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The 5 Most Commonly Asked Illegal Interview Questions

Posted by Margot Nash on December 21, 2011

I was recently at a law association conference, speaking on the topic of best practices in hiring and interviewing. Just as the presentation concluded, and satisfied that my content had been well received, a respected attorney I'd met on several prior occasions approached me to ask a final question:

"I ask every candidate who interviews with me if they'd been hit as a child. Why can't I ask that?"

"What?!" I thought to myself. This was a sensible businessman. Yes, he could be outspoken, crass, even obnoxious at times, but definitely not crazy! Could he be serious? No, he's just messing with me - this must be a joke. Wait... Yes. Yes, he is serious, I learned, as the perplexed look overwhelmed his face. 

When my state of shock subsided, I responded, "How does that relate to success on the job?" According to employment law, interview questions are unacceptable if they don't relate to the job at hand.

He replied, "I like to see how people react to being put on the spot."

Realizing that I, too, had just fallen victim to his "put 'em on the spot" game, I told the man that there are plenty of perfectly legal ways to find out whether someone can think on their feet that don't involve stories of child abuse. I half-jokingly told him to call me when he gets served his first lawsuit, and that we'd get him set up with Hireology right away.

While this was certainly an extreme example of bad interviewing, it dawned on me that illegal interview questions are really quite common. In fact, most clients we've spoken with with over the past several years ask at least one illegal question as a regular practice in their hiring process.

In hopes of preventing you a 40 million dollar lawsuit (like the one famously paid by Abercrombie for religious discrimination), we thought we'd list the 5 most commonly asked illegal interview questions:

1. When did you graduate from college? While this question gets asked during phone screens across the globe, it is technically not legal because it can often infer age. The Civil Rights Act prevents employment discrimination based on age. Instead, employers can ask questions like, "Do you have college degree? Or, "Are you over the age of 18?" illegal interview questions

2. Where did you grow up? It is illegal to discriminate based on national origin. Because of that, asking this particular interview question can, in many cases, lead to sensitive territory. To avoid this risk, ask "Are you legally eligible for employment in the US?" instead.

3. How many kids do you have? Many employers ask this because they're concerned about absenteeism. However, legally, an employer can not refuse to employ someone based on marital status, family status, or sexual orientation, and this question alludes to all of the above. An acceptable way to ask about absenteeism would be: "Do you have any commitments that could prevent you from meeting the work schedule we discussed?

4. Have you ever been arrested? Nope, not allowed. Instead, ask "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" The difference between these questions looks to be minuscule, but one is legal - the other is not. Best to be safe than sorry in this case.

5. Do you have a car? Employers often ask this question in addition to "How long is your commute?" because they're concerned that the candidate will need to be able to transport themselves frequently as part of the job. While on rare occasions, a car is actually necessary in order to do the job, most of the time the employer is really concerned with attendance. To avoid questions that may allude to a person's current or past assets, ask questions like "Is there anything that could interfere with your ability to get to our clients' office every Monday?"

Employment-related law suits are on the rise, and often the only way to be sure you're protecting your business is to create interview scripts for your staff to follow. Hireology does this for you with the click of a button. No set-up required.

In the meantime, be sure your interview questions relate to the job at hand, and remember to ask the same questions to every candidate, every time to avoid legal scrutiny. Finally, when testing a candidate's reaction to being put on the spot, a tearful response is a good sign your question's not legal. 

 

Be sure you’re business is not asking illegal interview questions. Download our free guide below to for some helpful tips!

Illegal interview questions free guide download

Interviewing Help, How to Hire


Margot Nash

About the Author

Margot Nash is Hireology's VP of Product where she integrates her experience in psychology, selection consulting and recruitment into Hireology's platform. As a self-proclaimed "selection junkie," Margot has a true passion for understanding the psychology of success and is determined to pioneer a shift in the way businesses approach the hiring process.