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5 Illegal Interview Questions Companies Should Avoid

Sourcing and screening candidates is hard enough. Navigating the seas of applications and spending the time to select the very best set of candidates. The interview is the opportunity to get to know the candidate and get a feel for who they are and the candidate’s job and culture fit within your organization. And yet many companies don’t prepare interview questions in advance. We spend our time monitoring company email or creating policy and procedure, but we fail to set the stage for our candidate and protect our hiring manager.

As a recruiter, hiring manager, or human resource professional, you are responsible for the impression and serve as the lead as the interviewer for the interview and selection process. There are questions the company you are interviewing with can’t ask. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Among other laws, regulations, and statues put into place to protect the candidate, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, also prohibits discrimination against individuals 40 years of age or older; the Equal Pay Act; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Now that you’ve heard the legal jargon, it basically means that a company can’t make a hiring decision based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Companies should avoid illegal common interview questions like the five listed below.

    • “How old are you?” or “What is your date of birth?”
    • “Have you ever been declared bankrupt?” or “Have you ever filed for bankruptcy”?
    • “Do you have any children?” or “Are you planning on having any children?”
    • “What is your religion?” or “What is your ethnicity?”
    • “Do you have any diseases?” or “Do you have any physical or mental impairments?”

Having worked in HR for 11 years, I’m often amazed at the number of managers and hiring managers who put themselves and company at risk by asking the above questions. And if you are interviewed and an above question in question surfaces, it’s important for candidates to consider how to respond as well.

So what do you do if a hiring manager asks you an illegal interview question? Tell the hiring manager that you are not comfortable answering the question he/she just asked. To be completely honest, a company that asks a question like this is probably somewhere you don’t really want to work. These red flags are a great example of why job seekers should consider that you are interviewing the company just as much as the company is interviewing you.

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is a HR consultant, new media strategist, and author who writes at Blogging4Jobs. Jessica is the host of Job Search Secrets, an internet television show for job seekers.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is a HR consultant, new media strategist, and author who writes at Blogging4Jobs. Jessica is the host of Job Search Secrets, an internet television show for job seekers.