Questions Never to Ask a Candidate in a Job Interview - (2024)

Conducting an employment interview is stressful for every party involved. You are looking for the best possible new team member, and the person being interviewed is hoping to make the best possible first impression.

In today’s competitive environment, the quality of your team is paramount to your success. In your enthusiasm to find the right person, you may not think about what you should and should not ask. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOA) prohibits you from asking questions that might lead to discrimination or the appearance of discrimination.

Bottom line: you cannot ask questions that in any way relate to a candidate’s:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Color
  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Country of origin
  • Birthplace
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Pregnancy
  • Salary history (in some states)

This sounds easy, but can be hard, especially if you develop an easy rapport with the candidate during the interview. It is natural when getting to know someone to ask about family, friends, education or other off-limits topics, but that can get you into trouble during an interview. [Interested in background check services? Check out our best picks.]

When determining what questions to ask your candidates, consider what you need to know to make an educated hiring decision.

“It’s important to ask the same questions to every candidate you are interviewing for a particular position,” said Shobi Nunemacher, president of Referral Staffing Solutions. “You may have a different set of questions for different positions but when you are comparing two or more candidates for one opening, keep your questions the same.” Looking to outsource your hiring process? Working with a staffing agency can streamline the hiring process.

Editor’s Note: Looking for information on background check services? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.

What You Can and Cannot Ask

There are a variety of ways that you might think are harmless than can actually lead to legal problems. It’s important to know what you can and can’t say.


A great and common example that may not have occurred to you as a problem: “What is your national origin?” Or, more simply put, “Where are you from?” You may interview a candidate with a unique accent or someone that has mentioned they have worked in other countries and curiosity could get the best of you. And it seems perfectly harmless small talk. But legally, it’s not.

“Hold back the urge to ask where they are from,” advises Nunemacher. “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of national origin. If you ask, you could be accused of discriminating against them.”

You can ask of they are eligible to work in the United States and if they are able to provide documentation of that. Companies now require all employees to fill out an I-9 form to confirm that new hires are legally eligible for work in the U.S. [Related: Learn the Difference Between W-9 and 1099 Tax Forms]

Employers cannot ask if English is a candidate’s first language either. If it’s relevant to a position, you can ask what other languages a candidate might be able to read, speak or write fluently.

More than just that, you cannot ask if you rent or own your home, who you live with or how you know the people you live with. You can, however, ask how long a candidate has lived at their current address.


Another seemingly innocuous question might be “What is your maiden name?” Employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender or marital status.

Instead, you can ask, “Have you ever worked under another name?” Be sure that any question you ask remains the same for all candidates. The purpose of such a question might be to find out if they have a reputation, published works or accolades under another name that you might have heard of previously – not to find out if they are or were married.

“I recently interviewed a young man that is in the process of changing his name,” stated Nunemacher. “This question will be a catch-all of any name changes for any candidate, regardless of gender.”


Another seemingly innocent question is “How old are you?” Nor can you ask the more subtle, “What year did you graduate from high school?” Or “When did you first start working?” The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination because of age.

If you do have a minimum age requirement and want to be sure your candidate is eligible, Nunemacher says you can ask, “Are you over the age of 18?” or whatever the minimum age requirement is. For instance, if you’re hiring a bartender or waiter who will be serving alcohol, 37 states and Washington D.C. all require adults be at least 18 years old. Three other states require a person to be more than 21 years old and one state has an age requirement of 17.

Family Planning

Another question that can get you as an employer into trouble is “Do you have children,” or, “Do you plan to have a family?” These questions historically been used to maintain a gender imbalance in the workforce, leading some employers not to hire women strictly on the assumption that they may, someday, take maternity leave or need time off to care for a sick child. It’s illegal either way.

“You cannot ask a candidate if they are planning a family, if they are pregnant or about their childcare arrangements,” said Jackie Burkhardt, a human resources professional based in Wisconsin. “This is an illegal interview question because it reveals personal information that is not allowed to be used by employers to make hiring decisions.”

Instead, she advises to ask questions that are relevant to the job description and requirements.


