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Job Interview: Questions That Should Not Be Asked

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 22 Jun 2017 | 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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[Add a Comment]
Greg - Your Question:
I'm a switchboard Supervisor in the NHS. I work varied shifts, mainly evening, and some weekends but these have always been based on a set four week rota. I get the impression that they now want to give us a rota for the following month that can change every month. This will have a significant affect on my ability to plan events in my personal life, if I never know when I am going to be working.Can anyone give me some advice on this?

Our Response:
Does your contract mention anything about a set rota or notice period for changes to a rota? If so, you maybe able to object to this change in your contract. See our guide here for more information on objecting.
SafeWorkers - 4-Jul-17 @ 2:16 PM
I'm a switchboard Supervisor in the NHS.I work varied shifts, mainly evening, and some weekends but these have always been based on a set four week rota.I get the impression that they now want to give us a rota for the following month that can change every month. This will have a significant affect on my ability to plan events in my personal life, if I never know when I am going to be working. Can anyone give me some advice on this?
Greg - 22-Jun-17 @ 8:46 PM
I was interviewed for a bookeeper position within a property management company last week. The accounts manager and her colleague were lovely The business manager however was very intrusive with his questions. How old are you How old is your child What are your childcare arrangements and will it interfere with the job What school does your child go to Where in the town were you raised and what schools did you go to How have you supported yourself finacially since relocating here (just moved back to my home town near my mum after being elsewhere for 18 years) So your mum was raised here then? What benefits will you be entitled to if you take/we offer you the position? The position was advertised for 26 hours but i was asked how many hours i would need to work to be entitled to benefits such as housing benefit. And these are just a few that i can actually remember off the top of my head As far as im aware they havnt filled the position yet. I honestly came away from the interview wanting to cry. Im AAT level 2 qualified along with other qualifications and fully capable of the position. Am i correct in thinking that most of these questions are not allowed to be asked?
SuzueQ - 24-May-17 @ 4:41 PM
Is it ilegal or just immoral, in the UK, to be asked to fill a page of checkboxes asking questions like sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious beliefs, marital status, medical condition and age span (like from 18-25 or 25-30 and so on) during a job interview?
Tethys - 9-May-17 @ 2:15 PM
Vix - Your Question:
I have worked in my current job for 3 years. About 5 months ago, I asked one if the directors if I could change my hours to finish half an hour early, everyday (and cutting my lunch break to accommodate) to help with care for my elderly mother in law who has dementia. He agreed to this. Now the other director has questioned it and says it's not good for business and needs office cover. Can he demand I change back? Also, they assumed I would be a key holder but I don't want that responsibility after 2 break ins - can they insist I'm a key Holder?

Our Response:
If your contract amended when they change was made to your hours, you can object to changing it back. If the business needs are such that you need to cover under your exisiting hours then the company might be able to force this change. See our guide here for more details. As for being a key holder, check your employer's risk assessment and any risk reduction measures that are put in place. Discuss additional requirements with your employer.
SafeWorkers - 6-Apr-17 @ 11:23 AM
I have worked in my current job for 3 years.About 5 months ago, I asked one if the directors if I could change my hours to finish half an hour early, everyday (and cutting my lunch break to accommodate) to help with care for my elderly mother in law who has dementia.He agreed to this.Now the other director has questioned it and says it's not good for business and needs office cover.Can he demand I change back?Also, they assumed I would be a key holder but I don't want that responsibility after 2 break ins - can they insist I'm a key Holder?
Vix - 4-Apr-17 @ 6:55 PM
Dio13 - Your Question:
I was interviewed by a company in the construction business for a role as an information project manager. All the interviews were brilliant and according to the company's recruiter,. I had very good chances of getting the job. For the final interview, I was asked to complete a task: Put together a full presentation on what will be my strategy for information management in the next 6 months, how would I do it applying my experience and what are the issues I had identified in my future employer's approach. Obviously this work was no simple task given the scope of the role, it took me two days of analysis. The final interview came and I met with the program manager, whose first question was "where are you from?" Then I explained I am an EU national, living in the UK for about 2 years for family reasons (my wife's company relocated her to the UK). After the presentation the said they were impressed my knowledge and the strategy I presented was superb. After 2 days, they sent me a rejection letter without any feedback. It was only after I requested an explanation of their decision that they claimed "I should have done more research on the company, and they didn't feel I have enough experience dealing with customer services" when I had overwhelming evidence of the opposite, a very good track record in the UK working for other organisations and outstanding references. a week later I saw in Linkedin they hired someone who was not born in Britain, but does have a British passport, with much less experience, and I know for a fact, they built a plan based on the strategy I outlined. I find it utterly disgusting and I would like to know if I have a basis for a legal case against the said organisation.

Our Response:
It might be worth considering seeking legal advice here. In asking you for a project of this depth, the employer has effectively asked you to do 2 days work for free. It might be difficult to claim discrimination unless you have good evidence but it could be worth looking into as well.
SafeWorkers - 3-Apr-17 @ 11:19 AM
I was interviewed by a company in the construction business for a role as an information project manager. All the interviews were brilliant and according to the company's recruiter,. I had very good chances of getting the job. For the final interview, I was asked to complete a task: Put together a full presentation on what will be my strategy for information management in the next 6 months, how would I do it applying my experience and what are the issues I had identified in my future employer's approach. Obviously this work was no simple task given the scope of the role, it took me two days of analysis. The final interview came and I met with the program manager, whose first question was "where are you from?" Then I explained I am an EU national, living in the UK for about 2 years for family reasons (my wife's company relocated her to the UK). After the presentation the said they were impressed my knowledge and the strategy I presented was superb. After 2 days, they sent me a rejection letter without anyfeedback. It was only after I requested an explanation of their decision that they claimed "I should have done more research on the company, and they didn't feel I have enough experience dealing with customer services" when I had overwhelming evidence of the opposite, a very good track record in the UK working for other organisations and outstanding references. a week later I saw in Linkedin they hired someone who was not born in Britain, but does have a British passport, with much less experience, and I know for a fact, they built a plan based on the strategy I outlined. I find it utterly disgusting and I would like to know if I have a basis for a legal case against the said organisation.
Dio13 - 31-Mar-17 @ 9:54 AM
You should look into it then, surely there's copyright rules there?
Beth - 23-Feb-17 @ 1:52 PM
Beth - Your Question:
Love how the paragraph on questions about place of birth starts exactly word for word the same as a similar article on Monster. wonder who copied who.

