IT Employment

Video: Steer clear of these illegal job interview questions

Most managers know that there are some questions that are simply off limits in a job interview. However, there are also some seemingly innocent questions that could get you into hot water. This episode of Sanity Savers for IT Executives tips you off to several types of questions to avoid.

Most managers know that there are some questions that are simply off limits in a job interview. However, there are also some seemingly innocent questions that could get you into hot water. Episode #7 of Sanity Savers for IT Executives tips you off to several types of questions to avoid.

For more, you can read the original article that this video was based on, download the article as a PDF, and read the original discussion thread:

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

33 comments
sierkahn
sierkahn

I have never been involved in an interview where such questions were off limits. It seems to me that all these questions are good one to be asked a prospect. I know your going to say something about politicaly correct and all that HOG WASH. If you wish to work for a person/company you should be ready and willing to answer any question asked of you. The law has no business intruding on a companies right to ask for any information about you, your background, your race even your country of origin. With the prevalence of illegal aliens in our country and the stiff fines that can be leved against you, you had better know where your people came from and their status. So I think that all the don't ask questions are a bunch of bull and this video is stering you in the wrong direction.

W.E.
W.E.

Ya know, I've often wondered why when it's illegal to ask someones age, are the job applications still printed with "when and where you went to grade school, and when and where did you graduate high school" College, is a needed question, but since it cannot be determined what age you went to college, your age can not be readily determined from it.

shicks
shicks

Maybe I'm really old school here but this whole not being able to ask certain types of questions thing in a way bugs the hell out of me. Ask me go ahead,.... if these kinds of things are really going to make the difference in getting the job,.. then maybe I shouldn't be working for you anyway.. I know big corps are just out to see how cheaply they can get someone to work for them...

MavMin2
MavMin2

Man, I was once asked, "How do you handle controversial issues?" by the third interviewer because my resume had that I was a Bible college graduate. The phone rang and I never got to answer the question as he merely said we will get back to you and that was that. The first two found it admirable that I would consider another career. Nothing admirable about it as I had a wife and two children that liked to eat and frowned on living under a bridge plus my debtors were appreciative of my prayers for them but still required currency. Another lad was actually apologizing for the salary being so low, though he was $5,000 over the minimum that I had told my wife I would take as I walked out the door that morning, UNTIL he got further down in my resume and saw that degree. After that it was "We don't need literature all over the place and I am not hiring you to preach." I assured him that I was there to work but I didn't get the job. Others made comments that made me realize that they were only interested in or needed a minority or woman but had to at least interview me. Some I checked back with and met the person they hired and I was correct in my assumption. Could I have fought to get those jobs? Sure, but who wants a job with someone that doesn't want you? They will only find a way to legally get rid of you at the earliest date. I eventually changed the name of my college dropping the Bible out of the title and Religious out of my degree to prevent such blatant discrimination. Got more interviews and eventually a job. In the end, it was their loss and my gain as the career that I can soon retire from is far better than they could have ever given me. Divine intervention? I believe so. Now, it is an age thing. I am nearing 56 and too long in the tooth for most corporations so even if I retire young enough for another career it is a real long shot that I could find someone to hire me. Sadly, I saw a church in the area that was advertising for a pastor that MUST be under 50. Needless to say, I wrote a note to them chastising them for such a thing and of course they never responded. ;-) The bottom line is that even if they don't ask the blatant questions or even make comments they can discriminate against you and will if they want to do so by what is on your resume or your appearance. One lady was going by the first name of Mary because she said no one could pronounce her real name and she suffered discrimination under that name. I hated to tell her that her face gave away her national origin or at least regional origin. She could change her name to Betty Jane Gump and she would still suffer prejudice. I am of German heritage but I have been asked several times in the last few years if I am Jewish. I said as far as I know from the recent branches no, but my family has always been right friendly so there may be a few in the tree. I'm Baptist, but if I look Jewish to an interviewer that is anti-Semitic he won't ask but go by my appearance. On the other hand, though many Jews had German names, if his grandfather was a holocaust survior he may not hire me because of my surname. All the laws in the world will not stop discrimination. Do away with interviews and just use the resume without the name and do online testing and you will eliminate some discrimination but once you are hired there is nothing that says you will not get unjustly fired or laid off in a way that there are no legal recourse. Lawyers make the laws and corporate lawyers find loopholes. Start your own business and be the interviewer not the interviewee. ;-)