Pregnancy is considered eligible for disability pay, which is another reason you can’t ask about a candidate’s status. But other disabilities are just as protected. For instance, you cannot ask, “Have you ever filed a workers compensation claim?” or, “Do you have a disability?”

Many positions may have lifting or other physical ability requirements. While you need to know the candidate is capable of performing the requirements, you cannot ask, “How is your health?”

“It’s illegal for employers to ask an applicant if they are in good health or if they have had any past illnesses or operations,” said Burkhardt. You are not allowed to ask about their height, weight or any details regarding any physical or mental limitations.

Something that might not occur to everyone; you can’t ask if a candidate drinks socially or has ever used illegal drugs. If a person is a recovering alcoholic or other type of addict, for instance, their treatment would be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Or, if they avoid alcohol for religious reasons, you could face a charge of religious discrimination.

“An employer can, however, ask if the applicant is able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations,” she continued.

In those instances, describe the physical requirements, even if they were listed in the ad or job description. You can ask, “Are you able to execute the necessary job requirements of this position, and perform them well and safely?” That is a reasonable and legal question.

Salary history

Women are paid 79 cents for every dollar that men make, according to the United States Census Bureau. Black and Hispanic women earn even less than that. Federal law already technically prohibits gender-based pay discrimination, but it’s a difficult thing to prove. So, some states have taken a step to stop this discrimination at the job interview level.

California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon and Puerto Rico have all made some salary-related interview questions illegal. And in New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh each have similar laws on the books now. While it may not apply in your city or state yet, it’s a safest to just avoid questions like “What is your current salary?”

Instead, determine the salary for any given position up front. During the interview, make that salary range known and confirm that the candidate is still interested in the position given those parameters. The idea is that this will help ensure that women and minorities who have a history of being paid less do not see that cycle perpetuated by employers who would then adjust a position’s salary down to save a few pennies.

[Related: See 6 Interview Skills That Will Get You Hired.]

Other potential problem questions

While not illegal in all states, or explicitly illegal, there are some other questions that could land your company in hot water:

  • “Have you ever been arrested?” (This is only relevant if a candidate has been convicted, and if that arrest and/or conviction would have actual bearing on the role that person would play.) This has been seen, in some cases, to lead to racial discrimination and being arrested does not mean guilty of anything.
  • “Can you work weekends or nights?” This can be seen as a question of religious observance or a proxy way of asking about family status.
  • “Do you have a bank account?” This is only fair to ask if you’re sure it’s permitted under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996.

General Job Interview Tips

Of course, you want to find the right skills, personality, abilities and knowledge to join your team. But there is a minefield of questions you’ll want to avoid when performing a job interview. In fact, 20 percent of hiring and human resources managers have admitted to asking illegal questions, according to a Harris Poll of 2,000 such employers. Don’t put your company at such risk by following these guidelines:

  • Focus interview questions relevant to the requirements of the job and determine if the candidate meets the criteria for that position.
  • Be consistent with interview process. Create a set list of questions before the first interview and stick to the script.
  • Don’t ask anything too personal.
  • Understand what is legal and illegal to ask in an interview.
Questions Never to Ask a Candidate in a Job Interview - (2024)


What questions can you not ask a candidate in an interview? ›

It is illegal to ask a candidate questions about their:
  • Age or genetic information.
  • Birthplace, country of origin or citizenship.
  • Disability.
  • Gender, sex or sexual orientation.
  • Marital status, family, or pregnancy.
  • Race, color, or ethnicity.
  • Religion.
24 Oct 2022

What should you be careful not to ask during an interview? ›

Based on the same premise as the salary question, questions not to ask during an interview include details about benefits (vacation time, sick time, insurance, and so on).

What are the two things you should never mention in an interview? ›

Things you should never say in a job interview
  • Anything negative about a previous employer or job. ...
  • "I don't know." ...
  • Discussions about benefits, vacation and pay. ...
  • "It's on my resume." ...
  • Unprofessional language. ...
  • "I don't have any questions." ...
  • Asking what the company does. ...
  • Overly prepared answers or cliches.

