What Can I Ask in an Interview?

Worried about what questions you can ask in an interview?  As a general rule, interview questions should directly relate to qualifications for the job, and in almost all instances, the following topics should be avoided in an interview:

 

o Age – is irrelevant unless you are concerned about child labor violations under

the Fair Labor Standards Act, in which case you can ask for proof that he/she

is old enough to work.

o Arrest record – do not ask at all – you may ask about convictions, but even

then it would have to be relevant to the position in order to lead to immediate

rejection.

o Association with present employees – this information is not relevant to an

applicant’s ability to perform successfully in a particular job, and the tendency

to either encourage or prohibit the employment of friends or relatives of

existing employees may create an adverse impact on members of protected

classes.

o Bankruptcy and credit affairs – never ask about bankruptcy since it is illegal

to discriminate on this basis under the Federal Bankruptcy Law – all credit

inquiries must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

o Citizenship – unless required by law or regulation, you may not ask applicants

if they are U.S. citizens since it is considered discriminatory under the

Immigration Reform and Control Act. You may ask if candidates are

authorized to work in the United States.

o Disability – the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to ask

questions about an applicant’s disability or perceived disability – it is crucial to

focus on the job, not on the disability.

o Driver’s license – avoid asking about it unless the job requires one since it

could statistically screen out females, minorities and/or individuals with

disabilities.

o Education – relevant if it is directly related to successful job performance – if

not, avoid it because it could potentially screen out minorities.

o Emergency contact information – unnecessary at the application stage 

o English language skills – only ask if it is a requirement of the job (i.e. an

English teacher) – otherwise it could be construed as national origin

discrimination.

o Height and weight – can be discriminatory against females, Hispanics, and/or

Asians – it is important to focus on what the job requires, not the person’s

physical characteristics.

o Marital status/name changes/spouse/children – any questions relating to

these issues may be construed as discriminatory, especially against women – –

none are job-related. 

o Organization or club membership – this might reveal protected class

information and it is irrelevant (i.e. Knights of Columbus, NAACP or

Diabetes Association)

o Race, color, religion, sex, or national originEEOC guidelines prohibit

asking questions that may reveal this information; rejected applicants could

have grounds for a discrimination suit if any of these questions were part of

the application process.

o Union affiliation – could be considered an unfair labor practice under the

National Labor Relations Act if the applicant claims he or she was not hired

because of the union affiliation.

o Veteran status/military records – general questions about a person’s

background in the military should only be asked if based on business necessity

or job-related reasons. If requested, such information should include a

statement that general or dishonorable discharge will not be an absolute bar to

employment but that other factors will be taken into consideration.

o Weekend work/shift changesunless required for the job, the applicant

should not have to state whether or not they can work on the weekends – this

could screen out applicants who cannot work on some weekend days because

of their religious beliefs.

 

Jill Critchfield is a professional Human Resources Consultant.  Through her business, Pacific HR, she has provided HR services to over 100 small and mid-sized businesses in Portland, Oregon since 1999.  Information about Pacific HR services can be found at www.pacifichr.com.

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