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Job Interview: Questions That Should Not Be Asked

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 2 Jun 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Job Interview Interviews Questions Job

It is perfectly understandable that companies want to use a job interview to find out as much as they can about the applicant. Interviews give companies an opportunity to find out whether or not jobseekers have the skills and personal qualities that the job demands as well as allowing them to gauge whether or not an applicant would ‘fit in’ with the company. Likewise, jobseekers also get the opportunity to ask questions of their own and interviews allow the applicants to determine, as best as they can, whether the job they are going for is likely to meet up with their own expectations.

Whilst job interview questions tend to more or less stick to a fairly uniform pattern, sometimes you might be thrown the odd tricky question. However, as an interview guide, HR professionals need to be very careful about asking certain questions because they might contravene Discrimination Laws. And, whilst jobseekers would probably be able to recognise a blatant discriminatory question, there are often ‘grey’ areas and questions within a job interview that may seem harmless, yet are, in fact, discriminatory and, therefore, illegal.

Questions About Place of Birth, Ethnicity and Religion

Whilst employers are legally entitled to ask you at a job interview if you have the correct paperwork to legally work in the UK and to ask you to provide evidence of that, they’re not entitled to probe into your personal history surrounding your specific place of birth. For example, say you had a unusual surname – it would be improper of employers to look at your CV and, for example, see the surnames Ali, Khan, Kowalski or Hoffmann, and to ask in which country you were born as this could perhaps be construed as a company hiring (or not hiring) staff on the grounds of nationality, race or ethnic background.

Whilst it is legal for the likes of ethnic background to be asked for on an application form, the reason for this is strictly for monitoring purposes and is usually included as a separate attachment from the main application form. However, this cannot be brought up in relation to job interview questions. Additionally, on no account should an interviewer ask any job applicant about their religious affiliation or background.

Questions About Marital Status, Children and Sexual Preference

Interviewers should not make any reference to a person’s marital status, children they may have or their sexual preference. All could be grounds for discrimination as companies might be deemed to view a person being married as either favourably in that they may see an applicant as being more stable or, perhaps, unfavourably in that they may see a conflict of interest between a single person having more time to devote to the job over a married person who might have family commitments to juggle with. Likewise, questions about children should also be avoided. It also should go without saying that any questions about a person’s sexual preferences are an absolutely 'off limits'.

Questions About Age

With new Age Discrimination laws having been introduced only a couple of years ago which affect all jobs, apart from establishing that a person meets the required minimum age to do the job, you should not be asking any questions about age in a job interview. A prime example of what not to say to an applicant would be to ask of, say, a 60-year old, “And how many more years do you see yourself in the workforce?” That would be discriminatory.

Questions About Disability and Illness

As a general interview guide, interviewers need to tread carefully here. Asking you to explain a significant amount of time off sick from any previous jobs would be perfectly acceptable. However, questioning a person over a disability and whether or not that would affect their ability to do the job would not be and would be grounds for Disability Discrimination.

Questions About Lifestyle Choices

It’s also illegal at interviews for employers to ask jobseekers any questions relating to personal lifestyle choices, for example about their consumption of alcohol, whether they smoke or use recreational drugs. Of course, a company can set out rules regarding the use of these kinds of substances and state what it is and is not permitted at work within the staff handbook. However, what an employee does outside of work and work time is not the company’s business and, therefore, no questions can be asked about it at interview.

Other questions which interviewers cannot ask include anything related to any arrests or convictions. For certain jobs, they are entitled to run a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check on you prior to interview. However, any findings from that should never form part of their interview techniques. Questions about membership or affiliations with any organisations should also not be asked at interviews unless they are directly related to any problem they might foresee in terms of your time commitments and how that might affect your ability to do the job. Questions about height and weight are also discriminatory unless the job is exempt in terms of it being acceptable to have a certain minimum height requirement.

If you have problems with some of the job interview questions you've been subject to and have reason to believe you have been unfairly treated at interview, you should seek advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission to determine whether or not a company's job interview techniques have been unlawful.

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G101 - Your Question:
During an interview with the CEO of the company I was asked about my religion and if my religion would affect my role within the company? I was surprised by this and said no. I later found out I did not get the position, but my qualifications were equal to the person employed but was told the person hired was a better fit to the company. I'm wondering if that question had an affect on my chance for the position?

