Questions to Never Ask Job Applicants

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Your company's recruiters obviously want to hire top-notch employees. In doing so, they may try different techniques when interviewing candidates.

The wrong question — or even the right question carelessly phrased — could backfire and land you in court. Your business could be vulnerable to lawsuits if interview questions discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, national origin, religion, disability or veteran status.

There are numerous federal laws that govern the process of hiring new employees, not to mention the myriad state and local statutes in your area that could trip you up.

Interviewers probably know that some questions are illegal — for example, "What religion are you?" or "Are you pregnant?" But many other seemingly innocuous topics could land your company in legal hot water.

Here's a quiz to test your knowledge of liability danger zones. Why did these interviewers cross the line?

Danger Zone 1: A male recruiter tries to put a candidate at ease with small talk about a recent professional football game.

Reason: Chitchat about sports may relax people who enjoy sports, but it can alienate others. Even worse, your company could be accused of skewing interviews against women who might not be as interested in sports as the male recruiter.

Danger Zone 2: "When did you graduate from high school?" an interviewer asks.

Reason: This can be an indirect way of inquiring about a candidate's age. It could open your company up to accusations that you discriminate against older applicants, which is a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Danger Zone 3: A recruiter throws out a couple of unexpected brain teasers to see how some candidates think on their feet.

Reason: Posing complex brain teasers that have nothing to do with the job may indicate a weeding out process that isn't fair. It might be hard to refute charges that the interview process is biased against ethnic groups that aren't familiar with these types of questions.

Danger Zone 4: A recruiter asks the first candidate a variety of questions based on information in the candidate's resume. With the next candidate, the recruiter poses an entirely different set of questions, based on that person's resume and experience.

Reason: Asking different questions of different candidates brings up issues of subjectivity and discrimination. It makes sense on the surface, but it's safest to stick with a common thread.

Danger Zone 5: A recruiter asks a job applicant how many children she has and where they go to daycare.

Reason: Questions about a candidate's children and daycare arrangements are strictly off limits. If an applicant brings up a prohibited topic, the interviewer should quickly steer the conversation back to the job, rather than ask a follow-up question that expands the conversation.

Best approach: Instruct your recruiters to use structured interviews that ask the same questions of all candidates. Hiring managers should be able to explain why they pose certain questions. Stay away from personal questions that aren't directly related to the applicant's ability to do the job.

Regardless of their intent, recruiters must be able to defend the questions they ask against legal challenges.

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