Things HR Can’t Ask in a Job Interview
As a manager conducting a job interview, you have to walk a very fine line. You have to be polite, but assertive. You have to listen well, but always be thinking about the next question. You have to probe beyond those well-rehearsed answers, and you must be aware of the illegal questions too.
If you are a person who interviews candidates for the vacancies in your company, it is normal that you would like to know as much as possible about your new potential colleague. Similarly, if you are hiring for your own company, you have an obvious need to assess the job applicant’s work experience and educational qualifications.
Ideally, the interviewer should engage the applicant with a series of open-ended questions that they feel are relevant to the hiring process. But, sometimes the interviewer is under the influence of biases, stereotypes or discrimination and can ask questions that are not acceptable by any moral and/or legal standards and can offend the interviewee.
This guide will set the boundaries that each HR interviewer should follow to ensure that no privacy or other human rights of the candidate are invaded during the job interview, as there are consequences for doing so.
CONSEQUENCES OF HR ASKING UNACCEPTABLE QUESTIONS
All the employers must follow the legal regulations during a job interview as the law protects all potential employees during the process of hiring and employment.
These laws such as the U.S. Federal Civil Rights Act and Employee Free Choice Act strictly obliges them to refrain from any sort of discrimination as quite a lot of things from the candidates’ personal lives are off the limits for the people who are involved in the hiring process.
The purpose is to give equal career opportunities to all applicants regardless of their gender, age, race, religion, political or sexual orientation, and marital status – to name a few. Asking any questions related to finding out any of these, can trigger discrimination lawsuits so stay away from them!
Also, avoid asking questions about what sport team the candidates is supporting or which schools their kids are going to as finding out that they support the same team as you do or that their kids go to the same school as yours go to, can cause personal preferences.
Being aware of any of this can cloud the judgment of the interviewer as it’s in the human nature to develop biases towards others who are similar to us and prejudices towards individuals that are very different from us. So, it is easy to instead of focusing on the shared background, you focus on the qualifications for the job at hand.
Getting unacceptable questions during a job interview turns the alarm on for the applicant that maybe their potential employer is breaking this law.
So, in order to prevent reporting at the labor authorities, the HR needs to stay straight on the path and carefully plan the questions before throwing them at the applicants. But, what exact questions are considered inappropriate or illegal to ask?
WHAT QUESTIONS ARE ACCEPTABLE?
In order to know what questions are not acceptable, you need to know which ones are acceptable first. Any questions that are related to the candidate’s motivation, skills, education, and work experience such as:
- “Why are you applying for this position?
- “What makes you the perfect applicant for this job type?”, or perhaps
- “Have you ever had relevant experience that can aid you in this type of vacancy?” are what you should ask in a job interview.
These are some of the most frequently asked questions during a job interview. What makes them acceptable for asking is the extent to which they address your requirements.
None of these questions provides a reason for the applicant to react negatively. None of these questions makes the applicant feel uncomfortable or discriminated.
WHAT QUESTIONS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE?
On the other hand, this is the list of 15 of the most unacceptable questions:
1. “Are you married or single?”
The answer to this question might be a source of discrimination by the recruiter due to their impression that due to the candidate’s marriage or single life, there is a possibility of certain distractions from the work.
For example, future pregnancies or other family problems that might put the employee under a big burden.
2. “Do you have children or are you pregnant?” or “If not, do you plan on having children in the future?”
Refrain from such questions! The hiring person does not need to know if the candidate is a parent or not. It leads to the basis of unfair prejudice.
Reason being so that the recruiter may then hire or prefer someone who would not have any family responsibilities. As it is a personal and family matter and, simply, none of the HR manager’s business.
3. “What is your age?”
Asking for age is a discriminating factor that is illegal. Also, do not slip into asking other questions that might reveal certain dates such as “What year did you graduate school?”.
Use those age-related questions only to ensure if an applicant meets the minimum age requirement to do your specific work. For example, if the employees must be over 18 to sell alcohol in your company.
4. “What is your religion?”, “Do you attend church?” or “Do you pray 5 times a day?”
Abstain from questions regarding any religious affiliation or what religious holidays they celebrate. It leaves a very unfavorable impression on the one being interviewed. In addition, it is strictly against the law!
Even if you are keen to know their plans for the upcoming weekend, just do not trigger them by digging deep into their cultural ties.
5. “Are you a citizen of this country?”
An HR does have every right to ensure that the people they recruit are legally allowed to work in that particular country where the company operates.