What is the star technique in interviews? ›

The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to a behavioral-based interview question by discussing the specific situation, task, action, and result of the situation you are describing.

What are 5 unique questions you can ask at the end of an interview? ›

Questions to ask at the end of a job interview
  • How would you describe the company's culture? ...
  • What is your favorite thing about working for this company? ...
  • How do you see this company evolving over the next five years? ...
  • How would the person in this role contribute to this vision?

What is the most common problem to avoid during interviews? ›

Common job interview mistakes to avoid
  • Dressing inappropriately.
  • Neglecting hygiene.
  • Getting to the interview late.
  • Arriving too early.
  • Eating or drinking during the interview.
  • Checking your phone.
  • Knowing nothing about the job or company.
  • Lying on your resume.

What is the most common problem to avoid during interviewing? ›

15 job interview mistakes to avoid
  1. Going in without any research. ...
  2. Turning up late. ...
  3. Dressing inappropriately. ...
  4. Fidgeting with your mobile phone and other distractions. ...
  5. Poor body language. ...
  6. Unclear answers and rambling. ...
  7. Speaking negatively about current or past employers. ...
  8. Having zero questions to ask.
10 Feb 2022

What is one 1 thing you should never do in a job interview? ›

Getting Personal or Too Familiar. Avoid giving sob stories about how much you need the job due to the mountain of debt you've accrued. Also, don't behave in a conceited or over-familiar manner; it never makes a good impression.

What you should never do or say in an interview? ›

Photos courtesy of the individual members.
  • Speak Negatively About Yourself.
  • Criticize Your Previous Employer.
  • Act As If You're Not Excited.
  • Be The First To Bring Up Compensation.
  • Ask For Feedback At The End.
  • Discuss Personal Things.
  • Ask Why The Position Is Vacant.
  • Admit You Didn't Do Your Research.
30 Mar 2021

What are some common mistakes people make with interviews? ›

Common job interview mistakes
  • Arriving late or too early.
  • Inappropriate attire.
  • Using your cellphone.
  • Not doing company research.
  • Losing your focus.
  • Unsure of resume facts.
  • Talking too much.
  • Speaking poorly of previous employers.

What's the worst thing to say at a job interview? ›

Simply saying "I don't know" in an interview is a conversation killer. This phrase is a dead end that not only amounts to admitting defeat, it shows no initiative. Remember that an interview is more than just answering questions, it's about telling the interviewer what you do know and what you can find out.

What are 4 good interview techniques? ›

Tips for a Successful Interview
  • Be on time. ...
  • Know the interviewer's name, its spelling, and pronunciation. ...
  • Have some questions of your own prepared in advance. ...
  • Bring several copies of your resume. ...
  • Have a reliable pen and a small note pad with you. ...
  • Greet the interviewer with a handshake and a smile.

What is the car method? ›

We call this the CARS Method and it stands for: CONNECTING with empathy, attention and respect. ANALYZING alternatives or choices. RESPONDING to misinformation. SETTING LIMITS on inappropriate behavior.

What is the most popular interview technique? ›

The most frequently used interview technique are structured interviews. Structured interviews are being used by 74% of HR professionals around the world. Behavioral interviews come second in a tight competition. This interview technique is being used by 73% of of HR professionals around the world.

What are powerful interview questions? ›

They're the perfect way to ease candidates into the interview and get the background information you need.
  • How did you hear about the role? ...
  • What do you know about the company? ...
  • Why did you apply? ...
  • What are your key professional strengths? ...
  • Why should we hire you? ...
  • Do you have any questions for us?
14 Apr 2022

What are the 3 best questions to ask in an interview? ›

7 good questions to ask at an interview
  • Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of the role? ...
  • How could I impress you in the first three months? ...
  • Are there opportunities for training and progression within the role/company? ...
  • Where do you think the company is headed in the next five years?

What are the three basic questions in every interviewer's mind? ›

Chances are you're going to encounter the three questions highlighted in this article in more than one of your interviews, given that they provide insights every employer needs to know to make a good hiring decision: Tell me about yourself. Why do you want to work here? Why should I hire you?

