Three Interview Questions You Absolutely Cannot Ask

Three Interview Questions You Absolutely Cannot AskAs a Human Resources Professional, I spend a good amount of time meeting candidates and interviewing them for open positions at my organization.  However, there are so many pitfalls with interviewing that most interviewers really need training on what they can and cannot ask.  Here are my top three questions you should never ask a candidate during an interview.

  1. You have an interesting accent. What country are you from?

You may just be generally interested in where they are from – maybe you are a geography buff or a whiz at detecting accents.  You may mean no harm at all by asking this question, but you are opening a big can of worms in doing so!  National origin is a protected class, meaning you cannot discriminate against a person for employment based on what country they are originally from.  And by asking about a candidate’s accent or their home country, you have the potential to knowingly or unknowingly discriminate against him or her based on that information.  Now, it’s entirely possible that a candidate’s resume will include work history or schooling information that indicates perhaps where they came from, or he/she may even openly discuss where they grew up without you asking.  The key is not to inquire any further about their country of origin as you continue the interview!

  1. Do you have any kids? Are you planning to have kids in the future?

Just don’t do this.  Plain and simple, this line of questioning is SUCH a bad move, not to mention discriminatory.  And don’t think that just because you ask these questions to both males and females, you are off the hook!  Sure, many employees have children or want to have kids in the future.  That is a pretty normal part of life for many members of the working community.  However, in asking this question, you may be again unknowingly discriminating against someone who has kids or wants them.  As we all know, having children is an added responsibility to a working mom or dad.  Kids get sick, and parents need to stay home from work to take care of them.  Kids have school vacation weeks, kids get snow days off, and kids have a million other reasons that sometimes force parents to take time off work.  They also need to get to and from school, have certain times to get on or off the bus, have certain hours they can attend daycare, and the list goes on and on, which can affect a candidate’s hours that he or she can work.  And if someone plans to have kids in the future, they may want to take an extended leave like Family Medical Leave for the birth or adoption of their child – and this can be up to twelve weeks in a row.  Some employers view this as a detriment, as having an employee out of work for twelve weeks can be difficult and costly.  But having or wanting kids shouldn’t make the playing field unequal to candidates without kids.  So, in summary, as much as you’d like to swap stories about your own children with your candidate, it’s just not a good idea.

  1. Have you ever been arrested?

Although many companies require criminal background checks, asking about arrests (or in several states, even asking about convictions) is discriminatory during the interview phase, at least in the private sector.  Think about it – if you have been arrested, it certainly doesn’t mean you’ve been convicted.  And it wouldn’t be fair to judge someone’s candidacy on an arrest record, since arrests don’t necessarily mean convictions.  You can certainly mention that the position requires a criminal background check and leave it at that.  But do not ask any follow up questions about a person’s criminal history.  If you do, you could be breaking the law in your state or could be pre-judging a candidate for something that may have nothing to do with the job requirements.

With all this being said, there are many more questions you should not ask during an interview.  It’s best to consult with either your legal counsel or your organization’s Human Resources team to determine what you can and cannot ask to your candidates.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and really all that should matter is if the candidate has the right qualifications, skills, education and/or personality to do the job well.

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