If you’re going to be successful as a recruiter, you need to know that the questions you ask job candidates must be job-related and non-discriminatory. Questions should focus on the essential functions, knowledge, skills, and abilities that candidates need to perform a role. The best way to do this is to base all questions on the relevant job description for a role.
The reality is, it’s easy for recruiters to slip up—but that’s no excuse. If you’re interviewing candidates, you need to be aware of questions to avoid.
As a business, you want to hire the best talent out there. Discriminating interview practices stop that from happening. But if that wasn’t enough, interview compliance is overseen by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
The EEOC enforce civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age (for those 40 of over), disability, sexual identity, gender identity and genetic information. These laws generally apply to companies with 15 or more employees. Meanwhile, the OFCCP is responsible for enforcing non-discriminatory practices among federal contractors.
Both these organization have the ability to impose big penalties on non-compliant businesses.
Interview Topics to Avoid
In addition to federal laws, many states have their own laws governing interviews. Make sure you know the official guidance wherever you are. Here are topics you should be wary of inquiring about:
- Past and Current Salaries
In many states, recruiters cannot ask about an applicant’s salary history or the salary they earn in their current job.
As a rule, age discrimination only applies to those over 40. Of course, there are plenty of jobs that require employees to be over a certain age. In these cases, it’s acceptable to request proof of age. However, always keep things job related. Never attempt to fish for information by which you can calculate a candidate’s age, like by asking them when they graduated high school or college.
- Arrest and Criminal Record
Many states (and several cities) have passed ‘ban the box’ laws, prohibiting companies from requiring that candidates submit their criminal record. (Make sure to check the law, and qualifying criteria, wherever you operate).
This should go without saying—avoid all questions related to an applicant’s race.
Similarly, unless you have a bona fide job-related reason, avoid all questions about religion.
Businesses can ask whether a candidate is legally allowed to work in the US. Besides this, there’s no reason to ask about an applicant’s citizenship status.
- Credit Information
This is another topic its best to avoid. In some states, credit checks are considered discriminatory.
Rather than asking questions about disabilities, ask whether employees are able to meet the requirements of the job description. Read our FAQ on hiring candidates with disabilities.
- Genetic Information
There’s no good reason to ask candidates questions about their genetic information.
- Sex, Orientation or Gender Identity
Questions on any of these topics can be considered discriminatory, after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 2020.
All recruiters should know to avoid any questions about pregnancy, even if you judge it to be “obvious” that a candidate is heavily pregnant. The key is whether they can carry out the job description.
It’s usually okay to ask candidates about their availability to work, but only if this is done in a consistent way. If you treat certain groups differently (e.g., questioning whether women will be free to work in the evening) then you risk being discriminatory.
Even when you know the rules, it can still be challenging to formulate interview questions. The good news is, there’s always lawful way to find out all the information you need for your hiring process. To help recruiters, Paycor is offering a downloadable sample of interview questions you should avoid—paired with better, alternative questions to ask instead.