Job Interview: Questions That Should Not Be Asked

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) criminal background 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.

Last Updated on 11 August 2021

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