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What Not To Ask In An Interview: Advice For Clients

By Shanice on

When you’re conducting interview after interview, it can be easy to stick to the old tried and tested measures. But what happens when you ask questions which don’t relate to the job? And what if one of your questions has legal implications you’re not aware of? Here is a list of questions which are legally questionable.

Interview Q: Are you from the UK?/ Is English your first language?

By law, employers must check that applicants are eligible to work within the UK. However, any other questions relating to race, religion, or first language are expressly prohibited, as they could raise questions of discrimination. There may be a requirement for staff to speak fluently in order to operate effectively. But there is absolutely no obligation in most cases for English to be a candidate’s first language.

What you can ask: ‘What languages do you write / speak fluently?

Interview Q: Are you married?

You cannot ask any questions about marital status, children, and future family plans at an interview. Not only are these questions of a personal and potentially discriminatory nature, this particular line of questioning has been used in the past to determine a person’s sexual orientation. Which, of course, has no bearing on a candidate’s ability to do the job.

What you can ask: ‘Do you have any current commitments which may affect your ability to do this job, or which may impact your attendance?’ 

Interview Q: How old are you?

Although this seems like quite an innocent question on the surface, there are very few reasons you may legally ask a candidate for their age. Any other questions relating to age could inform your decision and could, therefore, be classed as discrimination. It is also prohibited to make slightly more ‘subtle’ attempts to ask the same question, such as asking for a graduation date or potential retirement plans. Of course, an employee may need to be over 18 years of age to sell certain products (alcohol, for example). However, you can’t ask for any specific detail beyond confirming that they are over the required age.

What you can ask: ‘Are you over 18?’

Interview Q: How many sickness days did you take in your last period of employment?

It is unlawful to ask a candidate about any health or disability issues before you have offered them a position. Questions about previous sickness absence fall into this category. You can make enquiries regarding health once you have offered the position to the candidate. But only if these relate to a candidate’s ability to carry out the role effectively. For more information, you can refer to the Equality Act (2010).

What you can ask: ‘Do you have any specific requirements in order to perform this job effectively?’

Interview Q: Do you have any previous criminal convictions? 

The only circumstances in which you can ask this question are to establish whether an applicant needs an assessment to determine their suitability for the job, or to determine whether you will need to make adjustments in order to adequately accommodate a candidate’s needs.

The candidate is under no obligation to disclose any criminal convictions if they have completed their sentence. In fact, it is illegal for an employer to refuse employment to an individual because of a previous crime. Unless, of course, it relates to the role in question (for example, teacher, child-minder, a senior banking or financial role). The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) (formerly known as CRB checks) carry out criminal records checks for certain roles (e.g. working with children, healthcare etc.), but employers should undertake these before the interview stage.

What you can ask: ‘Do you know of any reasons why you may not legally be able to take this position?’


These are only a selected bunch of questions of this nature. There are many more – so be aware!