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Inappropriate Topics for a Job Interview

Updated on January 16, 2015
Worried about his national origin?  How do you address this issue?
Worried about his national origin? How do you address this issue? | Source

Navigating delicate topics can make conducting job interviews stressful. The list of things an interviewer should not ask about are based on personal information such as:

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  • Age
  • Race, birthplace, national origin;
  • Gender, sexual preference;
  • Religion, spiritual views/practices;
  • Marital or family status;
  • Disabilities;
  • Political affiliations.

These types of questions could be viewed as discriminatory against the job candidate, even if the employer genuinely needs to know.

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Legitimate situations include:

  • The position requires extended work hours or unusual shifts. The interviewer may need to know about the candidate’s family situation for the sake of availability.
  • The position is funded by the government to help workers with disabilities gain employment. The employer needs to know about the candidate’s limitations and strengths equally to determine the candidate's eligibility for the program.
  • The company hosts special family services or events. The employer will naturally be curious about a candidate’s family situation in order to embrace them into the company as well.

In all cases, employers need to know if the candidate is legally allowed to work in the country. If there is any question in the interviewer’s mind, he or she may be tempted to ask about the candidate’s national origin or birthplace. The best way to address this issue to let the candidate know they will need to provide a Social Insurance Number / Social Security Number and proof of residency status or a valid work visa if hired.

What to Ask ...

The Manager's Book of Questions: 1001 Great Interview Questions for Hiring the Best Person (Business Books)
The Manager's Book of Questions: 1001 Great Interview Questions for Hiring the Best Person (Business Books)

Amazing questions and ready-to-use scripts for business owners and managers to use during job interviews.



Interviewers should be conscious about how they approach these topics. For example, explain the situation or concern and ask the candidate to address the subject instead of asking pointed questions that would make them uncomfortable or alarmed.

Job candidates should try to answer the intent of the question. If the intent is unclear, ask the interviewer, “How does this relate to the position I am interviewing for?” If you think the answer is reasonable, address the intent honestly. Otherwise, tell the interviewer candidly that you are uncomfortable with the question and/or change the topic.

When dealing with questions that address personal issues, deal with them firmly and respectfully.

© 2011 Rosa Marchisella

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