Whether you’ve just started your own company or you’ve been in business for years, by now you have probably compiled a list of topics to cover when interviewing potential employees. You’ll want to know about the candidate’s background and skill set, her strengths and weaknesses, and whether or not she would be a good cultural fit within your company. There are many types of interviews, and ultimately there is no right or wrong way to conduct them. However, there are certain questions and topics that are unlawful to inquire about during the interview process.
Any question that coerces the interviewee to divulge information regarding their age, race, gender, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, or national origin cannot be asked during an interview. This means that it is not only illegal to ask “Are you married?” but also “What is your spouse’s name?” or “How long have you been with your husband/wife?”. Common sense will tell you that most of these topics are off limits. However, there are other, more obscure questions that are not okay to ask that you may not have heard of.
At first glance, questions about the candidate’s drinking habits may seem like a silly thing to inquire about, but there are some cases where this information is relevant. However, such questions may not be posed in a way that reveals how often the applicant drinks. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are prohibited from asking applicants whether they have a specific disability, and alcoholism falls under this category. Be sure if you have to ask questions related to alcohol consumption that it does not elicit any information about alcoholism.
It is within your rights as the employer to inquire as to whether or not the candidate has a conviction record, if it pertains to the job. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that for employers to utilize the applicant’s conviction record in their employment decision, they must establish a business necessity. This is done by considering three factors: the gravity of the offense committed, the amount of time that has elapsed since the conviction, and the nature of the job in question as it relates to the nature of the offense committed.
That being said, inquiring about the candidate’s history of arrest (without conviction) is generally considered improper, and in some states it’s even illegal.
Now, hopefully you already know the candidate’s name before the interview begins. If you’re unsure how it is pronounced, by all means ask! What you should not do, however, is ask further questions about the name that might suggest lineage, ancestry, national origin, or descent. Furthermore, for female candidates in particular, do not ask for a maiden name or whether or not she prefers Miss, Mrs. or Ms. Though these may seem like polite, conversational questions, they put an expectation on the interviewee to divulge information that isn’t pertinent to the job.
To put simply, you cannot ask questions regarding a potential employee’s credit. If you feel like you absolutely have to, in some states you can pull a credit report if you follow certain steps, but for the most part the topic as a whole should be avoided.
At the end of the day, there is one general rule you should follow during your interviews: If your question is not related to the job, do not ask it. Before each interview, take a moment to ensure that your prepared questions will not produce answers that fall within the categories listed above. Keeping this in mind will make the interviewee feel more comfortable, allow conversation to flow more smoothly, and all around provide for a more successful interview.
Need more help constructing successful interviews that find qualified candidates? Check out our Job Task Analysis Worksheet below!