The job interview is a staple of the professional world because it lets hiring managers understand applicants face-to-face. That being said, one of the key ingredients of a good job interview is to not offend the candidate, which leads to ethical and legal issues. Ideally, hiring managers shouldn’t ask any questions or touch on subjects not directly related to a candidate’s professional credentials. One of the worst things a hiring manager can do is to ask the following uncomfortable personal questions.
Why you shouldn’t ask the certain questions
Asking the wrong questions could cause everything from an awkward moment to completely ruining an interview for both parties.
- Public Relation + Branding Issues
Asking inappropriate or inappropriate questions can lead to a potential PR disaster! It only takes seconds for offended candidates to spread word of your workplace’s environment and behavior on Linkedin or Glassdoor, tanking your reputation.
The damage to your reputation doesn’t have to be immediate, but you will feel it long-term. Consistent bad reviews and interview stories will give your business a bad reputation, and many talented people will avoid applying to you.
The worst part is that recovering from a PR disaster like this is very difficult. It could potentially be months or years before your company recovers its reputation, if at all.
- Harder to attract diverse talent
Asking inappropriate or offensive questions to applicants reduces their chances of onboarding with your company. After all, no one wants to work for a company that offends its own potential employees. The result will be that attracting diverse talent will become harder for you.
The downside of it being harder to attract diverse talent is that your workplace diversity will suffer. Ultimately, your business will have a less diverse workforce, and building culture will be harder for you.
- Legal Issues
The best case scenario when a hiring manager asks an offensive question is that the applicant declines the job. The worst-case scenario is that they decline the job, and then sue you for asking an offensive question. An applicant can very easily slap your company with a discrimination lawsuit if you’re discriminatory during interviews.
Receiving a discriminatory lawsuit will cost you both money and reputation. A civil case could force you to pay compensation ranging from thousands to millions of dollars. Even after paying the suit, your company will get a bad reputation as a discriminatory place.
Questions you should avoid
A job interview’s purpose is to judge how good a fit you are for a position, so it should only have relevant questions. Never ask the following questions because they’re both irrelevant and offensive.
Discriminatory gender questions are, unfortunately, somewhat common, but they’re still extremely offensive. Questions around gender are completely irrelevant for the overwhelming majority of occupations and roles. So you shouldn’t ask questions about gender, like “ What gender do you identify with?”.
Applicants are likely to feel extremely uncomfortable after being asked questions like this because of how irrelevant and personal they are. So, it’s best to not reference gender at all during the interview.
- Marital or Family Status
Asking for a candidate’s familial or marital status is unethical since such details are strictly private and unrelated to professional credentials. Some recruits often innocently ask about a candidate’s marital status to know them better, but this is a bad approach.
So, questions like “ Are you single?” or “Do you plan on marrying?” are completely inappropriate. Hiring managers shouldn’t even ask women if their title is Ms. or Mrs unless it’s mentioned in their resume.
- Citizenship, Nationality, or Language
Although U.S employers are liable for hiring workers not legally permitted to work in the States, you can’t directly ask for a candidate’s nationality. So, hiring managers cannot ask “Are you a U.S citizen”, or “ Can you show a birth certificate?”.
Instead, U.S employers should ask more neutral questions like “ Are you legally permitted to work in the United States?”. Phrasing the question in this language makes it less hostile to applicants.
Asking for a person’s nationality is prohibited in U.S law since it’s considered discriminatory as a person’s nationality does not impact their professional credentials. So, it’s vital to ask for an applicant’s eligibility to work in the U.S in a strictly neutral language.
It’s very common to hear about younger candidates being passed over for more experienced ones and also older workers being retired for younger ones. This is a type of discrimination that must be avoided by not asking for a candidate’s age.
It’s only ethically acceptable to ask a candidate’s age if there’s a legal age requirement, like serving in a bar. In all other cases, it’s unethical to ask for an applicant’s age.
All applicants should be asked the same availability questions. It’s inappropriate for hiring managers to only ask women, for example, if they’re available to work in the evening. So, it’s wrong to ask questions like “ Are you free to work till 5 pm, or do you have to go home and take care of kids?”.
Instead, hiring managers should ask neutral questions like “ What days and shifts can you work?”. Also, do not ask candidates why they’re unavailable on the weekend, since it’s tied to religious practice.
- Criminal Convictions
It’s unethical to ask questions about conviction histories for roles that are not security-sensitive. It’s appropriate to ask a candidate about their conviction history if you’re hiring a security guard or money transfer agent. In virtually all other roles, you don’t need conviction information.
Asking for conviction information is unethical since it often leads to disproportionately impacts minority groups and because it leads to discrimination.
Ultimately, a job interview shouldn’t include any non-professional questions. Hiring managers shouldn’t ask about a candidate’s personal life, gender, nationality, marital status, or even age unless it’s relevant. These uncomfortable personal questions both offend and discriminate against employees.