Interviewing candidates is one of the most difficult aspects of a hiring manager’s job. You’re racing against the clock to find out enough information about a candidate to decide whether or not they’re the right fit for your company.
workplace dThe last thing you want to do is walk out of an interview and then realise you forgot to ask them a crucial question. So while you might be tempted to ask all kinds of questions, there are definitely “wrong” questions you should avoid.
Some of the questions below will get you into legal trouble (worst-case scenario) so avoid asking them. Other questions aren’t technically against the law, but are still likely to cause offence or even turn into a PR nightmare for your company, so you’re better off avoiding those as well.
Feel free to share this article with your HR team and that way everyone will know which questions are off-limits in a job interview, as well as some suggested alternative questions.
As a general rule,ask only what you need to know pertaining to the position, and their skills and experience. Personal questions are not recommended. If you are going to ask a particular candidate a question, it should be applicable to all other candidates.
Although it is common to have chit chat at the beginning of an interview, the important questions should be professional and suitable for all applicants.
Don’t Ask “What is your religion, race, height, age, weight?”
Not only are these questions personal – and therefore inappropriate to ask in a job interview – they also have nothing to do with how qualified a candidate is, or whether they are capable of performing the job adequately.
Asking questions about religious preference, race or age is illegal under section 351 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Asking a candidate questions about their height or weight is not illegal, but is still inappropriate and likely to cause offence.
The only exception to this rule is if the job specifically requires candidates to be of a certain height or weight (to operate certain machinery or equipment – for example a pilot who is too tall to fit into a cockpit.)
Try framing the question in a way that is directly related to job performance.
Inappropriate: “What religious holidays do you observe?”
Better: “Are you willing to work weekends?”
Inappropriate: “How much do you weigh?”
Better: “Our ride-on mowers have a maximum weight limit for drivers of 95kg. Do you meet this requirement?”
Don’t ask “Are you planning to fall pregnant? What does your spouse do?”
According to Fair Work Australia, questions relating to the following are discriminatory and therefore against the law:
- Marital status
- Family or carer’s responsibilities
Questions about spouses or family that don’t fall into the above categories aren’t illegal, but they aren’t likely to be taken well by candidates either. Best to avoid these topics and focus on the job requirements.
Inappropriate: “Are you planning on having children within the next few years?”
Better: “Are you able to commit to working from 8am to 5pm on weekdays for the next few years?”
Don’t ask “Are you an Australian citizen? What’s your nationality?”?
These types of questions can be easily interpreted as offensive and are against the law. What information are you really trying to discover? Is the candidate legally able to work in Australia? Will they need an employer to sponsor their visa? Is knowledge of a foreign language or culture useful in the role?
Inappropriate: “Are you an Australian citizen?”
Better: “Are you eligible to work in Australia?
Inappropriate: “Are you Chinese?”
Better: “Are you fluent in Mandarin, both written and spoken?”
Do you drink, use drugs or smoke? How many sick leave days did you take in your last job? Do you have any disabilities? Have you ever committed a crime?
It’s fine to have policies against these activities in the workplace, and many employers have strict drug and alcohol policies, especially if the job involves driving vehicles or operating machinery.
What’s not ok is to ask whether a potential employee does any of these things outside work, as it’s unrelated to the job.
Similarly, you may be tempted to ask health-related questions – especially to do with sick leave or whether a candidate has any disabilities that may hinder performance.
Resist the temptation as both of these questions are illegal to ask as well.
There isn’t really any easy way you can frame a question differently in an interview situation, so you have two other options:
- Ask the candidate to complete an psychometric aptitude test
- Consider a physical test as well/instead of if the job requires physical exertion
- If the candidate is successful, put them on a “trial” period to see how they perform
Sometimes it’s important for an employer to know if an applicant is in good physical health, or has been convicted of a crime, but make sure it is neutral/general and professional rather than “Have you ever been charged for assault?”
You don’t want a lawsuit on your hands! Keep the questions relevant, professional, and centered on the job and what the applicant can bring to the table. Save the personal stuff for after someone is hired.
By avoiding the questions above or framing the question differently you’ll be able to get all the information you need to assess a candidate’s suitability, but without offending the candidate or running into any legal problems.
Have you got any other advice on good questions to avoid asking in an interview? Let us know in the comments below.