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3 casual interview questions with serious consequences

Posted on April 29th, 2015 Read time: 2 minutes

The point of an interview is for the employer to get to know the candidate and for the candidate to gain a better understanding of the job. That being said, there are certain personal qualities that by law cannot play a factor in whether a person gets a job. According to Business Insider, questions that prompt answers about the candidate's age, race, national origin, gender, religion, marital status or sexual orientation are illegal. Many hiring professionals know the legal ins and outs of an interview process, but employers sometimes inadvertently ask an off-limits question. Here are inquiries that could cause some big problems:

1. Do you have any kids?
Say you take a candidate into your office for an interview, and they notice the smiling faces of your family peeking out of a picture frame on your desk. If they ask about the picture, you may be prompted to gush about how your little girl is having her birthday party next week, or how your son just joined the baseball team. Though it may be a light-hearted conversation, resist the urge to ask if the candidate has any kids.

It is illegal to base an employment decision off of whether someone has children. If the question slips out, and the applicant says yes, you're put in a sticky situation. Should the candidate not qualify for the position, he or she could take legal action.

2. What race/ethnicity are you?
According to CareerBuilder, 1 in 3 employers were unable to determine if this question was OK to ask. It is illegal to ask applicants about their national original. You may be tempted to ask this question if you notice their unique skin tone, accent or eccentric way of dressing, but it could prompt them to take legal action. "Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?" and "Which languages do you speak write, read or fluently?" are similar, but appropriate questions if the job requires that information.

3. How old are you?
Plenty of people don't look their age, so it's natural to be a little curious about it. You may be wondering about the applicant's maturity level or how well they will mesh with the company culture. However, it is illegal to inquire about a candidate's age or base an employment decision off of it. What is acceptable, though, is to ask if the employee is over the age of 18 if the job requires that the worker be a legal adult.

The best solution to avoid any legal action from a candidate is to simply adhere to professional interviewing practices. Additionally, employers and HR services should consistently update their knowledge on employment laws.

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