Interviews

It’s one of the first questions anyone working in HR gets asked.

Exactly what can you ask – and what must you steer clear of – when you are interviewing a candidate for a job?

It sounds simple enough, but we’ve all heard of cases where the employer got things disastrously wrong and ended up in a tribunal facing a discrimination action.

But there are a few simple tips to follow which should steer you in the right direction – and help ensure you pick the best candidate for all the right reasons.

Most importantly, remember that any interview should be used to test the candidate’s ability to do the job they are applying for. Questions should be directed entirely to this goal. Anything which might suggest a bias on your part must be avoided.

So, here are a few examples of questions you should avoid – and the reasons why.

Is English your first language?

Employers are not entitled to ask any candidate about their race, religion or native language. A question such as this could indicate a bias. As long as their language skills are appropriate to the post, it does not matter if it is a first, second or third language. Instead, ensure you check that the candidate is eligible to work in the UK and ask what languages they can speak fluently.

How old are you?

Except for a handful of cases, age is not a relevant issue in most jobs and you should not ask about it. Avoid trying to ask questions which hint at age indirectly too – such as retirement plans. The only time an applicant should be asked to give their age is if there is a legal requirement to be over a certain age to carry out the post being filled, such as selling alcohol.

Do you have children?

There is little likelihood a candidate’s family background will have any impact on their ability to do the job, so you should not ask them about it. It falls into the realm of ‘protected characteristics’ – the things which employers are legally banned from taking into consideration when filling vacancies. Other protected characteristics include marital and relationship status and whether a candidate plans to start a family.

Do you smoke?

Again, there a few jobs where a candidate’s use of cigarettes is likely to influence their ability to do the job, so don’t ask about it.

In fact, avoid asking about health in general and certainly steer clear of discussing previous sickness records.

You can only ask about health or disability if you are taking positive action to recruit a disabled person, you are attempting to assess if a candidate needs help to take part in the interview or if the post has specific requirements that cannot be met with reasonable adjustments.

Do you have any criminal convictions?

If a conviction is spent, it cannot be used to justify turning a candidate down for a role, and they do not have to tell you about it.

There are some areas of employment which are exempt from this rule, such as working in a school, but unless the work directly relates to one of these areas, steer clear of this line of questioning.

Are you in a trade union?

Don’t ask. You can’t turn someone down just because they are a union member and you cannot force them to join before you’ll take them on. It’s simply an area of discussion which is off the agenda.

There are, of course, lots more similar questions to avoid. But keep your focus on asking questions which determine a candidate’s ability to do the work being offered – rather than any distractions – and not only will you stay the right side of the law, but you’ll also get the best person for the job.

And if you need any expert help, we are just the click of a button away.

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