interview questions image

never, but never, ask these questions in a remote interview.

When you’re conducting a remote interview, you always want to first put your interviewee at ease. Most interviews open with some small talk to relax the atmosphere. But beware: Some of these innocent, everyday questions are illegal when used as interview questions — even when you’re asking them just to sound friendly.

Why?

Because directly or indirectly, they touch on protected information.

Here’s how it works.

one of the most popular interview questions is: when did you graduate college?

This is a really common interview question. But according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) it should never be asked. It sounds like friendly small talk — and that might be your only intention! But it will tell you right away how old the candidate is, and age is protected information.

Another closely related question is, “How long have you been working?” Again, sounds innocuous. But stay away, especially because the question is more or less superfluous. You did read the candidate’s resume before the interview. (We hope.)

Now, if the candidate volunteers that kind of information — “Yeah, I was in the Yale class of 1993” — don’t freak out. Just smile and say “cool” or “nice” or whatever you feel is appropriate. Then steer the conversation away from age-related topics.

the interview is in december. Naturally you ask, “so what are you doing for the holidays?”

See? That was fine. You didn’t ask about any specific holidays. So it’s all good, right?

Wrong. Any question that touches on religion is a problem. You don’t even want to take a chance on being seen as trying to determine your interviewee’s religious beliefs.

One HR manager I know of used to ask every job candidate if he or she believed in evolution. Now, that would’ve been fine if he was looking for a professor to teach a series on The Origin of Species. But he wasn’t. The question had absolutely nothing to do with the company or the position. Seeing as the company had no interest in being sued, they were not happy when they found out.

i really like your accent. Where are you from?

If you’re reading this and you’re a lawyer, you can probably smell the lawsuit. If you’re reading this and you’re not a lawyer you probably have absolutely no idea why on earth a friendly interview question like that should be a problem.

But it is. Because when you ask someone where they’re from what you’re really asking is about their ethnicity. And in a job interview, that’s unlawful because ethnicity is protected information.

i see you’re expecting. Do you have any questions about our maternity leave policy?

Never, but never asked any questions related to pregnancy and childbirth. That’s because in addition to the EEOC there’s what’s called the PDA: Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It basically states that employers and potential employers cannot take pregnancy or the need for childcare into account when onboarding.

What to do if the job requires some physical exertion and you’re genuinely concerned? Ask in a roundabout way: “Do you think you can lift heavy boxes a few times a week?”

last of the 5 interview questions: so how many kids do you have?

Are you frustrated yet? I would be. Of all the interview questions in the world, what could possibly be wrong with asking someone how many kids they have? It has to be one of the most frequently-asked social questions.

All true. But asking any details about family life is wandering straight back into the protected information zone.

By now you might be wondering if there are any casual interview questions left that HR can ask.

Great question.

We’ll be talking about that next time.