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Worst Interview Questions to Ask

Normally, we focus on the best interview questions to ask, but what about the worst interview questions?

There are many bad, terrible, and downright illegal interview questions that should never be asked during the interview process, and we’ve collected the worst of the worst in this post.

By learning what not to ask in interviews, you can be sure that the questions you’re asking are going to tell you useful information about candidates and that your questions are legal to ask in the first place.

What Questions are Illegal for an Employer to Ask?

Before getting into bad (ineffective) interview questions to ask, let’s start with illegal interview questions (the worst of the worst) and why they’re illegal.

Illegal job interview questions are those that can solicit any information from candidates that could be used to discriminate against them. These questions include any that ask about a candidate’s race, religion, gender or other “Protected Class” information.

Here is a complete list of illegal interview topics that violate “Protected Class” statutes according to the EEOC. Never ask questions that relate to a candidate’s:

  • Race, Color, or National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation
  • Pregnancy Status
  • Disability
  • Age or Genetic Information
  • Citizenship
  • Veteran Status
  • Physical or Mental Disability
  • Marital Status or Number of Children

Illegal Interview Questions to Ask

Before getting into just overall bad, and almost hilarious, interview questions, let’s take a look at some illegal interview questions.

We mentioned above that asking any questions related to the above “Protected Class” topics are illegal, and below are some examples of questions that are illegal to ask candidates.

  • Do you own your own home or rent? Who do you live with? How do you know them?
    • This question can be viewed as discriminatory because it asks about a candidate’s financial situation and asking who and how they know people can be construed as ways to discriminate based on sexual orientation and race.
  • What year were you born?
    • This illegal interview question can be used to discriminate against people based on their age.
  • What year did you graduate high school?
    • This illegal interview question can be used to discriminate against people based on their age.
  • I notice you were once arrested for ____? Can you tell me more about that?
    • Avoid any and all questions relating to arrest records unless they are directly related to the job.
  • Do you own a car?
    • This question can be seen as discriminatory unless it is required for the job.
  • Can you work in the evenings? And what are your childcare arrangements?
    • Asking questions about evening work and childcare arrangements can be seen as discriminatory towards men and women with children.
  • Can you provide a birth certificate?
    • Asking for a copy of someone’s birth certificate can be used to discriminate people based on race, color, citizenship or national origin.
  • Where are your parents from?
    • Asking where someone’s parents are from can be seen as a question about national origins and is illegal.
  • Were you ever declared bankrupt?
    • It is illegal to ask if someone has been declared of bankruptcy unless it’s required for the job.
  • Do you have a disability?
    • It’s illegal to ask someone about disabilities.
  • What is the name of your emergency contact?
    • Don’t ask any question about emergency contacts or spouses as they can be seen as questions about national origin or sexual orientation.
  • When did you first start working?
    • This question can be used to discriminate based on age and is illegal.
  • How much do you weigh?
    • It is illegal to ask questions about an applicant’s weight unless there are specific job requirements or safety concerns regarding weight maximums or minimums for the job they are applying to.
  • Are you married or single?
    • This question can be used to discriminate based on a number of protected class criteria like age and sexual orientation.
  • Do you have children?
    • It is illegal to ask candidates if they have children or how many children they have.
  • Are you pregnant?
    • It is illegal to ask candidates whether they are pregnant because pregnancy status is considered protected class information.
  • What denomination are you?
    • Religion is considered protected class information and it is illegal to ask candidates about their religious affiliation.
  • Do you go to church?
    • Again, religious affiliation is protected class information and asking about this in job interviews is illegal.
  • What country are you from?
    • This question can be used to discriminate against an applicant’s national origin and is illegal to ask in interviews.

The above questions are more direct versions of illegal interview questions. However, make sure to avoid asking these types of discriminatory interview questions indirectly as you break the ice as well, as it will not make a difference in any lawsuit filed against your company.

Bad Questions to Ask In an Interview

So, we’ve seen the worst interview questions. But what constitutes a bad interview question?

What is a bad interview question?

A bad interview questions is one that is asked, but does not provide value to the interviewer or hiring team. Basically, it’s a waste of time.

Below you’ll find a list of common interview questions that are asked but do not provide much value.

  • Tell me about yourself

This is a bad interview question because it shows that you have not prepared in advance to the interview, and that you did not care enough about the candidate to review any information they provided in phone screens, etc. It also gives the candidate no direction in terms of the information that you are looking for and can even lead to them discussing protected class information by accident, which can leave you open to discrimination litigation.

  • What would you tell me about yourself growing up?

Asking this questions is not a good way to assess a candidate’s current abilities or their fit for your role.

  • I’m interviewing several other people this week. Why should I hire you?

As the hiring manager or recruiting team, it’s your job to win these people over. Not necessarily the other way around. Chances are that, if you brought them in for an interview, it’s because they meet the qualifications for your role. Chances are also fair that, if you’ve noticed they’re a great candidate, they probably have interviews lined up with other companies as well. Don’t ruin your chances of landing a great hire because you want to turn this interview into a competition for your approval.

  • What is your biggest weakness?

Again, this is a bad interview question because it does not provide any insight into their current skills, and many candidates can see it coming. They can easily prepare a canned answer to this question that does not tell you much about them.. Substitute this question with competency-based interview questions that ask the candidates how they would have improved in specific work scenarios.

  • If you could be a celebrity, then who would you be?

This is one of many poor comparison questions candidates are asked in interviews. You may learn a little bit about the candidate by asking the question, but you won’t understand their skills or type of environments they can thrive in. We recommend using questions asking what type of teams the candidate thrives in, the communication styles they prefer/think are effective and what they like about their current job.

  • What would your worst enemy say about you?

Questions like this are bad interview questions because they don’t elicit honest responses from your candidates, and the responses are almost always fabricated. Most likely, someone’s worst enemy would say some terrible things about them. A better question in place of this would be “what is an area of personal growth that you think you need to improve on most? What steps would you take to start improving in this area?"

  • If you could turn back time and do your life over, what would you do differently?

Given the chance, most people would invest heavily in Google or Amazon and live out the rest of their days relaxing in paradise. But this is not a good interview question to learn about your candidate.

A better question would be: “Describe a challenging project that did not go well for your team. If you could go back, what would you differently to change the outcome?”

  • Describe yourself in three words.

This is a bad interview question because it doesn’t provide any value. Candidates will think of whatever words will help them get the job: Original Optimal Optometrist? Jive Javascript Junkie? Affordable Affable Accountant?

Better interview questions would be: “Can you tell me about a time where there was a challenging team project? What was the project? How did you prioritize the tasks that needed to be done? Did you go out of the way to help your team?”

Final Thoughts: Worst Interview Questions to Ask

You only get a limited amount of time with each candidate before you’re ultimately faced with making the decision to hire, or not to hire. That’s why it’s important that you make every interview question count. Avoid using any illegal and/or ineffective interview questions shown above, and for best results check out some of our best-in-class interview questions listed below.