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(Potentially Illegal) Interview Questions You Should Never Ask

illegal interview questions

Interview questions are meant to help you evaluate candidates and determine which of them is best for your open role. However, some questions may do more harm than good if they lead to discrimination or invasion of privacy. Even when asked innocently, they can lead to unconscious bias in the recruitment process, or they can make your candidates reconsider working at your company. To evaluate and hire the best candidate possible, steer clear of these (potentially illegal) interview questions.

How old are you? Do you have any disabilities? What religion do you practice?

Various federal and state laws are in place to protect candidates from possible discrimination. These include, but are not limited to, age, physical or mental disability, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, veteran status, and marital status.

Questions related to the above areas are not generally relevant to the job, and should be avoided. If they are relevant to your role, however, be careful about how you word them. For instance, rather than asking the candidate if they have any disabilities, ask them if they are able to perform the physical requirements of the job. To ensure that you’re evaluating all candidates on an even-playing field, it’s best to develop a semi-structured interview process in which you ask all candidates the same questions.

Can I have your social media account passwords?

Maryland was the first to ban this practice in 2012 and, according to the National Conference of State Legislature, it is banned in 24 other states. Some laws make it illegal to ask for usernames and passwords, while others also ban things like requesting someone to authenticate their account in your presence, or requiring them to connect with you on social media.

Even if this isn’t an illegal interview question in your state, it has the potential to open you up to discrimination issues and should be avoided. For instance, you may see that a given candidate is a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. This information may affect your judgement about whether they’d be able to perform the job at hand.

On the other end of the spectrum, it can turn away candidates who may have been a great fit. Even a candidate with nothing to hide may feel like this is an invasion of privacy, and decide to work for another employer.

What’s your salary history?

Last year, Massachusetts became the first state to ban employers from asking for a candidate’s salary history, with the goal of closing the gender wage gap. While this isn’t an illegal interview question in every state, it should still be avoided. Research has shown that women earn 83% as much as men, and African Americans earn 75% as much as Caucasians. Asking for a candidate’s salary history upfront may perpetuate this issue, or cause you to lose your most qualified candidates who will go elsewhere to be paid what they’re worth.

Instead, create a competitive employee compensation strategy and discuss salary expectations with your candidate’s early in the recruitment process. This will ensure that a candidate’s salary history doesn’t unfairly cloud your perception of them, or the salary that you offer your top-choice candidate.

Conclusion

The volume and complexities of illegal interview questions is enough to make your head spin—even as a seasoned professional. Hiring managers and interviewers are even less inclined to understand them because they don’t live and breathe in the recruiting world. However, not adhering to these laws can damage your organization’s reputation and cost you top-tier candidates—not to mention costing your company time and money in legal battles. Reduce your risk by gaining a thorough understanding of the laws that apply in your area, training interviewers on illegal interview questions, and creating semi-structured interviews. This ensures that all candidates are evaluated on the same criteria so you can make the best hire, in a fair manner.

Learn more interview best practices in our eBook:Top Interview Tips: The Employer’s Essential Handbook.