How old are you? What’s your marital status? Do you have any children? You probably wouldn’t be as bold as to ask those questions outright. However, framing them in a more palatable way doesn’t make them less likely to land you in hot water.
Some questions are sketchy no matter how you ask them. And while they might not be illegal in a literal sense, they could put your company on unsteady ground if an applicant believes they’ve been discriminated against.
Here are some questions that you should avoid at all costs. In their place, we’ve added a few suggestions for a better candidate experience and more insight about what matters.
What’s Your Age and Gender?
No employer would ever add questions as personal as age or gender to a job application (or worse, to the job requirements), right? You might be surprised. Although they may not spell them out so boldly, The Balance says there are lots of ways to find the answers if they really want to know. A better question, however, might be why that information is necessary at all.
Age and gender bias are common in the workplace, even if they’re unconscious. To avoid the possibility of eliminating a candidate before they’ve had a chance to show you their qualifications, aptitudes, and personality, shelve anything that relates to age and gender.
- A better question: Which work-related values matter to you more than any others?
- Why: Learn whether their personality and work ethic meshes with that of the company culture.
Do You Have Any Serious Illnesses or Disabilities?
Another area where the ground is rather shaky deals with personal questions about health or disabilities. HIPPA violations aside, information about a candidate’s health could cloud judgment about whether or not they can perform the job and contribute to the team.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and many state laws protect people with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says the protections extend people with a history of illnesses, such as cancer. Unless the job explicitly requires physical ability that can’t reasonably be adapted for a person with a disability, skipping to the next applicant qualifies as discrimination.
- A better question: Do you feel more productive working alone or as part of a team?
- Why: Gain insight into how the candidate will fit into the existing company dynamic and where they’ll likely perform better.
Diversity in the workplace is rooted in a fair chance for every qualified applicant.
What Does Your Spouse Do for a Living?
This question kills two sketchy birds with one stone. In just a few words, the interviewer has asked whether or not the candidate is married and requested personal information about someone who isn’t applying for the job.
Although the answers would certainly paint a bigger picture of the candidate, they have no bearing on qualifications. The Balance says interviewers should keep questions relevant to what’s important for performing the job.
- A better question: What qualifications, experience, and aptitudes make you a top candidate?
- Why: Learn more about the candidate’s work and performance background as well as the level of confidence they have in their skill set.
What Happens if You Learn Too Much?
Sometimes, job candidates are more than eager to share information that you have no intention of asking. They may offer up tidbits about their life before the interview begins, says Business News Daily. Or they may offer up information through small talk as the interview winds down. Sometimes, candidates overshare at every stage of the interview.
Although you’ve kept your part of the interview bargain by refraining from probing questions, learning private information can still put you at risk. Reshae Mora, HR specialist with Alexander Mann Solutions, tells Business News Daily that the risk revolves around whether the information affects the hiring decision.
The best course of action is to keep questions on track and steer the conversation away from private information if the candidate’s small talk veers in that direction. It’s better to let the information pass without adding to it or commenting further.
In this age, rare is the interview that treads intentionally into discriminatory waters. Asking for private information not only put the company at risk, it risks the employee diversity that businesses strive for. Better to steer clear entirely than to search for a safer way to ask what the company doesn’t need to know.
If you’re an HR specialist or recruiter who’s always in the market for a better way, we can help with that. Subscribe to Recruitment ADvisor and get fresh content delivered regularly, right to your inbox.