Our Response:
If it was phrased as you describe, then this is the type of question that an interviewer really should not be asking as it could be discriminatory. If you wanted to take this further you would need firstly to see whether the employer (via the HR department) has any procedures that you can follow to make a complaint. If not, you can then consider taking a claim to an employment tribunal or civil court, but before doing so, you should use the Acas free early conciliation service which may negate the need to make a claim.
SafeWorkers - 3-Jun-16 @ 10:07 AM
During an interview with the CEO of the company I was asked about my religion and if my religion would affect my role within the company? I was surprised by this and said no. I later found out I did not get the position, but my qualifications were equal to the person employed but was told the person hired was a better fit to the company. I'm wondering if that question had an affect on my chance for the position?
G101 - 2-Jun-16 @ 9:53 AM
I recently applied for a job through an agency. I received a call frm the agency saying the employet was interested by my cv. But wanted to know the ages of all prospective interviewees from the agency prior to.any further action. The agency then called me and requested my age to pass to the prospective employer. Is rhis within uk law
Liz - 27-May-16 @ 12:32 AM
I attended an interview on Friday 12th February. This was with a small Mortgage Brokers, I was interviewed by the a lady the director of the business, I am really concerned about this company as I was asked the following questions. How old I was Did I smoke Was I married Did I have Children ( I do but adult children) Did I have to supervise small children I am really upset by this, I am currentlyunemployed and actively seeking work, I called my work coach after the interview at the job centre. Is there anything I can do, about this?
Ruby - 15-Feb-16 @ 10:26 PM
Murmur - Your Question:
I recently applied for a job and felt I provided a very strong application form, with clear and detailed examples throughout. I believe I have met all the essential and desirable criteria, basically all the boxes were ticked and I felt I should be invited for an interview.I then got an email to say the job is being re-advertised and that I need not reapply as they are holding my application on file. There have been no changes made to the application for or job description in the re-advertisement. So obviously I am very disappointed and disheartened.My question is, are employers allowed re-advertise a post without even interviewing applicants? Yes I understand that if someone is clearly not suitable for the job then they should be turned down straight away however I have not officially been turned down and I believe I have extensive experience and am qualified for the position.Thank you for providing me this space to vent!

Our Response:
It may be that they have had to re-advertise the post for other reasons- such as they did not get through all the applicants within their own time scales etc. If you want to ask them for feedback on your application form, why not give it a try?
SafeWorkers - 11-Feb-16 @ 2:27 PM
I recently applied for a job and felt I provided a very strong application form, with clear and detailed examples throughout. I believe I have met all the essential and desirable criteria, basically all the boxes were ticked and I felt I should be invited for an interview. I then got an email to say the job is being re-advertised and that I need not reapply as they are holding my application on file. There have been no changes made to the application for or job description in the re-advertisement. So obviously I am very disappointed and disheartened. My question is, are employers allowed re-advertise a post without even interviewing applicants? Yes I understand that if someone is clearly not suitable for the job then they should be turned down straight away however I have not officially been turned down and I believe I have extensive experience and am qualified for the position. Thank you for providing me this space to vent!
Murmur - 10-Feb-16 @ 1:27 PM
Bod - Your Question:
I worked for 5 years at a food production company but had to be released due to long term sickness due to a spinal injury. I was informed then that once I had had my operation and recovered I could apply for any vacancy if any came up. Its been 2 years since then and I am fit and healthy again. I recently heard that there was a vacancy (my old position) so I contacted my former head of department to ask about applying. She asked if we could meet for a coffee and a chat which we did and seemed keen to have me back , about 2 weeks later she contacted me for an interview (informal) just myself and her which went well. Approx 2 weeks later I was called in for a 2nd interview with herself and senior manager. At the interview I was asked by the senior manager how my back was , to which I replied all fit and healthy , the senior manager then asked how long ago was my operation which I replied "two and a half years". He then told me about a family member or friend of his who had the same operation and 3 years later they are in a wheel chair. I replied that im good and have no aches or pains in my back to which he replied , if he decided to take me back I would have to sign an agreement that states that any time off due to any condition with my back I would not recieve company sick pay for 3 years. I replied I would agree to this if I was re-employed as I really wanted this job. At the end of the interview which if I recall was around about the 16th Dec 2015 (closing date for applications 15 Dec 2015)i was told that I would have reply at the beginning of 2016. I have not heard from the company since and the vacancy has reappeared in the papers and on line with a new closing date of the 5 Feb 2016. I was a good worker and got on well with all my co workers. Is this legal ?