Our Response:
Ours was written back in 2008 by the author named above so we do hope it's us that were first! All the authors we use, sign a declaration to say that their work is original and we also use 'copyscape' software to check for duplications elsewhere on the Internet. Well spotted though!
SafeWorkers - 23-Feb-17 @ 11:18 AM
Love how the paragraph on questions about place of birth starts exactly word for word the same as a similar article on Monster... wonder who copied who...
Beth - 22-Feb-17 @ 9:26 AM
I currently work Monday - Friday but my shift has changed to Tuesday - Saturday without any notice from my employee.Should I not have had a relevant period of notice for this?
rabbit - 19-Oct-16 @ 7:54 PM
Blu - Your Question:
I work for an organisation. I am developing a personal relationship with someone at work and we are seeking accommodation together. Other colleagues have made a complaint in relation to conflict of interest. One staff member has been servaling us writing down times we have been occupying the same house outside of work time. I am a supervisor but do not supervise the person I am dating. My managers are asking personal questions such as. Are we in a relationship? How long have we been dating? How many bedrooms our accommodation has and our sleeping arrangements. A staff member thinks they saw us kissing in a bar and has reported this. We have been questioned about this too. The company says that the relationship causes problems with the integrity of the company. I have been questioned about an age gap between myself and my partner. They have explained that they are really disappointed in me and I will be disciplined under loss of trust and confidence. My partner is being threatened with losing their job and disciplinery meetings are being arranged. Does this infringe on section 8 of the human rights act? Do I have an obligation to discuss my relationship with my managers. We show no affection to each other at work and our paths rarely cross. I have offered to demote myself or work in a different department. They are suggesting that we lied about having a relationship and trying to catch us out by suggesting we were in a relationship for longer than we have been. Please help. I am so stressed, and depressed about this I am shaking. I feel totally violated that my life outside of work is being questioned. We have both been told that we are very good at out jobs.

Our Response:
There is nothing in employment law that specifically mentions workplace relationships/romance but many employers do have their own policies on this; these should be listed in the employee handbook.
SafeWorkers - 6-Sep-16 @ 11:41 AM
I work for an organisation.I am developing a personal relationship with someone at work and we are seeking accommodation together. Other colleagues have made a complaint in relation to conflict of interest. One staff member has been servaling us writing down times we have been occupying the same house outside of work time. I am a supervisor but do not supervise the person I am dating. My managers are asking personal questions such as... Are we in a relationship? How long have we been dating? How many bedrooms our accommodation has and our sleeping arrangements. A staff member thinks they saw us kissing in a bar and has reported this.We have been questioned about this too. The company says that the relationship causes problems with the integrity of the company. I have been questioned about an age gap between myself and my partner. They have explained that they are really disappointed in me and I will be disciplined under loss of trust and confidence. My partner is being threatened with losing their job and disciplinery meetings are being arranged. Does this infringe on section 8 of the human rights act? Do I have an obligation to discuss my relationship with my managers.We show no affection to each other at work and our paths rarely cross. I have offered to demote myself or work in a different department.They are suggesting that we lied about having a relationship and trying to catch us out by suggesting we were in a relationship for longer than we have been. Please help. I am so stressed, and depressed about this I am shaking.I feel totally violated that my life outside of work is being questioned.We have both been told that we are very good at out jobs.
Blu - 3-Sep-16 @ 6:56 AM
I went to an interview and asked the following questions stupidly I answered then later on realised I don't think I should of as not legal. I got asked if I was single, where I was born, what my parents do for a living. Where I live who with...
Fkg - 11-Jul-16 @ 9:37 PM
Anne - Your Question:
Hi. I recently applied for a vacancy. They got back to me asking for a recent photo of myself. Is this legal? The job is within the beauty industry, but on the business side of things.

Our Response:
Usually a photo will be required if the job involves modelling or there's a specific requirement for a type of person (an actor in a play for example) - but otherwise, no you shouldn't be asked for a photo.
SafeWorkers - 8-Jul-16 @ 12:50 PM
I have just received a phone call from an employer asking me about my age and nationality; when I said I am from a country in the EU area, the person kept on insisting for me to have to say what my nationality is because the person has though I had a different passport within the EU because I speak many languages. I opted for not to disclose my nationality although the person knew I did not need a work permit because I am from a country in the EU and as a consequence decided to stop the conversation arguing that our communication "wasn't good". I wonder if this person had the legal right to make only personal questions and not to ask anything about my cv. From my opinion this is not very professional as the person did not ask about my work experiences but concentrated on personal details instead what does not define me as a person as neither my character because I lived abroad for many years and my personality has nothing to do with my passport. I consider this is a clear case of discrimination and I would like to know if there is anything I can do in case this happens again as I don't think I have the obligation to respond to those questions.
mgd - 6-Jul-16 @ 3:27 PM
Hi. I recently applied for a vacancy.They got back to me asking for a recent photo of myself. Is this legal?The job is within the beauty industry, but on the business side of things.
Anne - 6-Jul-16 @ 2:03 PM
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
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