What are the top 3 interview mistakes? ›

Top 5 job interview mistakes
  • Being unprepared.
  • Dressing inappropriately.
  • Talking too much or not enough.
  • Criticising previous employers or colleagues.
  • Failing to ask questions.

What are 6 mistakes that can be made during an interview? ›

Avoid These Six Common Interview Mistakes
  • Bragging.
  • Answering but not asking.
  • Not knowing the company.
  • Not paying attention.
  • Making a bad first impression.
  • Trying to fake it.

How do you sound natural in an interview? ›

Short-term tips for sounding more natural in interviews
  1. Don't read your answers in phone interviews. ...
  2. Don't memorize your answers. ...
  3. Use a conversational tone. ...
  4. Copy your interviewer. ...
  5. Don't talk too much. ...
  6. Don't raise your voice at the end of a sentence. ...
  7. Be positive.
6 May 2018

What are 3 things you should do before an interview? ›

BONUS TIPS: Other simple things to do before a face-to-face interview include the following: Prepare a list of the questions that you would like to ask. Rehearse your interview; role-play the interview with someone acting as the interviewer asking questions and you as the interviewee. Print a few copies of your resume.

What are 3 things that employers look for while they are interviewing? ›

20 things that interviewers look for
  • Your body language. The first impression you'll make in your in-person or virtual interview is how you appear and what your body language says about you. ...
  • Preparation. ...
  • Soft skills in action. ...
  • Leadership. ...
  • Confidence. ...
  • Self-awareness. ...
  • Understanding of the company.

What is the first thing you should do in an interview? ›

One of the first questions you can expect to be asked during an interview is, tell me about yourself. The is your opportunity to give a two to three minute professional summary about who you are and where you are in your career.

What is your weakness best answer? ›

Answer “what is your greatest weakness” by choosing a skill that is not essential to the job you're applying to and by stressing exactly how you're practically addressing your weakness. Some skills that you can use as weaknesses include impatience, multitasking, self-criticism, and procrastination.

What are the 3 worst mistakes you could make in an interview? ›

Top 5 job interview mistakes
  • Being unprepared.
  • Dressing inappropriately.
  • Talking too much or not enough.
  • Criticising previous employers or colleagues.
  • Failing to ask questions.

What is the most annoying interview question? ›

1. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I think job seekers probably find this one annoying because most of us don't even know what we want for lunch, let alone a five year plan.

What are the worst interview mistakes? ›

  • ARROGANCE. Confidence can get you far in an interview. ...
  • POOR PREPARATION. Coming to an interview without having properly prepared is another major red flag for hiring managers. ...
26 Jul 2022

Do people cheat in interviews? ›

While some candidates use the Internet to look up answers, others may use plagiarized work, claiming code or design that they did not create as their own, in order to get to the next stage of the interview process.

What are 3 things a person should not do in an interview? ›

Here are seven things that you should not do in an interview:
  • #1 Arrive late. Punctuality says a lot about a job candidate. ...
  • #2 Wear clothes that are too casual. ...
  • #3 Skip your personal hygiene ritual. ...
  • #4 Check your phone all the time. ...
  • #5 Avoid eye contact. ...
  • #6 Play with something on the table. ...
  • #7 Not smiling.
11 Oct 2022

How do you handle pressure? ›

6 Ways to Handle Work Pressure
  1. Adjust your attitude. It's automatic for human beings to see pressure as a threat to our wellbeing. ...
  2. Stay in the present. ...
  3. Give yourself positive reinforcement. ...
  4. Visualize the worst case scenario. ...
  5. Take a deep breath. ...
  6. Ask for help.

How do you handle stress and pressure? ›

2. Commit to a Positive Attitude
  1. Decide what you can do. Pinpoint which parts of the situation you have the power to change or influence for the better. ...
  2. Get support. Find someone to talk to about your situation. ...
  3. Care for yourself. Take especially good care of yourself when stress in your life is high.

Why should we hire you answer best? ›

Show that you have skills and experience to do the job and deliver great results. You never know what other candidates offer to the company. But you know you: emphasize your key skills, strengths, talents, work experience, and professional achievements that are fundamental to getting great things done on this position.

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