For hiring managers, knowing what job interview questions to avoid asking can reduce the risk of costly mistakes. An interview provides the ideal opportunity for hiring managers to gain insights into the job applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. The focused, in-depth conversation is a critical element of the recruitment process as it helps to avoid making wrong hires. Bad hires can cost companies in a big way. Financially replacing a wrong hire could run into 20% of the annual wages of the employee. There are also negative impacts to morale and productivity.

Conduct structured interviews

Job interviews, when conducted professionally, enable hiring managers to identify the most suitable matches for the job. Many hiring managers tend to have a casual, open and unstructured style of interview. Studies show unstructured interviews are not good predictors of the future performance of job candidates. These types of interviews also increase the risk of bias.

Whether for temporary employment or for full time jobs, conducting structured job interviews is recommended. Check out The Structured Interview: It’s More Than Personality for more information. But, no matter what the company’s approach to interviewing is, there are some questions that should be avoided at all costs.

Job interview questions to avoid asking

Here are some questions that the hiring manager needs to avoid asking during a job interview.

Questions related to age:

Discriminating based on age is illegal under federal and Massachusetts law. These laws mean that, if an employee or applicant is age 40 or older, an employer may not take any adverse actions in hiring or employment because of age. As a result, you should not ask direct or indirect questions about related to age. For example, asking what year the candidate graduated or was born may invite a discrimination claim as it can reveal the age of the candidate. You can, however, ensure that the job applicant is at least 18 years of age depending on job requirements.

Questions related to origin or race:

Asking questions about a candidate’s birth place or what country he or she is from is illegal as well. Nor can you ask about country of citizenship. Instead, you can ask whether or not the applicant is legally eligible to work in the United States.

Questions related to language:

Asking what the job applicant’s native language is can mean you are trying to determine the national origin in an indirect way. If the job requires that the candidate understand or speak a certain language, you should specify that in your question.

Questions related to marriage:

Asking if the job applicant is married, single, engaged, or divorced may lead to a claim of discrimination based on the marital status of the candidate. Also, hiring managers should refrain from asking any indirect questions related to the candidate’s marital status. For example, “What does your husband/spouse do?”

Questions related to pregnancy:

Hiring managers should not ask the job applicant if she is pregnant, how many children she has, or if she plans on having more.

Questions related to disability:

It is not legal to ask how long a job applicant has been disabled or the nature of disability. If the disability is noticeable, such as the candidate attending the interview in a wheelchair, you may ask if the candidate can perform essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation.

There are other areas that present legal risk with which you should also become familiar. Review your company’s EEO policy which should identify other protected categories. Such categories include religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or military service.

In general you should avoid asking personal or other job interview questions that are not relevant to the job requirements. If you have questions, you should consult your Human Resources department or legal counsel.