Our Response:
Yes this sounds as though it is legal. You do have the chance to re-apply for the re-advertised post as they discussed. Regarding the sick pay agreement you were asked to sign - company sick pay is given at the employer's discretionbut you would still be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.
SafeWorkers - 10-Feb-16 @ 10:20 AM
I worked for 5 years at a food productioncompany but had to be released due to long term sickness due to a spinal injury. I was informed then that once i had had my operation and recovered i could apply for any vacancy if any came up. Its been 2 years since then and i am fit and healthy again. I recently heard that there was a vacancy (my old position) so i contacted my former head of department to ask about applying. She asked if we could meet for a coffee and a chat which we did and seemed keen to have me back , about 2 weeks later she contacted me for an interview (informal) just myself and her which went well. Approx 2 weeks later i was called in for a 2nd interview with herself andsenior manager. At the interview i was asked by the senior manager how my back was , to which i replied all fit and healthy , the senior manager then asked how long ago was my operation which i replied "two and a half years". He then told me about a family member or friend of his who had the same operation and 3 years later they are in a wheel chair. I replied that im good and have no aches or pains in my back to which he replied , if he decided to take me back i would have to sign an agreement that states that any time off due to any condition with my back i would not recieve company sick pay for 3 years. I replied i would agree to this if i was re-employed as i really wanted this job. At the end of the interview which if i recall was around about the 16th Dec 2015 (closing date for applications 15 Dec 2015)i was told that i would have reply at the beginning of 2016. I have not heard from the company since and the vacancy has reappeared in the papers and on line with a new closing date of the 5 Feb 2016 . I was a good worker and got on well with all my co workers . Is this legal ?
Bod - 8-Feb-16 @ 1:27 PM
I am waiting to commence employment. They have not given date, but recruitment agency have warned me that it could be less than a days notice! Ie, called on Wednesday for a Thursday am start, I am eligible for paid transport for the 1st month and If I have too short notice I would not have time to claim it. TBH most days I probably could do it, but I would rather have time to prepare. I am sure it is 36 hours, or maybe 48. I cannot find legislation on it. PS employment agency messed up another start date with this company 7 months ago. I know now to accept anything!!! This has cost me £££££££xK and more...
usedoorBell - 5-Jan-16 @ 6:36 PM
I went for my dream job I had a telephone interview and she asked me how old I was. On the phone I said I did have some holidays booked and said I was getting married so I would definitely need the time off she said this was fine. When I went for the interview I was asked if getting married would take me away from studying as it was a trainee vet nurse position I said it would not as I have planned most of it. She also asked if having a relationship would hinder my ability to be dedicated to the job I said it would not. Then as I would have to be on call she even asked who would look after my cats if I was needed at work. I feel I was unfairly treated as this had nothing to do with my ability as I am well over qualified to do this job. She was even snotty with me about me having a degree and reminded me that she has 20 years experience.I was told I did not get the job but it has been readvertised can I do anything about this?
nat85 - 22-Oct-15 @ 11:33 PM
gondorian - Your Question:
I have been asked in every job interview over the past six months whether I was married or had children. One interviewer was very blatant and said that as this is was a partly home-based position I might not cope if I had young children. One interviewer, for a recruitment agency no less, asked me what my partner did for a living, if I owned my home or was renting, how many children I had, how old I was, when I graduated university. Any advice about how to make a complaint would be greatly appreciated. It is quite obvious to me that companies are flagrantly breaking discrimination laws because the burden of proof is on the complainant.

Our Response:
This does sound like blatant discrimination. It's clear to employers what they can and cannot ask about. You can send a "discrimination questionnaire" to any employer - they are not obliged to answer but the fact that they do not, can then be used if you decide to take further action. The discrimination questionnaire is a useful tool that is not well used...you can find more information on the internet if you choose to devise a questionnaire. The best option in the first place would be to call the Employment Advisory Helpline for support/advice.
SafeWorkers - 24-Sep-15 @ 10:05 AM
I have been asked in every job interview over the past six months whether I was married or had children. One interviewer was very blatant and said that as this is was a partly home-based position I might not cope if I had young children. One interviewer, for a recruitment agency no less, asked me what my partner did for a living, if I owned my home or was renting, how many children I had, how old I was, when I graduated university. Any advice about how to make a complaint would be greatly appreciated. It is quite obvious to me that companies are flagrantly breaking discrimination laws because the burden of proof is on the complainant.
gondorian - 22-Sep-15 @ 7:54 AM
eri - Your Question:
I was injured at work. I did not recieve any form if training what so ever. I was a delivery driver. When my employer employed me he did not ask for any form of documentation but now that I have filled an injury claim he is calling me everyday asking me to send him my documentation. Should I send him the documents. I have aready left the job i.e. he has not paid me my last pay

