job interview questions to avoidLast Tuesday we posted the article… Inappropriate Job Interview Questions You Shouldn’t Ask… which was Part 1 in our series of Interview Do’s and Don’ts.  Some of the 10 job interview questions in last week's posting focused on birthplace, origin and race.

This week we continue with more interview questions you should avoid asking and how to rephrase them so they become an acceptable alternative.  These 12 questions focus on age, religion and marital or family status.


Inappropriate Questions:  How old are you?  What year were you born?  I went to high school in Atlanta too (or Chicago or Raleigh or San Diego or any other town you might have in common with the candidate) — what year did you graduate?
Acceptable Alternative:  Are you over the age of 18?
NOTE:  You may ask for an applicant’s date of birth and proof of age only after you have hired him/her.  The exception is those applicants under the age of 18, from whom you will need a work permit.  Employers are prohibited under Federal law from discriminating against employees over the age of 40.  Some states protect younger employees from age discrimination as well.  Generally, an employee’s age is irrelevant.  You might inquire, if necessary, about the number of years of experience the employee has been doing a particular job or working in a particular field.

Inappropriate Questions:  What religion do you practice?  Which religious holidays do you observe?  Will your religious beliefs affect your ability to work overtime (or weekends, etc.)?
Acceptable Alternative:  Working overtime (or weekends, etc.) is required here.  Will you be able to meet this requirement?  (If asked of all applicants and weekend work is a business necessity.)
NOTE:  There are no acceptable alternatives to questions about an applicant’s religious beliefs or holidays observed.  Religious discrimination is unlawful.  An employee’s religion is irrelevant to his or her employment.  You may ask whether the employee can work on Saturdays or work overtime or anything of that sort, but you may not inquire about his or her religion.  Employers covered by Title VII may be required to provide reasonable accommodation of an individual’s religious beliefs or practices if the accommodation would not impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business operations.  

Inappropriate Questions:  This job requires short notice overtime (or travel, etc.), will this cause any babysitting problems for you?  What are your child care arrangements?
Acceptable Alternative:  This job requires short notice overtime (or travel, etc.).  Will you be able to meet this requirement?  Or, would you be able to work a 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. schedule?  (If asked of all applicants and a specific work schedule is a business necessity.)
NOTE:  You may not ask any questions about the names, ages, addresses, etc., of the applicant’s children, spouse, or relatives unless he/she has been hired.  Even then, however, you may ask only for information relevant to the job, such as information needed for health insurance, etc.  Generally such information is irrelevant.  Historically, women have been discriminated against in “sex plus” discrimination, where child care and similar matters have been used to discriminate.

Inappropriate Question:  Who is the nearest relative we should notify in case of an emergency?
Acceptable Alternative:  Whom should we notify in a case of an emergency?

Inappropriate Questions:  Have you ever been arrested?  Have you ever spent a night in jail?  Have you ever been caught driving drunk?
Acceptable Alternative:  Have you ever been convicted of, or have you pleaded guilty or no contest to, a felony offense?  Please explain.
NOTE:  This question should be followed by a statement that a felony conviction will not necessarily disqualify the applicant from being hired.  This is a delicate area.  Under Federal law, the concern is that discrimination based upon conviction may have a disparate impact on a minority group.  Some jurisdictions may have more stringent restrictions.  The question must always be whether a criminal conviction or the absence of it is relevant to the job.

Look for Part 3 of our Series on Interview Do’s and Don’ts in Next Tuesday's Post... Including Questions Which Should Almost Always Never be Asked