Things You Shouldn’t Do During Interviews, Employers

by | Nov 7, 2023 | Ethics, Human Resources Management, Workplace | 0 comments

Can you believe we still need to write about these interview sins?

After a phone screen and an in-person interview, a potential employee met with one of the firm’s executives. The candidate felt they had developed a good rapport with some of the members of the team, though they had a nagging feeling that the culture of the office had a tinge of old-fashioned outdatedness. However, they shrugged it off and went to the office for the interview prepared with questions.

During the interview, after fielding some questions about the nuts-and-bolts of the role from the job description, the executive began shifting the questions toward a more personal level, asking about hobbies and favorite places. The interview seemed to be moving along well, and the candidate felt that they had some common ground regarding their educational background — they reveled in the fact that the executive liked their alma mater. Stating that he simply wanted to know more about the candidate as a person, he asked the following questions:

  • “Are you married?”
  • “You didn’t mention any children. Can I assume you don’t have any?”
  • “At your age, I would imagine that you don’t plan on having any children this late in life. Is that right?”
  • “What religion do you practice? We need to be sure your holidays align with our in-office time.”

Having answered the answers with no objection, the executive felt validated and offered the role to the candidate, who accepted a few days later. Subsequently, this type of questioning continued for other interviews in the future, including the scrutiny of the caliber of colleges because both this new hire and this executive professed to be “school snobs.”

No-No’s for Employers During Interviews

Employers should never ask questions of a discriminatory nature or that one could use to discriminate against a candidate. They may not intend to discriminate, but they must still beware of bias issues stemming from out-of-bounds questions (Leonard, 2015). These can include questions about a candidate’s:

  • age, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, or pregnancy
  • health, disability, or medical history
  • criminal history unless the job requires a criminal background check (Note: There is no Federal law that clearly prohibits an employer from asking about arrest and conviction records, however, several state laws limit the use of arrest and conviction records by prospective employers. Review state-specific laws for additional guidelines.)
  • salary history
  • personal beliefs or political views.

Employers should also avoid asking questions about personal qualities that could make the candidate feel uncomfortable. These can include questions about a candidate’s:

  • hobbies or interests
  • social media accounts
  • why you went to a certain school
  • family or personal life.

Making selection decisions based on unfair, illegal, or discriminatory questions puts companies at risk of losing good workers, tarnishing their reputation, and defending the company in court. Organizations should consider training in interviewing for all executives, line managers, human resources staff, and other stakeholders within the interview process. Furthermore, monitor candidate reactions and notes collected by interviewers for potential risks.

What To Do When Faced with an Out-of-Bounds Interview Question

If an employer asks you a question that you feel is inappropriate, you can politely decline to answer it. If you feel that the interviewer asked a discriminatory question, you can also explain your impression and decline if you do not feel comfortable answering it. Remember, you should interview the employer as much as they interview you.

Here are some additional tips for dealing with inappropriate interview questions:

  • Stay calm and professional. Don’t get angry or defensive.
  • Explain why the question is inappropriate. You can refer to the EEOC’s guidelines on prohibited interview questions (EEOC, 2023).
  • Ask the interviewer to clarify the purpose of the question. This may help you to understand why they are asking it and whether they have a legitimate business reason for doing so.
  • Refuse to answer the question. You have the right to refuse to answer any question that you deem inappropriate.
  • Report the incident to HR. If you feel that you have experienced unfair discrimination, you should report the incident to the organization’s Human Resources department.

Remember, as a candidate, you have the right to a fair and impartial interview process. If an employer asks you an inappropriate question, you should not feel obligated to answer it. As much as the employer seeks to find a good fit for the role, candidates must also look for a fit with their personal values and beliefs.

The resources found in the reference section provide a comprehensive list of questions that employers may not legally ask and should not ethically ask during an interview. They also explain the legal implications of asking these questions and how to respond if you are asked an inappropriate question.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (2023). What shouldn’t I ask when hiring? EEOC.

Leonard, B. (2015). Unwittingly Asking Improper Interview Questions. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Yale University. (2023). Illegal interview questions. Yale.

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