Our Response:
You should be paid for the work you've done and any SSP that you are owed. What kind of documentation are you referring to? To verify your sick/medical issues or driver's documents?
SafeWorkers - 8-Sep-15 @ 9:39 AM
I was injured at work. I did not recieve any form if training what so ever. I was a delivery driver. When my employer employed me he did not ask for any form of documentation but now that I have filled an injury claim he is calling me everyday asking me to send him my documentation. Should I send him the documents. I have aready left the job i.e. he has not paid me my last pay
eri - 5-Sep-15 @ 2:37 AM
Hidecote - Your Question:
Been off sick leave 7 days and confirmed with manager thursday I would be back Saturday for early shift. Heard nothing more so opened shop and checked rota to see who else was on. I saw my shift had been changed to 0745 till 2145 I was due to finish at 1530. Plus I had been put in to work today. Does this sound fair. I said I couldn't do extra as I had not enough notice. Had someone let me know Thursday I could have sorted things. I am know, now scared that I will be disciplined. I always pitch in and really hurt no one thought to call. Was I wrong to refuse. Thanks

Our Response:
It depends on the terms of your contract really. Are you expected to inform your manager in advance if you cannot work extra hours?
SafeWorkers - 17-Aug-15 @ 10:29 AM
Been off sick leave 7 days and confirmed with manager thursday i would be back Saturday for early shift. Heard nothing more so opened shop and checked rota to see who else was on.I saw my shift had been changed to 0745 till 2145 I was due to finish at 1530. Plus I had been put in to work today.Does this sound fair.I said I couldn't do extra as I had not enough notice. Had someonelet me know Thursday I could have sorted things.I am know, now scared that I will be disciplined.I always pitch in and really hurt no one thought to call.Was I wrong to refuse. Thanks
Hidecote - 16-Aug-15 @ 9:24 AM
My story is I went for a job interview today I am a 18 year old girl looking for a Apprentice in office work. I got there all ready for my job interview and I got there and the man was asking me personal questions like do I drink? How much do I drink? What do I talk to my friends about? Where do I go when im out? Do I have a boyfriend? Why am I not living with him. Then at the end of the interview he told me it was a tele-sales job and I wasnt happy as that was not what I applied for and not what was on the job description.
Porchya_ashworth123 - 13-Aug-15 @ 5:40 PM
@Azralph. No, employers are perfectly entitled to ask you not work for other similar employers in conjunction with your work for them.
SafeWorkers - 9-Jul-15 @ 10:24 AM
Can anyone help. I work as a Teaching Assistant and I recently applied for an internal vacancies within the school. I have also been applying for other jobs, and was offered another job in a school very close by working mornings. However I was told a few days ago that they would not be offering me a job next year as they would have concerns about me sharing my time between two schools ( this is even though the roles I applied for here were just in the afternoon ) Is this even legal? I thought you were not allowed to mention other commitments in this way?
azralph - 5-Jul-15 @ 1:18 PM
Hi, I recently had an interview and my fares were paid for as they wanted to see me the next day. I have all the qualities and experience for the role but at the interview none of the questions were asked about the role, my experience or asked to give examples. I did speak to a manager in the same role as me . He asked me questions and so on about my experience and told me about the role and I asked questions about the job and things I thought were important about team work, sales, staffing, companieshistory, the CEO, waste, KPIs , stock levels and gap scanning, moving to the area and so on. Then taken to another room as I was taken there before but another interview was being held and was just taken in with the person sitting there in there interview. I was askedtell them about myself, what I know about the company and why I want to work for them, so I did. They did not ask me about my past experience or about sales, staffing, merchandising, waste, recruitment and so on. I was asked 3 times if im married or single by 3 different people. I was asked to do a swot analysis and given 20 minutes which was not much time as you normally do that before the interview and talk over your findings. After I done the swot I gave my findings as in, merchandising, ways to increase sales, waste, gaps on shelves, about the location and store standards. I was not asked any questions about it or my findings so I could explain how to improve sales , staffing, store standards and so on. They just said any questions you want to ask ? I asked a few, then they said ok we will be speaking to you soon and they need to catch there plane. when I spoke to the recruitment agency for some feed back they had received an email from HR at the company saying, I had knowledge of the company and customer service but did not speak about sales, staffing, the store, moving there, I was very nervous more than you would think, kept on repeating myself, which is not true. I spoke about these with the first manager as i was put in a room with him and was asking me questions. They did not ask anything about me or my experience or to give examples. I was not nervous. I got off the plane , taxi to the airport, in the store and interview. The HR manager was eating her lunch while interviewing me the operations manager did not ask about sales, costs, staffing ,KPIs , profit and loss which they normally do. The interview was held in the staff room not office so people were in and out.Imshocked that the HR manager said what she said in the email to the recruitment company as i had spoke about the things in the email that she said i had not, i told the first manager in the first part, also they never asked me or about my swot analysis. The email sent to me before i went said they will run through a breakdown of the store ,which they did not, also for me to take down the number of the taxi in case they cant drop me off at my hotel because of there flight. I have sent a reply to the recruitmen
