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The Do’s and theDon’ts of Interviewing

An interview is an employer’s opportunity to learn more about an applicant’s experience, skills, and knowledge as it pertains to the applied for position. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or any other class protected under federal or state law.

Also, an employer may not base hiring decisions on stereotypes or assumptions about an applicant’s protected class. In the course of the interview, however, it is easy for employers to inadvertently create problems by asking seemingly innocent questions that may appear discriminatory or elicit a discriminatory response. You can reduce the likelihood of a problem by only asking questions that relate to the job for which the applicant is interviewing.

If an applicant begins to disclose information which could fall into a discriminatory or risky area, the interviewer should politely stop them and advise that the information is not necessary.


Below are suggestions on how to correct common interviewing mistakes: Potential Sex/Gender Discrimination

Instead of:

  1. What is your maiden name? Are you married or do you plan on getting married?

  2. Questions about the number of, or ages of, children or dependents, or plans to have children.

  3. Questions about childcare arrangements.

You may ask:

  1. Have you ever used another name?

  2. What is the name and address of your parent or guardian? (If the applicant is a minor.)

  3. Make statements about the company’s policies on attendance and tardiness.

Potential Disability Discrimination

Instead of:

  1. How many days have you missed work because of illness? Have you taken FMLA?

  2. Questions about the applicant’s general medical condition, state of health, or illnesses.

  3. Questions regarding job-related injuries or the receipt of workers’ compensation benefits.

  4. Questions likely to elicit information about a disability.

  5. Do you suffer from any mental or physical illnesses?

  6. Questions about applicant’s current or past legal use of drugs/medications.

  7. Questions about applicant’s past use of illegal drugs or alcohol that are likely to elicit information about whether the applicant was a past drug or alcohol addict.

  8. Have you ever been treated for drug addiction or alcohol abuse?

You may:

  1. With respect to the applicant’s attendance record at his/her former employer: How many Mondays or Fridays were you absent last year on leave other than approved vacation leave?

  2. Ask whether the applicant will need a reasonable accommodation for the hiring process.

  3. Ask whether the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

  4. State that offers may be contingent on the applicant passing a job-related physical examination as long as the same physical exam is required of all persons entering the same position.

Potential Age Discrimination

Instead of:

  1. How old are you? What is your date of birth?

  2. When did you attend/complete elementary/high school?

  3. Questions which tend to identify applicants over age 40.

You may ask:

  1. Make a statement that hiring is subject to verification that the applicant meets legal age requirements.

  2. Ask about degrees and/or certificates awarded from a school or college (if required for the job).

  3. Are you over 18 years of age? If hired, can you show proof of age?

  4. If under 18 can you, upon beginning employment, submit a work permit (if required by your state)?

Potential National Origin Discrimination

Instead of:

  1. Questions as to the nationality, lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent, or parentage of the applicant, the applicant’s parents, or spouse.

  2. What language do you commonly speak?

  3. How did you learn to read, write, or speak a foreign language?

  4. Where were (you, parents, spouse, or other relatives) born?

  5. Are you a U.S. citizen? Or any questions about the citizenship of the applicant’s parents, spouse, or other relatives.

You may ask:

  1. Can you, upon beginning employment, submit verification of your legal right to work in the United States?

  2. Make a statement that such proof may be required to begin employment.

  3. About the language the applicant reads, speaks, or writes, if the use of a language other than English is relevant to the job for which the applicant is applying.

Potential Race Discrimination


  1. Questions as to applicant’s race.

  2. Questions regarding applicant’s complexion or color of skin, eyes, or hair.

  3. Questions about political and/or social organizations.

Potential Discrimination Based on Religion

Instead of:

  1. Questions about the applicant’s religion.

  2. Does your religion prevent you from working weekends or holidays?

You may:

Make statements regarding the regular days, hours, or shifts to be worked and ask if the applicant will be able to meet those requirements.

Other Prohibited Questions/Topics


Do not ask questions about arrests and convictions for the purpose of making an employment decision. In many states, such inquiries are expressly prohibited. In addition, the EEOC also has stated that employees or applicants may not be disqualified solely on the basis of a criminal conviction, unless the employer can justify its action based on “business necessity.” If you believe you have a “business necessity” and plan to ask about criminal history, you should consult legal counsel or an HR specialist.


Don’t ask:

  1. Questions about the applicant’s service in a foreign military.

  2. Questions about an applicant’s required service in the National Guard.

You may ask:

  1. ONLY if disclosed on your application: From the perspective of the service being part of the individual’s employment history; general questions about the applicant’s military service, such as the dates and type of discharge.

  2. What skills did you acquired during your U.S. military service?


Be aware that many states prohibit an employer’s ability to use credit history for an applicant or employee when making employment decisions. The EEOC has also issued guidance stating that using credit history can had an adverse impact on minorities and women. In general, it is recommended that you use or ask about credit history only if there is a business/industry and/or position related reason for doing so.

Avoid asking:

1. Questions about the applicant’s current or past assets, liabilities, or credit rating, including bankruptcy or garnishment.

General Considerations


You may ask:

  1. When can you start work?

  2. Can you meet the employer’s attendance requirements?

  3. Have you ever applied for employment with this company before? Where? When?

  4. Who was (were) your former employer(s)? What was your position?

  5. How long did you work there? Why did you leave?


Questions about education can have an adverse impact on minorities. As such, employers should only

ask about education if required for the job.

If required of the job, you may ask:

  1. What subjects did you study? What research work have you done?

  2. What school did you attend?

  3. Did you graduate?

  4. Do you have (or do you intend to get) a certain/specified certification or license required for any job duties?


Instead of:

Questions of the applicant’s former employers or acquaintances which may elicit information regarding that applicant’s race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, sex, or age.

You may ask:

  1. Who is willing to provide professional and/or character references for you?

  2. How many years have you known [the reference]?

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