As you know, I love to compare interviewing to dating. The similarities are plentiful. It’s all about getting to know someone well enough to determine whether you want to spend the foreseeable future with him.
When I was single, my father offered this sage dating advice:
“On your first date, make sure to ask if the guy is on any drugs — prescribed or illicit. The answer will provide insight about his health and his nefarious activities! Also, ask him what his religious beliefs are. It’s not that they need to conform to yours, but you want to make sure he knows what he believes and doesn’t need to form a committee to tell him what he thinks. You should ask how much money he’s got in the bank, too. Make sure he’s financially stable and doesn’t have debt. Finally, ask him about his family and his plans for starting one. You want to know what you’re getting into.”
Thanks, Poppy. These are valuable dating questions, even if they make for an incredibly awkward first date.
But would you be surprised to know they are all terrible questions to ask a candidate during an interview?
Why? Because discussing these topics could get you into legal hot water when it comes to potential discrimination.
In fact, there are a host of topics you should avoid like the plague during an interview. Steer clear of questions that divulge or are about:
- National origin
- Age (Incidentally, it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against someone for being too young. It’s when someone crosses the 40 threshold that you need to be careful about things going the other way.)
- Medical history
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Military discharge status
- Arrest record/conviction record
- Social drinking/drug habits
- Child-rearing plans
I know what you’re thinking. “Thanks, Captain Obvious. I would never ask questions about these things!” Are you sure? If you’re not careful, you might inadvertently ask something you shouldn’t. For instance:
- “I love your accent. Where are you from?” Oops. You’ve opened up the national origin can of worms.
- “This role will require a fair amount of outreach to Millennials and Gen X, so we want someone who can relate to them. Do you fall into either crowd?” Oops. You’ve just broached the age subject.
- The candidate comments on the family photo in your office. You instinctively reply, “Thanks. Are you married? Do you have kids?” Oops. You’ve touched on marital status and child-rearing plans.
To be clear, it’s not necessarily illegal to ask or to know about all of these topics; but it is potentially illegal to discriminate based on these factors. So, it’s best to avoid them altogether!
Stated another way, avoid interview inquiries that are not job-related!
If you’re curious, Dad’s dating advice paid off. I (eventually) asked all of the dating questions he suggested and was pleased with what I heard. And in an odd twist of fate, I ended up marrying an employment attorney, who, by the way, has reviewed this article and given it his tacit approval, which is about as good as it gets when it comes to lawyers!
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this article should not be construed as legal advice. And yes, my husband made me include this.