marc - 30-Jun-15 @ 9:12 PM
@JonS. The most sensible option is to tell the truth. Keep it simple and try to keep it balanced. i.e don't come across as bitter or too critical of your ex employer, but do not allow yourself to be seen as "unable to cope other strong personalities"
SafeWorkers - 8-Jun-15 @ 12:21 PM
Hello, I have been on sick leave for a month and a half in 2014 and 2 weeks in 2015 (increasing) The main reason was stress due to bullying and attempts to make me resign by my line manager. HR is doing its best to support my line manager in all this. Although I am not in UK at the moment, my employer has an office in UK and I will be heading back there for good before the end of the year. A recruiter could ask me about sick leave and could even have some data provided by my current employer at one point of the recruitment process. How can I handle this? I would prefer not to lie nor to give away too much info on a controversial situation (court is being involved in the case). Please advise...
JonS - 4-Jun-15 @ 9:14 AM
Hello I am a French national working in Paris. I'm hoping to move to the UK and thus am looking for employment in London and its surrounding areas. The question I'm mostly frequently faced with by interviewers is what my current salary in France is. now I know that in the US this is a question that employers should NOT ask. Remuneration should not be based on current salaries but rather on the job profile, candidate's experience, company budget etc. I would like to know whether in the UK this question is commonly asked. Are we expected to answer and if demanded provide a payslip? Thanks Tony
Tony - 26-May-15 @ 10:43 AM
Due to financial difficulties to pay for my daughter's summer camp, I proposed to my employer to change my working schedule, which was denied. I proposed that for this summer I would like to work 4 consecutive days instead of 5 consecutive days during the week. Is there any other way or any law that can allow me to change my current work schedule? Please let me know.
Jackie - 24-May-15 @ 1:48 AM
@ninni. Please read our article on what to do when your employer changes your hours, it answers some questions that are very similar to yours.
SafeWorkers - 8-May-15 @ 12:14 PM
My employer wants to change my shift times from 4.45am start to 6.30 am... I have work for the same company for 15 years, when I first started my start time was 6.00 am till 8.00 am then after 7 years I asked to change it to 4.45 am as my life circumstances changed.. I have been working 4.45 am till 7.45 am for the last 8 years now..... I don't remember ever signing a work contract, I was taken on in a verbal contract.. Can my employer change my hours??? If they do I will have to hand in my notice as it is not possible for me to do.... What are my rights? Please help....
ninni - 3-May-15 @ 1:36 PM
Age discrimination laws are ignored by each company in this country. A copy of your passport is always required at application and interview stages, when you are from the European Union. The first thing employers check is your date of birth/ place of birth. I am also concerned about identity fraud, the number of time I have given a copy of my passport to complete strangers while looking for work, it is irrelevant. This should not be permitted. Not to forget all the recruitment agencies filling and using your personal information and references for prospect purposes without your consent, asking you paperwork and bank details without even offering you a job or arranging an interview with their clients. This is becoming really nasty being unemployed even for a short period. Recently, I even had a recruiter laughing when he saw I was living in Morden from my cv, making jokes with her colleague I quote : 'You wouldn't know where it is, it is South London, it's really too far away from the office !' (with the mocking tone, understand : Morden is too dodgy for our corporate posh city office and lifestyle ) Their rejection feedback : We felt that you would'nt fit well within the existing team members because your personality is not outgoing enough ( understand : 'you are too old to get along with fellows in their early 20s living in privileged areas of central London')
LucieLee - 6-Apr-15 @ 2:42 PM
@ta54. yes they probably can. It depends what your contract states.
SafeWorkers - 18-Mar-15 @ 11:59 AM
I have applied for a day position in my company where I currently work nights the role is exactly the same as the job I am doing now but have been turned down as they want to keep me on nights as they say I would be to hard to replace , can they do this
ta54 - 16-Mar-15 @ 9:24 AM
Is an employer permitted to ask questions about your health?Today went to care home to discuss returning to work (having never actually started, due to health scare prior to starting and wanting to get things sorted first) and interviewer wanted to know all kinds of details about the symptoms.I was really uncomfortable talking about it, and told her, but she didn't stop so I did say things I was unhappy about her knowing - because not at all relevant!She wrote stuff down and at the end said it would be a matter for other directors, so now it may be shared with others.I am really not happy about this - do I have any rights to ask for her notes back?
Maj - 25-Feb-15 @ 2:00 PM
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