When interviewing job applicants, you want to find the most qualified person for the position.  But there are limits to what questions you’re allowed to ask.

Federal (EEO, ADA, for example) and state laws prohibit you from posing interview questions that explicitly ask for personal information like race, age, marital status, sexual orientation, or disabilities.  The following questions may seem innocuous, but they can be seen as discriminatory and land your business in trouble:

  • How old are you?
  • What church do you attend?
  • Are you married?  Do you have kids?
  • How tall are you?  How much do you weigh?
  • Do you live with someone?
But these laws also affect how you ask questions that are appropriate in a job interview.  Protect yourself by rewording these questions to avoid any implication of seeking personal information.
Here are some examples.

Education:  An applicant’s education is often relevant to his potential success in a job, but be careful about turning it into an age-related question.  For instance, instead of asking when he completed high school or college, ask for a list of schools and degrees, or for his highest level of education.

Affiliations:  The organizations and causes a person participates in can reveal a lot about her religion, political views, and extracurricular activities.  Instead of asking which associations applicants belong to, focus your interview questions on their professional affiliations and ask how they relate to the job.

Criminal Background:  Your business wants to ensure the integrity of its workforce, but not all arrests are the same.  Instead of asking the applicant to list all prior arrests and charges, ask for a list only of past convictions and pending charges.

Contacts:  You can ask for references and emergency contacts, but not in a way that reveals personal information.  Ask only for professional references from coworkers and supervisors, and when requesting emergency contacts, as only for names and numbers and not their relationships to the applicant.

Citizenship:  You want to hire people who are allowed to work in your country, but it’s against the law to ask about birthplace or national origin.  Instead, ask if the applicant is authorized to work and request proof of citizenship or immigration status.

Your interview questions should ask only for information about an applicant’s work qualifications, not his or her personal life or history.  Use wording that protects the applicant’s privacy and your screening process will ensure discretion and relevance to the job.