Interviewer Do’s and Don’ts

Interviewer Do’s and Don’ts

In the US, federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination and are enforced by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). These laws state that it’s illegal to discriminate against applicants and employees because of their race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

As an interviewer, it’s important that you represent your organization professionally, but it’s imperative that you follow procedures outlined by your Human Resources Department in order to avoid discrimination lawsuits.

Whether your HR department hasn’t put together a guide for interview questions or you’re breaking away from the standard, run of the mill structure, we’ve got you covered! Below, we outline some do’s and don’ts for your conversation.

Do talk about:

  • Skills
  • Interest
  • History
  • Processes
  • Expectations

Do NOT talk about:

  • The protected classes
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Family status
  • Disabilities
  • National origin

You want to get to know your candidate in a way that allows them to emphasize their skills and doesn’t cross legal boundaries.

Want this information as an infographic? We’ve got you covered at the bottom of this article.

Talk about THIS

Skills! As a recruiter, you’re interested in if a candidate has the skills and qualifications they’d need to be successful in your company’s role. During your pre-screening process, ask candidates if they have the top 2-3 skills that your job requires, but don’t just take a yes or no answer – ask for examples.

A candidate’s interest is almost as important as having the right skill set. Engaged and passionate employees are productive employees, so find out why they want to work for YOU and what specifically drew them to the position. Quality candidates will have a solid and well thought out answer.

As a recruiter, you know that history is important and often repeats itself. Learn why your candidate is looking to leave their current position, and if they have a spotty work history, find out why. Sometimes, people take jobs that aren’t the right fit, but if your candidate is jumping ship every three to six months, they might be the problem.

Is the position you’re trying to fill a technical role? Ask your candidate to walk you through the process they would follow to handle a specific responsibility. Pay attention to their thought process for planning.

Pro-tip: Asking an applicant to walk you through a process can help you figure out if they’re being genuine about their abilities.

Make sure to clearly explain the department’s expectations for the role. Use detail when laying out the responsibilities and what skills are needed to be successful. Candidates often have a very minor understanding of the position when they’re coming in for an interview – use your meeting as an opportunity to answer any questions they have and build a bigger picture in their mind.

It’s important to find a candidate that is the right skill and culture fit for your organization while maintaining a professional and legal boundary throughout the interview process. By creating a set of specialized questions for each position you ensure that all applicants are considered fairly.

AVOID these topics

Race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information are considered protected classes. If a candidate offers up any information that identifies them as part of a protected class, steer the conversation in a different direction, ASAP.

Age, particularly age 40 and up, is a protected class. It’s a good idea to avoid questions about age altogether, except where they’re necessary to business operations.

For example, it’s appropriate to use a pre-screening question like: Are you 18 years of age or older? (Yes/No)

It would be a bad idea to ask a candidate, “How old are you?” or “You have quite a long work history listed on your resume… Are you looking to retire soon?

Religion should never come up in a job interview, but sometimes candidates share protected information without realizing it. If you’re talking to an applicant who mentions that they volunteer a few times a month, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask them what organization(s) they partner with. If they mention a church or religious group, immediately move on to the next question.

Some religions observe holidays that are not observed on the federal calendar. It’s illegal to ask a candidate if they’ll need any religious holidays off of work. A good rule of thumb is, if your question relates to a class of protected information in any way, don’t ask it!

Family status and sex include a few topics that are off limits for interviewers. Marital status, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy are all topics to blacklist when chatting with an applicant. Do not ask if a female candidate will be starting a family soon, whether someone’s spouse is comfortable with them taking a position, or if the working hours will leave them enough time to spend with their kids.

In the case that any of the above information is shared, don’t ask any further questions and move on to the next topic.

Interviewers cannot ask disability-related questions or require medical examinations until after a candidate has been given a conditional job offer. Because this type of information is frequently used to exclude applicants with disabilities before their ability to perform a job is evaluated, it’s best to avoid questions about disabilities altogether. As you move further into the process, it’s appropriate to discuss reasonable accommodations.

You can learn more about the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) via their website.

National origin is frequently brought up in conversation, often in an innocent way. However, it’s still a federally protected class, so it should be avoided during an interview. Don’t open yourself or your company up to a lawsuit because of a comment about someone’s unique name or accent. You’re able to identify whether a candidate is able to legally work in the US without crossing into illegal territory.

Many organizations use pre-screening questions such as: Are you legally able to work in the United States, or, Will you require sponsorship for a work-related visa now or in the future?


A lot of interviews start off with the question, “Tell us about yourself.” While it can be tempting to let the candidate share with you who they are, this type of open-ended question opens your discussion up to including nearly all of the protected classes of information. You can combat this by asking the same questions and including a few guidelines for the type of answer you’re looking for.

Instead, try: “Please give us a brief overview of your professional background as it relates to this position.” Or, if you want to be very technical, use a disclaimer. “Without disclosing your age, marital status, race, religion, national origin, or disability status, please tell us about yourself.

Focus on getting to know your candidates in a way that protects your organization and gives applicants a fair shot at landing the job!

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