Small Business Hiring Advice

Legal and Illegal Interview Questions

It's not uncommon for new businesses and inexperienced business owners to ask illegal interview questions while hiring. Make sure you are aware of what can and what cannot be asked in an interview for a new hire.

Entrepreneurs need to avoid asking illegal interview questions in their pre-employment screening.

The list below defines legal interview questions and illegal interview questions and serves as good guidance on how to comply with the law. The questions marked as inadvisable may constitute evidence of unlawful discrimination. However, be aware that this is not an exhaustive compilation of all acceptable and inadvisable pre-employment inquiries.

Arrest Records
Any inquiry is inadvisable.
Availability for work on weekends and/or evenings
If asked of all applicants and it is a business necessity for the person to be available to work weekends and/or evenings.
Any inquiry about religious observance.
Birthplace & Residence
Applicant's place of residence, length of applicant's residence and/or city where employer is located.
Birthplace of applicant or parents; birth certificate, naturalization or baptismal certificate prior to hiring.
Child Care
None, unless asked of all applicants.
Inquiry into child care arrangements of only female applicants.
Whether applicant is prevented from lawfully becoming employed in this country because of visa or immigration status.
Whether applicant is a U. S. Citizen.
Conviction Records
Inquiry into convictions, if job related.
Any inquiry about conviction, unrelated to job requirements.
Creed or Religion
None, except where religion is a bona fide occupational qualification.
Applicant's religious affiliation, church, parish or religious holidays observed.
Credit Records
None, unless job related.
Inquiries about charge accounts, bank accounts, etc.
Family Status
Whether applicant has responsibilities or commitments which prevent him/her from meeting work schedules, if asked of all applicants, regardless of sex.
Marital status, number and ages of children, spouse's job.
Whether applicant can perform job in question.
To ask applicant to list or describe his/her handicap(s).
Height & Weight
None, unless job related.
Any inquiry unrelated to job requirements.
Languages applicant speaks or writes fluently.
Applicant's mother tongue, used by applicant at home, or how applicant acquired the ability to read, write, or speak a foreign language.
Marital Status
Any inquiry is inadvisable.
Military Service
Military experience or training.
Type or condition of discharge.
Whether applicant has worked under a different name.
The original name of an applicant whose name has been legally changed or the national origin of an applicant's name.
National Origin
None, except whether applicant is legally eligible to work in the United States.
Applicant's lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent, parentage, or nationality of applicant, or applicant's parent or spouse.
Applicant's membership in professional organizations, if job related.
All clubs, social fraternities, societies, lodges or organizations of which applicant belongs.
None, except after hiring.
Photograph with application or after interview, but before hiring.
Any inquiry is inadvisable.
Race or Color
Any inquiry is inadvisable.
Name of character references.
Name of applicant's pastor or religious leader.
Are you over 16, 18 or 21, etc.
Date of Birth.
None, except where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification.
Any inquiry, except where it is a bona fide occupational qualification.

Learn what questions you can and cannot ask during interviews. Make sure all of your employees and your recruiters are well-trained in asking appropriate interview questions. Double check that any application forms for employment do not ask any illegal interview questions.

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Please share your comments regarding illegal interview questions. We welcome all comments, tips, advice and suggestions.

  • Lorin posted on 9/6/2007
    Can a privately held company ask you how much money you have to invest in their business as part of an interview? I was told that they want to make sure that all of their top executives were invested in their business so they will work harder.
  • Ken Gaebler posted on 9/7/2007
    Ken Gaebler
    Although this particular question may be a turnoff to many candidates, it is not an illegal interview question. Nonetheless, you should certainly be very wary and skeptical about any company that requires you to invest in them in order to get a job.

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