It is not right to question or ask about the employee’s citizenship as it is another marker of discrimination. Instead, a better question would be “Do you have a permission to work in this country?”
6. “Do you have health issues?”
HR must also never ask about the applicant’s physical health or discuss their current medical proceedings. The HR manager, however, may ask to confirm if they meet a particular physical health status for the desired task. For example, if they are fit for lifting heavy passenger suitcases if they want to work at the train station or airport.
7. “Have you ever been arrested or have a criminal background?”
Applicants are not legally obligated to talk about their past especially on matters involving criminal backgrounds. They might have moved past that bad life and bringing the topic again may remind them of it and might emotionally disturb them once again.
However, if the job position requires some form of high-security staff or personal, then the HR may conduct an employee background check but in a respectful manner, that reveals no signs of judgment or criticism.
8. “Do you drink alcohol?”
Alcoholism is basically considered to be a disability according to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Hence it is never legal HR to gain information or notifications about an applicant’s current or past drinking habits.
9. “Is English your first language?”
This question challenges the national origin of the employee. While it is wrong to ask this question, it also triggers the other person to speak up to defend their language or misinterpret your hiring process as filled with favoritism.
If it is an HR policy that English natives are required for this job, then the questions that arise in the employee’s mind are “Why?” and “Are those natives superior to me at work just because I can’t speak English as fluently as them?” so never use language as your filter! It is one of the harshest forms of discrimination.
10. “Are you in debt?”
Asking if the applicant is in debt, if they have a bank loan or if they have any borrowed money to return to anyone is extremely wrong!
It means you are targeting or at least, trying to target the applicant’s financial capabilities, which they may not be thinking of at that moment, but since you bring it up, they would be uncomfortable to reveal it.
11. “Where do your kids go to school?”
This question invades the personal life of the applicant and may raise concerns about the safety of their children. The question is not only not relevant but also violates the family privacy rights of the applicant.
Bringing any questions related to the candidate’s children is no good for the HR in any way.
12. “Are you dating someone/anyone?”
This questions links to the personal life of the candidate and the HR should understand that the law restricts any workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
It is simply not acceptable to dig into the applicant’s social, romantic or personal life. You may discuss social events but not asking the candidate who they have attended them with.
They may not want to reveal their relationship status at their workplace, let alone the name of the person they are dating.
Hence, the HR must be careful in the first place to avoid accidental bringing-up of this sort of topic.
13. “Will you demand promotions, time-off work or other benefits?”
It is important to know that such questions are only answered by the work and dedication the employee shows after they are hired. This means such questions make no sense if they are being asked before even selecting the candidate!
Obviously, the HR is not the one who will decide the promotions, the candidate’s boss will after a series of evaluations of the worker’s performance. Who doesn’t want promotions? If it means higher salaries, everyone would be up for that.
But note that there are a time and place for such things. A job interview is simply not one of them!
14. “I heard you are ‘that’ type of person. Is that true?”
This question means you are revealing some sort of gossip you might have heard from either your colleagues or your environment about that person!
This is unacceptable but also morally wrong to reveal such assumptions about the candidate even if those assumptions or rumors are true!
Okay fine, if they are that type of person and you already know it, it is better to stick it inside your tongue rather than say it out so explicitly and offend the applicant. It is not always true that those rumors are correct.
A job interview should be a professional environment and such questions are strictly prohibited in it.
15. “This job requires a full-time dedication. Will you be able to give time to us and your family at the same time?”
Wait, what? Now, this is very unacceptable! This is where the interviewer brought up the applicant’s family matters.
Obviously, the applicant already made a clear decision to work for your company, what else would force them to even consider applying for your company if they couldn’t manage their own time. It’s their family. They know best how and when to spend time with their loved ones.
SUMMING THINGS UP
During the recruitment drives of companies and non-profit organizations, the HR team plays a major role in bringing in the most potential-filled people into the team.
The HR department is the backbone of the organization without which the company would have nothing but an unorganized hierarchy of job-craved people who would lack the necessary skill-set required to make them capable of the desired work tasks.
While it is important to get an in-depth check of your applicants to figure out which one is the right one for your company, it is also important to realize that not always does the law allows them to respond to everything you ask. Just like the law does not allow you to ask them just about everything.
So, knowing when you are on track and are not on track is an important thing for the HR to have in mind during the interview. The questions listed above can be damaging to the company as well for the person being interviewed as they might get offended and sue the company for discrimination or biases, and you definitely do not want that.
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