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What not to ask during an interview There was a time—before I was your favorite PIA government affairs counsel—when I was a naïve job searcher fresh out of undergraduate school. Eager to find my place in the workforce, I never gave a second thought to the questions I was asked as a prospective employee. After law school, I am (a little) smarter now. However, I still remember when, as an undergrad, I interviewed at an out-of-town business. During the interview, I casually told the interviewer I wanted to relocate to move in with my then boyfriend. The interviewer said, “That’s great! Are you two planning to get married? This area has some great wedding venues.” She was being nice and conversational, and, being an enthusiastic job seeker, I answered her. Her question is something I look back on and cringe. While the question seemed harmless and was a follow up to something I said, it was illegal for her to ask about my impending nuptials. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion. Through the years and various other legislative acts, those protected classes have expanded to include age, disability, marital or family status, pregnancy, and most recently salary history. While the federal statute applies to employers of 15 or more employees, many states, and even some cities and counties have granted further protections to employees and prospective employees. As a business owner, you have most likely had the opportunity to interview potential employees for positions within your agency. It is important to know which questions you should avoid during an interview to prevent the possibly of discriminatory hiring practices. Think back to some of your prior interviews and try to remember if you have ever asked this question, whether formally or during conversation: “Do you have children?” What about: “What does your husband/wife do for a living?” Did you ever have a conversation with a job applicant in which he or she offered up information as I did? Would you have followed up the statement with my interviewer’s same question? Now that I have you thinking, here is the crux of the matter: What questions should you stay away from during an interview and what questions are appropriate to determine whether an applicant is qualified for the position and a good fit for the company’s culture? To help you prepare for your next round of interviews, here are some helpful hints on what questions to avoid and what you should ask instead.



sarah coli, esq. Government affairs counsel, PIA Management Services

Avoid asking the interviewees: how old their children are; how many children they have; if they plan on having children; the grade level of their children; who takes care of the children while they are at work; etc. Even if the applicant has shared information about having children, there is no need for a prospective employer to ask these types of follow-up questions as they could be used as evidence of discrimination on the basis of family status should the applicant not be hired. Also avoid questions about whether the interviewee is married; planning to get married; or pregnant; etc. You should never ask an interviewee what his or her spouse does for a living. Do not ask if a woman prefers to be addressed as Miss., Ms. or Mrs., or her maiden name. These questions imply an illegal motive to hire an applicant who will not require time off for a wedding, child birth or care or other family-related needs. However, an employer can answer questions that an applicant asks. For example, if an applicant asks about a flexible work schedule and explains that he needs one because he is a single father of three, then the employer can answer his question regarding the schedule. The


Spring 2018 Magazine