November 6, 2023 | Sammy Tran

Job Interview Questions That Are Off-Limits

Introduction: Navigating the Do's and Don'ts of Job Interviews

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Job interviews are a crucial part of the hiring process, a time for both employers and potential employees to assess suitability for a role.

However, not all questions are fair game. In the quest to find the right candidate, employers must steer clear of certain topics that are protected by law.

This article will delve into ten questions that are off-limits during job interviews and explain why these inquiries can be problematic, potentially discriminatory, and even illegal.

1. Marital and Family Status


Employers cannot ask candidates about their marital status, whether they have children, or their child-care arrangements. Questions like "Are you married?" or "Who will take care of your children while you're at work?" are invasive and irrelevant to the candidate's ability to perform the job.

These questions could be used to discriminate against candidates who are single, married, or have children, which is why they're protected under laws like the U.S. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

2. Age-Related Inquiries

Young woman is seating at desk in office and talking with a man.MART PRODUCTION, Pexels

It's illegal to discriminate against someone because of their age. Thus, questions like "How old are you?" or "What year were you born?" are off-limits.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits age discrimination against individuals 40 years of age or older. The concern is that age could be used to deny employment to older candidates in favor of younger ones, irrespective of skill or experience.

3. Health and Disability

Young man in suit sitting at the desk at job interviewfizkes, Shutterstock

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer cannot ask questions about a candidate's health status, medical history, or whether they have a disability. Queries such as "Do you have any health conditions?" or "Have you ever filed a workers' compensation claim?" are prohibited.

Employers must focus on the candidate's ability to perform the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

4. National Origin and Citizenship

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Asking about a candidate's nationality, citizenship, or how well they speak certain languages, unless directly relevant to the job, could violate the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and Title VII.

Employers must not ask "Where are you originally from?" or "Are you a U.S. citizen?" Instead, they may verify if the candidate is authorized to work in the country after making a job offer.

5. Religious Beliefs

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Employers cannot inquire about a candidate's religious affiliation or beliefs. Questions like "What religion do you practice?" or "What religious holidays do you observe?" are not permitted.

Such questions could lead to discrimination based on religion, which is prohibited under Title VII.

6. Race and Ethnic Background

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Questions that attempt to identify a candidate's race or ethnicity, such as "What race do you consider yourself to be?" are unacceptable.

The Civil Rights Act strictly prohibits discrimination based on race or color in all terms and conditions of employment.

7. Gender and Sexual Orientation

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Inquiries about a candidate's gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression are irrelevant to their job performance.

"What gender do you identify as?" or "Are you planning to undergo gender-reassignment surgery?" are personal questions that do not belong in a job interview.

8. Alcohol or Drug Use

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While employers can ask about a candidate's current use of illegal drugs, they cannot ask about past drug addiction or treatment for drug problems due to protections under the ADA. Likewise, questions about drinking habits can be deemed discriminatory.

9. Arrest Record

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It's inappropriate for employers to ask about a candidate's arrest record, though inquiries about convictions relevant to the job's responsibilities may be permissible.

This distinction is important because arrests do not equal convictions and can disproportionately impact certain demographics.

10. Credit History

Worst Job InterviewsUnsplash

Unless credit information is specifically relevant to the job, for example, in certain financial sectors, employers should not ask candidates about their credit history.

This type of inquiry can be seen as an invasion of privacy and could have a disparate impact on candidates from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Final Thoughts: Fostering Fair Hiring Practices

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The hiring process should be a level playing field, where candidates are evaluated based on their skills, experience, and potential to succeed in a role.

By understanding and adhering to the restrictions on interview questions, employers can avoid discrimination, create a more inclusive recruitment process, and find the best person for the job based on merit.

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