I’ve been talking to a number of job seekers lately about illegal interview questions. The topic keeps coming up, and I keep wondering why that is.
When you’re a job seeker, you may not realize how common illegal interview questions are. After all, you’re only interviewing for one or two jobs at a time. However, from my vantage point as a career coach working with multiple professionals, I can tell you illegal questions pop up quite often.
Some of the most common illegal interview questions may not even sound illegal to the uninitiated:
- What is your marital status?
- How many children do you have?
- Are you planning to have more children?
- How old are you?
In some cases, the hiring manager may simply be trying to make small talk. They may be trying to get to know you. In other cases, however, the hiring manager is clearly asking the questions for unethical reasons.
Why does it keep happening? My best guess is this: Hiring managers are rarely trained on illegal interview questions. Many of them are not even themselves aware of what they are or are not allowed to ask a candidate. Human resources pros often assumes that, in today’s day in age, we all know what the illegal interview questions are. But we don’t, clearly!
Another contributing factor is that, when the hiring manager does ask illegal questions, candidates don’t necessarily react negatively. Think about it: If you want the job, you don’t get upset by off-putting questions. That’s a fast way to eliminate yourself from the candidate pool. If you do get upset, you maintain your composure and don’t let on that you feel a line has been crossed. So, the hiring manager gets no feedback in the moment. After the hiring process, you have little or no interaction with the company if you have not been selected — so, again, you don’t really have any chance to tell the hiring manager you were not okay with their line of questioning.
To avoid illegal interview questions more effectively, I propose that every company should install a system to solicit feedback from candidates. The company could ask each candidate for anonymous feedback about their interviews, which could be routed to human resources pros who could review the feedback for any red flags — like illegal interview questions. This would protect the company’s interests, educate the hiring managers, and improve the experience for the job seeker. In effect, everybody wins.
One company implementing something like the process I’ve proposed is Amazon. After a candidate interviews with Amazon, they receive an anonymous survey asking them to rate the interview process. The survey asks for feedback on what Amazon could do to improve. Job seekers are given an open-ended text box, rather than a list of choices, so they are free to get as specific as possible.
Implementing this sort of feedback loop treats the job seeker like a valued player in the process — and that’s a great foundation on which to build a future working relationship.
A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at Copeland Coaching.