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What Not to Ask During an Interview

As the economy starts to improve and employers learn that they are not able to do more with fewer employees and/or high performers are leaving to go to better jobs, the hiring process begins. As such, hiring managers need to be aware of what they may or may not ask of an applicant during the interview process. While this may seem easy, it is an area where employers continue to increase their liability every day. One wrong question could lead to a discrimination lawsuit on behalf of an applicant. Employers need to remember that federal and state laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of an applicant’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. And, in some states and/or counties there are laws that prohibit discrimination based upon factors such as marital status and sexual orientation. If you are not aware of the federal and/or state and county laws, it is recommended that you consult with a human resources professional or employment law attorney immediately to make sure that your company is in compliance.


It is important that employers make sure that their managers are trained to ask the “right” questions to be compliant with employment-related laws. Compliance includes making sure that the questions asked during the interview process are directly related to the job. Every question that a hiring manager asks of an applicant should somehow relate to how the applicant is qualified to perform the job that they are applying for within your organization, e.g. experience, skills and abilities, competencies, etc. Hiring managers usually get themselves in trouble, so to speak, when they ask for information that is not relevant to the job.


To avoid the appearance of discrimination, hiring managers should avoid asking applicants the following:


  • How old are you?
  • Are you single, married, widowed or divorced?
  • Do you have children? If so, how many and how old are they?
  • Do you plan to have children in the future? If so, what are your plans for day care?
  • Are you likely to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act?
  • Do you own or rent a home or condo?
  • Do you have any debt? If so, how much?
  • Do you have insurance? If so, what kind and how much?
  • Do you belong to any political or social clubs or organizations?
  • Do you attend Church on a regular basis? If so, what religion do you practice?
  • What would you do if your spouse were transferred?
  • Do you believe that you are able to perform the job as well as a man/woman?
  • Do you suffer from an illness or disability?
  • Have you ever been hospitalized? If so, for what?
  • Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist or psychologist?
  • Have you been sick recently?
  • How many days of work have you missed during the last year because of illness?
  • Do you have any disabilities or impairments that might affect your performance in this job?
  • Have you ever been treated for drug addiction or alcoholism?


While this list is not all inclusive, it is a start to get hiring managers thinking about whether they are in compliance or not. If a job applicant reveals information that an interviewer is not allowed to ask (see above), they should not pursue the topic further. Make sure if the applicant does bring something up that is not compliant that the subject is changed immediately. The thought that the applicant brought up the topic and the interviewer innocently pursued it, won’t fly in court, so make sure to change the subject immediately and do not take notes on the subject.


For additional information on what you can legally ask during an interview, please contact New Focus HR. We have the ability to train hiring managers on how to be legally compliant during the interview process.


Written By: Kristen Shingleton, M.B.A., CCP

President, New Focus HR LLC










New Focus HR is a human resources consulting and training company that services all organizations. Our expert team collaborates with businesses to attract, motivate, retrain and retain their biggest assets, employees. While engaged with an organization, our focus is to find solutions that improve the company’s internal HR-related practices while increasing results at the same time! Our focus. Your results.