Are discriminatory questions finding their way into interviews?

A new survey finds nearly one-third of job candidates have faced illegal questions in an interview.
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· 4 min read

We’ve all sat through at least one Thanksgiving when an uncle says something that is not okay, and everyone awkwardly tries to navigate around it. It might be a good idea to make sure job candidates don’t feel similarly during your interview process.

Nearly one-third of job seekers reported being asked discriminatory or potentially discriminatory questions during an interview, according to a new survey released by hiring technology firm Greenhouse.

“They’re discriminatory…not only [because] they’re illegal, but it makes the candidate feel like, ‘You’re not asking me things based on my merit or my contribution or my experience or my background. You’re truly trying to use deductive reasoning to find a way to exclude me from this process,’” said Greenhouse’s chief people officer, Donald Knight.

Respondents who identified as Black reported the highest percentage of discrimination (almost 40%), according to the survey of people who live and work in the US, and are over 25% more likely to experience illegal interview questions, compared to their white counterparts. Women are nearly 20% more likely than men.

White candidates primarily cited age-related questions, according to Greenhouse. Candidates who did not identify as white reported questions about race as the primary issue.

The onus is on HR pros to make sure a company’s hiring process is thoughtful and inclusive.

“Essentially, [people teams have] been asleep at the wheel and have not taken the necessary care to go through and try to figure out, ‘Are these the right questions we should be asking?’” Knight said.

The no-nos. It’s illegal to ask applicants questions about disabilities or those that might reveal disabilities, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The agency also recommends you steer clear of questions related to race, religion, sex, and national origin, as they are protected by law. And don’t ask about age, unless it’s about “age-related legal requirements for the job.”

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Family planning is also a no-go. Be sure interviews do not veer into territory related to whether a contender is pregnant or is looking to have children.

“They’re trying to determine where [candidates] fall on a socioeconomic perspective [by] trying to figure out what their family structure is like,” Knight said. “What ends up happening is we use these things to somewhat deduce where a person stands and what their value is.”

The most common discriminatory interview questions were related to age, race, and marital status, according to the survey.

What’s HR to do? What’s missing in many interview processes is structure, he said. At Greenhouse, which also consults companies on their interview processes, nearly a dozen people are involved in hiring. He recommended that HR work with everyone on interview and follow-up questions ahead of time.

“So many companies have not necessarily invested in looking at the inventories of questions that they pull from, and then making sure that said questions are not exclusionary or discriminatory in nature,” Knight said.

There are 53 EEOC offices around the country, and HR teams concerned about their interview processes can reach out for training and assistance.

“You should be trying to find ways to uncover how this person will be a positive contribution to our business,” he said. “Companies, starting with people teams, have a responsibility to make sure not just employees but candidates feel that, whether they join or not.”—AD

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @adamderose on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Adam for his number on Signal.

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