dlpannuto
dlpannuto

I've been in corporate IT close to 18 years--former CIO for well know brands and have had over 300 employees report into my organization internationally. The law protects against "discrimination" and one would have to prove that they did not get a job because of the act of discrimination. Very difficult to prove and most attorneys wouldn't touch it unless it was a rock solid case. The recommendations you make depersonalizes an interview in a situation where you're asking someone to become part of a family--in fact, they will be spending more time with their "company family" than their core family and friends. In all of my years of interviewing hundreds of people of course I've gotten to know about them and they have gotten to know me: personally--what better way to understand a person's true character and whether or not he/she fits into the culture and chemistry of the team. Sorry but this video creates a sense of unnecessary paranoia and isn't based in reality.

bowlingbrad
bowlingbrad

I asked someone if they were going to remove that hideous growth on their neck. Was that wrong????

mbrown
mbrown

I think it was good information; however, what about asking for a person age on an application?

mb506565
mb506565

I will and do ask all these questions and never had any problem. Perhaps a mentality problem??? Just make very clear what the job requirements are. Then you can ask what you want, related to those requirements.

kghansen1
kghansen1

I think that one of the most sneaky way to determine a candidates age is by asking, on the initial application, what year did they graduate high school. All an HR person needs to do is subtract 18 from that ear and the know the age of the candidate. To me this is the single most blatent method of determining age for age discrimination.

68mustanggt302
68mustanggt302

Since when is there a restriction on freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America? What law book are you using? And since when is it that if a person asks a 'forbidden' question it is 'assumed' that the information will be used in a negative way? All of this information you claim you can't ask resides on some data base somewhere.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I've very little to do with this aspect running a business, so I really appreciated the information. It definitely alerted me to a whole different realm and raised my general awareness of appropriate attitudes. I also must say that it takes a big person to keep the oops in the feed. Kudos to you, Jason.

fred.wagner
fred.wagner

Some companies and government organizations insist on transcripts to verify the college degrees you claim, and those show the dates of the degrees. We don't all have time to go back and get a fresh degree. If the college could just verify that you did earn the degree you claim, it would be helpful. My college degrees were the foundation of all I've done since, but it's been over 30 years since my MS - I've got tons of experience since, but job apps that ask for transcripts seem to me as just asking for age discrimination....

kyang12
kyang12

Thanks for sharing your story.

sfurtado
sfurtado

I'd like to think some people are better than that... Deep though, nice argument.

verelse
verelse

Too many employers are now hiring based almost solely on "personality" and "good fit". None of these factors are not quantifiable (intentionally) and usually result in a workplace where everyone is of the same race. Essentially, hiring based on personality is just a clever way to discriminate against anyone different from the norm. It's simply a new means of institutionalizing racism, sexism and any other ism.

kyang12
kyang12

You may have worked for a well known brands and CIO for over 300 employees for the last 18 years and have not get sued by asking those questions, but that is a law sue waiting to happen and therefore, you can't say its ok to ask those questions. Also what is that have to do with de-personalized, as far as I know, work is work and i have a life outside of work.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

You can get to know someone and figure out what makes them tick while still following the guidelines outlined here. I've done it many times. Ask them about their hobbies. Ask them about their their "ideal job." Ask them about their priorities in life and work. As them to give an example of a difficult situation they faced and how they dealt with it. Those are questions that will reveal the person's character and help you decide if he or she fits into the culture and chemistry of your team -- without risking a discrimination lawsuit.

verrice
verrice

But only if you worded it exactly like that! LOL

cwyble
cwyble

Nobody really seems to get this completely I will say first that I could not spend enough time to read through all of the comments. Second, I have been the target of discrimination all of my life. Third there is an appropriate amount of discrimination required to select an employee. It simply must be appropriately applied. It is a real shame that things such as religion, age, gender, family are now taboo. This is due to some sort of over sensitization of our society. If an employer is going to be prejudiced, he will do it regardless of any laws put in place. These questions are placed on the taboo list because they were each used against someone at some time in a court of law. Pretty soon if you choose to restrict yourself to that which you are told you can ask, you will not have any reasonable discourse with a potential employee. The only choice left is hire based on a coin flip. I know I am going to an extreme here but part of interviewing is determining a person?s ?fit? within a company. My advice to anyone applying for a job that is lucky enough to get the interview is this; offer up every bit of this kind of information you can think of without having to be asked. This will send the signal that you are not afraid to let people know who you are, and that it is your desire to fit in. It will also take the interviewer off the hook. Bottom line if someone discriminates against you why would you want to work there in the first place! Their reputation will speak for itself and you can and likely will find a better place to be. The rules from a purely legal prospective should remain intact to protect against truly egregious infractions giving those whose rights have been infringed upon some recourse. Like anything else it is the application that is important. As to this video itself, I don?t think it was really meant to be any kind of social statement. I think it was just designed to give some guidelines based on presumed or substantiated facts (I don?t know which). In that regard it was well done. The speaker was pleasant, well articulated, audio video quality was good and the duration was appropriate.

