People & Leadership

10 things employers should never ask in an interview

10 things employers should never ask in an interview

A wide range of interview questions is essential to help find the right employees for your business. However, asking the wrong questions could bring discrimination claims against you, threatening your company’s finances and reputation.

Before you conduct your next interview, stop and check that you’re not planning on asking any of the following danger questions.

1. “Are you planning on starting a family?”

This question may seem fair enough but it’s loaded with potential discrimination. You could be accused of not employing someone because of the cost and resource issues associated with their maternity or paternity leave.

In fact, avoid any questions about children, childcare or family commitments in an interview. If it comes up in conversation that an applicant is expecting a baby, for instance, stress that this will not be taken into account in the selection process.

2. “Aren’t you a bit young/old for this job?”

Again, this question reeks of discrimination. Even if it’s an innocent question and their age has nothing to do with your final decision, this type of question could come back to bite you. In a nutshell, make no reference to an applicant’s age whatsoever.

3. “Are you an Irish citizen?”

A better question, to ask is: “Are you authorised to work in Ireland?” If you do decide to ask this question, it’s important to ask everyone. To only ask people who appear to be non-Irish can also be considered discrimination.

4. “Do you practice a particular religion?”

This is obviously a high-risk question. Think about why you are asking the question. If it’s just a case of determining what days someone can work (and it’s relevant to the role), simply ask: “Can you work on weekends?”

5. “Are you planning on retiring in the next few years?”

This could still be seen as age discrimination, just worded differently. Remember, any questions to do with an applicant’s age are out of bounds.

6. “Is that your maiden name?”

In an interview, any questions about an applicant’s marital status are off-limits. Again, this could well be an innocent question but the danger is still there.

You can still get the information you want, just by asking a slightly different way. For instance: “Have you ever been known by another name?”

7. “Do you smoke or drink?”

You’d think this is a perfectly reasonable question but it could actually be seen as disability discrimination. If you’re worried about potential alcohol issues or too many smoking breaks, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask: “Have you had any disciplinary action regarding the use of alcohol or tobacco?”

8. “Do you take any drugs?”

It seems bizarre but this question is off-limits in regards to legal drugs, but not illegal ones. You can’t ask about medicines or prescription drugs, due to disability discrimination.

If you want to know about the other sort of drugs, you’re allowed to ask: “Do you use illegal drugs?”

9. “Are you disabled in any way?”

Even if it’s obvious that someone is disabled, you can’t ask them about their specific abilities. What you can ask about, though, is what they can or can’t do. For instance, ask them if they are able to perform the duties of the role to determine this.

10. “Do you live nearby?”

Believe it or not, asking if someone has far to commute isn’t allowed. This is in case you discriminate against them based on their geographical location.

As always, though, you can get around this. Simply phrase the question differently, for example: “Will a 9am start be suitable for you?”

Final thoughts on interview questions

As a rule of thumb, don’t ask anything that could be construed as discrimination. These areas relate to someone’s:

  • religious belief
  • civil status
  • family status
  • age
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • race
  • membership of the Traveller community
  • physical or mental attributes
  • some other personal characteristic.

You could consider drafting an interview from a pre-approved list of questions that should be used in all interview situations.  You can add more specific questions relating to the role in question as you see fit.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and relevance.