States, it is acceptable in many security-sensitive industries to ask whether a candidate has been convicted of a crime.  You may not inquire about whether an applicant has been arrested.  There is a big difference.
  • Financial information: Unless the information is reasonably related to the job opening, it is not legal to inquire about debt, bankruptcy, financial status, bank accounts, credit inquires or ratings.
  • Disability: A good job description can go a long way to help you avoid uncomfortable, or illegal, interview questions.  A job posting should clearly describe the duties and responsibilities of the position.  While you can ask whether a candidate can perform the tasks listed in the description with or without accommodation, do not ask a candidate to generally discuss disabilities they might have or suffer.
  • National origin: While you can ask about the ability to read, write, and speak the language required for a specific job posting, questions about nation of origin, native language, or ancestry are prohibited.
  • Religion: Even if you perceive that you share a faith or belief with a candidate, it is not appropriate to ask about church attended, holidays, religious affiliation, or denomination.
  • Injury record: Be sure to avoid questions that appear to seek information about previous workers’ compensation or injury claims.  Similarly, do not ask about drug use, or treatment for drug addiction.  You can mention the necessity to pass a drug screen if required by your company or ask if a candidate currently uses drugs considered illegal in your state, or prohibited for use in your industry. 

Three timely tips for avoiding discrimination during the hiring process

During recruiting or interviewing, avoid questions that could make your candidate uncomfortable and put your company in the wrong light.  Consider these tips for avoiding accusations or liability during the interview process:

  1. Know your questions: Thoughtfully develop standard hiring questions that you ask each candidate.  By sticking to this script, you collect similar information on each candidate—and avoid trouble areas.
  2. Be aware: Candidates are oftentimes forthcoming and offer information.  If a potential hire moves the conversation toward prohibited topics, do not inquire, but gently steer the conversation back to the job at hand.
  3. Train train train: Even experienced hiring managers can use updated training on new tactics, tips, and interview methods.  Be sure your hiring personnel receive refreshers on EEOC topics, and be sure your questions are designed to solicit answers about only employment matters.

The EEOC prohibits discriminatory practices during the entire hiring process, including job postings, recruiting and hiring, and post-hiring practices.   Cross check job postings and collateral materials to ensure your recruiting cycle is discrimination-free.

Readiness on the part of a candidate and company is important for a successful recruiting cycle.  If you have questions about recruiting or onboarding software, talk to us at Brightmove.







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