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How to steer clear of illegal interview questions


Here are questions to avoid while interviewing candidates Posted by Megan Trippi
Here are questions to avoid while interviewing candidates

Whether you’re a seasoned interviewer or new to conducting interviews, you’re most likely aware there are certain questions you can’t ask. As you get to know the candidate and get deeper into the interview process, it can become more difficult to avoid some of those topics during the conversation.

Areas protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity ( laws protect employees and job applicants from discrimination based on:

  • Birthplace, race, ethnicity and citizenship
  • Age
  • Gender and sexual orientation
  • Family or marital status
  • Pregnancy
  • Medical and genetic history
  • Disabilities
  • Religion
  • Criminal history
  • Military status
  • Financial information (debt, investments, assets, etc.)


With those areas in mind, it’s still good to be able to naturally guide the conversation and get to know the interviewee better.

There are circumstances where you can discuss the above subjects. For instance, if you have an opening eligible for J-1 or H-1B visas, you can disclose that to the candidate and include visa expenses in the contract without asking specifically of their immigration status. You can also ask certain appropriate questions in regard to the above topics if you can prove the answers are relevant to the job description or would affect how the candidate could perform the job.

There are ways to avoid asking inappropriate and illegal questions. A detailed job posting - including expectations - will help prevent asking a candidate improper questions during the meeting since they should already be aware of the qualifications and duties. You should also study an interviewee’s resume prior to talking with them to obtain any personal details you would need to know without asking. If they do not list specific details on their resume or CV, refrain from asking about them.

Work to limit your interview questions to experience, professional skills, how those skills relate to the responsibilities of the position and other information about their work history and the job opening. You want to make the candidate feel comfortable and at ease, so if they open up about their family or personal life, talk to them, but be conscientious of follow-up questions and how to discuss any personal details without asking questions that could be seen as discriminating.

If there is ever doubt about what you can and can’t ask, consult your legal or human resources team. They can help find ways to avoid certain questions while still receiving the information you need and can also let you know when questions can be deemed inappropriate.


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