Interview questions – what not to ask

A new survey from TopCV and CV-Library has found that almost three-quarters (73%) of professionals have been asked inappropriate or illegal questions during a job interview.


Whilst asking questions about work experience and suitability for a role is standard practice for employers, sometimes it seems that interviewers can go too far and ask personal or irrelevant questions.


According to the survey, the professionals were asked inappropriate questions relating to the following subjects:


  1. Marital status (38%)

  2. Age (34%)

  3. Criminal convictions (32%)

  4. Disability and illness (25%)

  5. Children and family planning (25%)

  6. Place of birth or ethnicity (25%)

  7. Lifestyle choices, e.g. whether the candidate smokes or drinks (19%)

  8. Memberships or affiliations (14%)

  9. Religion (12%)

  10. Gender or sexual orientation (11%)

Some of the questions could also be considered discriminatory, so are also illegal under the Equality Act 2010.


Questions to ask instead

During an interview there are different types of questions you can ask:


Open questions

These result in the person having to do lots of talking. They will usually begin with who, what, why, when, where and how.


“What did you do…?”

“Why did you get that result…?”


Closed questions

Used to obtain specific pieces of information. These usually result in a one-word answer such as yes or no.


“Did you enjoy your last role?”

“Do you have a driving licence?”


Probing questions

Used to drill down and find out more about something.


“Tell me what you did about…?”

“What part did you play in…?”

“What happened when…?”


As long as questions relate to the role rather than the candidate’s personal details, then they should avoid being discriminatory. For example:


  • Questions about race, religion or native language could be discriminatory, but employers are legally obliged to check that applicants are allowed to work in the UK.

  • It would only be permissible to ask about disabilities to determine if it’s intrinsic to the role, or to establish whether reasonable adjustments need to be made in order to accommodate a candidate’s needs.

  • The only question you could ask regarding age is to determine whether they are of the minimum age required for the role. Asking for dates of birth or how many years’ experience someone has could imply you are making a decision based on age.

It’s advisable to ask for these details on the application form rather than in an interview. Only ask for information if it’s needed to determine an applicant’s ability to carry out the role they are applying for.


To learn more about avoiding discrimination during recruitment and how to conduct interviews, contact a Deminos advisor on 020 7870 1090.

Author David Ralph

More posts by David Ralph

Leave a Reply