giff
giff

You have been lucky then or work for a very samll comapny (I don't believe that the same rules apply in companies with less than 20 employees). If you let any "illegal" information color your hiring practices in any way, there is an EEOC suit with your name on it somewhere down the road. I started one myself (the first time I ever sued anyone) after I was told that the company was only offering positions to "recent college graduates".

TechinMN
TechinMN

What rule book are you using? Most of the information that is supposedly 'illegal' is already on the person's job application. Last time I looked, things like age and place of birth--which hints at nationality and language--were legal to ask. In fact, much more in-depth, personal information is needed for sensitive positions which generally require background checks--which many IT positions are. Any competent interviewer should already have this information at hand. How could one a) select potential candidates for screening, or b) ask appropriate questions if he/she hasn't even looked at submitted applications? That said, yeah: religion and family life are generally off-limits.

Scottthetech
Scottthetech

The points in this video have nothing to do with 1st Amendment protections. If an interviewee volunteers info, that's their problem. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specificly prohibits the discrimination of prospective employees on the basis of race or color, religion, sex, and national origin (including membership in a Native American tribe). It also prohibits employers from retaliating against an applicant or employee who asserts his or her rights under the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 expands on the protections offered to employees. The reason for all these rules is to put employees and employers on a level field. If everyone knows what situation can't be discriminated against, the possibility of actual discrimination is nearly eliminated. The only thing is, the information in the video is taught in entry-level Human Resource classes at your local Tech School, and in some High Schools. People should know these things before even attempting to conduct an interview.

chris.overstreet
chris.overstreet

I don't think it's illegal to ask per se; it is illegal to use this type of information in your hiring decision (EEOA). If you ask these types of questions and then don't hire somebody, they may decide to claim (in court) that this is the reason why. Just CYA and don't ask.

dlpannuto
dlpannuto

"personality" and "good fit" aren't the only variables used to determining the right hire. Having the right skills certainly is the entry to being considered for a position, but "personality" and "good fit" certainly are, in my opinion, important qualifiers. Quantify? How about quantifying the significant loss in labor costs and productivity when you do not consider "personality" and "good fit" and they disrupt the operation considerably? To many people, "personality" and "good fit" are not synonymous with race, gender and so called isms.

dlpannuto
dlpannuto

I see that your profile states that you're a student. How much work experience do you have? After you've spent at least 10 years being a successful manager, I'd like to hear your opinion then.

dlpannuto
dlpannuto

Sorry Jason. I think you're creating an issue where there is no real issue unless your questions can be directly linked to a discriminatory act. Can you site any examples where there has been a successful lawsuit based upon questions, as you state, that were asked in an interview? Not where there were legitimate discriminatory practices but the questions themselves that you tell your viewers to avoid.

stanton.chris.m
stanton.chris.m

I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time I filled out a job application; other than being a formality in form of paperwork. In a professional setting interviews stem from resumes, not job applications. I could see the case if you were going for asst. fry cook at Burger King.

kyang12
kyang12

I agree!, also if you are the one who conducted the interview, you are representing your company, not yourself.

Menopausal
Menopausal

You are right, any reasonably educated person should know enough to not ask for information that would determine if someone is in a protected class or not. But it only took two posts for the most common reaction/misconception to pop up. "How do you know it would be used in a negative way"-- well, since it's illegal to form an opinion *one way or the other* based on the information, don't ask for the information! Another great reason to avoid such questions: an intelligent applicant will realize the employer is not afraid to unacceptably cross the line in the interview process, and run for the hills.

kyang12
kyang12

when comes to court it will be your words against the other person, and if you the interviewer admit you have ask the question, it will be used against you.

mphussey94
mphussey94

The missleading part of the video is that the questions are "illegal." There is no law that states you cannot ask questions about age, race, gender, religion, etc. If you use the answers to those questions to discriminate against the applicant, then you have done something "illegal."

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