What You Can Ask (and What You Can’t) at a Job Interview

In the old days, employers were free to ask job applicants pretty much anything at all. The job interview could veer from the strictly professional to the embarrassingly personal and back again.  Those days are gone—and that’s probably a good thing.  Still, it’s surprising that job interviews go astray from time to time, even into areas that are, without question, against the law. 

Start at the beginning.  Because state law prohibits discrimination against people aged 40 and older, you can’t ask “How old are you?” or “In what year did you graduate from high school?”  It’s acceptable to request, after employment, that the individual provide proof of age.

Marital status is taboo.  Don’t ask who the applicant is living with or how many children they might have.  And, no matter how obvious, do not ask a female candidate, “Are you pregnant?”  Possible alternative questions include, “Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?” or “What responsibilities or commitments do you have that might prevent you from meeting a specific work deadline?”

Personal questions are off the table, too—even inquiries about height and weight.  It is permissible to ask if the applicant can lift a 50-pound weight and carry it 100 yards, if that is a requirement of the job.

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, any pre-employment inquiries that require the candidate to disclose a disability are illegal.  This includes references to medical history, family health or the date of the applicant’s last physical.  Instead, ask, “Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?”

A job interview can’t include questions about a person’s citizenship or country of origin (not even “Are you a U.S. citizen?”).   If it’s relevant to job performance, ask if the candidate has any language abilities that might be helpful.  It’s also OK to ask, “Are you authorized to work in the United States?”

Discrimination against men and women enrolled in military service is illegal.   This means no questions about what type of military discharge the applicant had.  It’s acceptable to inquire as to the type of training or education received while serving in the military.

Other areas of “illegal questions” include affiliations with clubs or social organizations.  And stay away from any questions relating to a job candidate’s race, color or religion.  Stick to the position under consideration and focus on how well the candidate’s experience, training and judgment are suited for the job.

To learn more about the questions you can ask, or to have someone handle the interview process for you, contact High Profile Staffing for more information.