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Don’t Ask: Dangerous Job Interview Questions to Avoid

Which Job Interview Questions Should Interviewers Avoid?

Job interviews. Hardly the most enjoyable of experiences, you’d probably agree. In addition to those wasted hours sifting through resumes, you have to deal with cancellations, rescheduling, and late shows. And, when you finally do hold the interviews, you must remain neutral while a series of dry-mouthed candidates try to sell themselves to you. It’s an unnatural situation with a lot on the line. But, rather than the candidates, it’s the employers who should really worry. That’s because interviews are such a high-pressure environment, it’s easy to say the wrong thing. Do you know which job interview questions you should be avoiding as the interviewer?

Accidental Discrimination

Let’s say you’re holding an interview. It’s going well. The candidate is calm, has a stellar resume and an even better attitude. The conversation breezes along until, without a thought, you ask, “do you think you’ll cope with the pace of the job at your age?” Now, you may think it’s a fair and valid question. But, you’ve just asked about a ‘prohibited ground’ under the Ontario Human Rights Code. If you then don’t go on to appoint the candidate, he or she could argue discrimination because you made your decision based on their answer to that one question. If they’re older, perhaps you’d worry that they wouldn’t pick up new technology as quickly as others. Avoid asking directly about—or even hinting at—anything to do with a prohibited ground. The seventeen prohibited grounds are:

  1. Age
  2. Ancestry
  3. Citizenship
  4. Colour
  5. Creed
  6. Disability
  7. Ethnic origin
  8. Family status
  9. Gender expression
  10. Gender identity
  11. Marital status
  12. Place of origin
  13. Race
  14. Receipt of public assistance
  15. Record of offences
  16. Sex
  17. Sexual orientation

Even if a candidate brings one of the seventeen prohibited grounds up for discussion, don’t engage. Direct the conversation back to the role itself.

Exceptional Circumstances

That said, there are some cases where it may be appropriate to ask questions about a prohibited ground, such as sex. But do so with great caution, and make sure your questions only relate to the applicant’s ability to perform in the role and are genuine requirements.

The Simple Science of Interviews

Natural conversation takes turns you can’t predict, so it’s on you to manage it. And just as you have to handle the admin of bringing in candidates for interview, do everything you can to keep the conversation within the confines of the job itself. Use pre-planned questions, review them to make sure they don’t stray into areas that could lead to discrimination, and take a colleague in with you if possible. Remember, interviewing is a skill. You’re seeking someone with the right abilities, the right experience, and the right personality. Finding gold like that is a lot of pressure. Don’t add to it by asking ‘inappropriate questions’.