police carInterviewers have a lot to be proud of. Over the years, the humble interview process has grown into a sophisticated assessment, thanks to the development of tools like structured interviews, behavioral questioning, psychometric testing, and the like.

And yet, there’s one very important thing we haven’t quite gotten a handle on yet: the legal basics of interview questions. According to a survey from CareerBuilder, one in five employers has asked an illegal interview question without realizing the question was illegal, and a third of employers are “unsure” about the legality of certain interview questions.

These results should serve as a wake-up call to all interviewers.

As many of you likely know, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, nationality, gender, age, disability, and family and/or marital status, along with several other protected classes. Therefore, it is illegal to ask candidates questions about these subjects during the interview – and yet, many interviewers still do just that.

The good news is that illegal questioning is, by and large, a matter of ignorance, not a conscious desire to discriminate. For the most part, interviewers are only asking illegal questions because they don’t realize the questions they are asking are, in fact, illegal.

It follows, then, that one way to start cleaning up the interview process at your company is to make sure your interviewers are clear on what is and is not acceptable. You can do this simply by providing interviewers with clear examples of what constitutes an illegal interview question.

Here are a few examples of illegal interview questions from CareerOneStop, a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor:

1. Questions Related to Age: How old are you? What’s your date of birth? When will you turn 50?
2. Questions Related to Race or Nationality: Are you Hispanic (or any other ethnic group)?
3. Questions Related to Family/Marital Status: Are you married? Do you have children? How many? Are you planning to have children in the next few years?

JournalAsking these kinds of questions – as well as questions related to any other protected classes – is illegal.

Now, educating interviewers on the legality of certain interview questions is a great first step, but that may not be enough in itself. Interviewers may need some extra tools and strategies to help them make sure they aren’t breaking any laws during the interview itself. Here are some further steps your company can take to eradicate illegal interview questions from the hiring process:

1. Implement Structured Interviews

One way to reduce the likelihood of illegal interview questions popping up is to implement structured interviews in your organizations. In a structured interview, the interviewer has a list of predetermined competency-based questions to ask, and they are required to stick to this list. As long as the predetermined list of questions is devoid of illegal queries, then interviewers won’t be in danger of breaking any laws.

Another advantage of moving structured interviews is that they are much more reliable than the unstructured alternatives, in terms of assessing a candidate’s skills and fit.

However, many companies that use structured interviews also use unstructured interviews. This may sound contradictory, but what’s likely happening here is that the hiring process at these companies utilizes both rigidly structured interviews and more informal chats. Many organizations use both methods because there are benefits to each, and you may find that your own company does not want to move exclusively to structured interviews. If that’s the case, you’ll want to implement some sort of diversity education program to ensure that, when unstructured interviews are going on, interviewers know how to legally handle themselves.

2. Diversity Training

This may sound intimidating, but with the right learning management system, you can quickly and easily design a comprehensive diversity training program that helps interviewers learn right from wrong in the interview process.

The best learning management systems will allow you to set up a program that basically runs itself with very little need for oversight. The system will also likely have reporting functions so that you can keep tabs on who has passed the training and who has not.


Shoring up your interviewing process in this way may seem laborious, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Not only will it keep your business out of court, but it’ll also help you build a more accurate interview process and a more diverse team, both of which are major wins in and of themselves.

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