Interview Question Guidelines … What You Can Legally Ask

In an interview, asking someone about their children may seem like a natural flow of conversation. But it’s illegal. And an applicant may later claim that the question (and information given) were used to discriminate against him or her.

Businesswoman Interviewing Female Job Applicant In OfficeBeginning in the ’60s, job applicants first became protected by law from discrimination in hiring. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces some of the laws that protect against discrimination based on: race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information.

When interviewing prospective employees, personal information related to these topics is clearly off limits. Here are a few specifics when it comes to some of these protected topics (For more details and a complete list, check out the EEOC Web site.):


Subject: Age

Acceptable: If hired, can you provide proof that you are 18 years of age?

Unacceptable: What is your date of birth? What is your age?

Subject: Residence

Acceptable: Are you willing to relocate?

Unacceptable: Do you own or rent your residence? Give the names and relationships of persons residing with you.

age discrimination in interview

Subject: Photograph

Acceptable: A photograph may be required after hire for identification card or other ID purposes.

Unacceptable: Submit a photograph with your application form or after the interview.


Subject: Education

Acceptable: List your academic, vocational or professional education and the public and private schools attended.

Unacceptable: List the dates you attended or graduated from high school or college.


Subject: Citizenship

Acceptable: Are you legally eligible for employment in the U.S.?

Unacceptable: Of what country are you a citizen? Are you or other members of your family naturalized citizens? If so, when did you or they become citizens? Do you intend to become a U.S. citizen? Attach a copy of your naturalization papers to your application form.


Subject: National Origin/Ancestry

diversity, job interviewAcceptable: What languages do you read, speak or write fluently? (Ask only if another language is a job requirement.)

Unacceptable: What is your lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent, parentage or nationality? What is your native language? What is the nationality of your parents and spouse?


Subject: Height and Weight

Acceptable: None, unless employer proves that a bona fide occupational qualification is involved

Unacceptable: What is your height and weight?


Subject: Arrests and Convictions

Acceptable: Have you ever been convicted of a crime? (If the application form asks for information on convictions, the employer must indicate that a conviction itself does not constitute an automatic bar to employment and will be considered only insofar as it relates to fitness to perform the job in question.)

Unacceptable: Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been charged with any crime? Have you ever been convicted?


Subject: Marital or Family Status

Acceptable: None (An employer may ask all applicants, male and female alike, if they have any commitments or responsibilities that might prevent them from meeting attendance requirements or if they anticipate lengthy absences from work.)

Unacceptable: What is your marital status? What is your spouse’s name? What was your maiden name? How many children do you have? Are you pregnant? Do you plan to have children? What day-care provisions have you made for your children?


Subject: Organizations

Acceptable: List any professional, trade or service organizations of which you are a member.

Unacceptable: List all social organizations, clubs, societies and lodges to which you belong.


Subject: Disabilities

Acceptable: Are you capable of performing the necessary assignments of this position in a safe manner?

Unacceptable: Are you disabled?

When interviewing job applicants, keep your questions structured and avoid legally protected topics. Laws change periodically, so be sure your hiring practices are current and compliant. And, if someone volunteers information on one of these subjects, it’s important not to use this information as a deciding factor when hiring.

interview job

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