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Employment Strategy Corner: Illegal interview questions

kemperI cannot over-emphasize the importance of selecting legal interview questions. Many of my client companies have expressed interest in this subject and have written me from time to time asking about proper interview questions and answers. Most of us know the obvious questions not to ask a job candidate, or at least the questions to ask with care and caution. These include topics such as age, race, religion and criminal record. But where exactly is the line? At what point does casual conversation intersect with pre-employment interview questioning? Whether you are an employer conducting interview or a job candidate preparing for an interview, I know you will find the list below informative and useful.

Ask Your Interview Questions Right!
Here are just some of the many illegal interview questions, and their legal alternatives:

Subject: Nationality
Are you a U.S. citizen? Where were you born?
Legal Alternative: Are you authorized to work in the United States?

Illegal: What is your native tongue?
Legal Alternative: What languages do you read, speak or write fluently?

Subject: Religion
What religion do you practice?
Legal Alternative: What days are you available to work?

Subject: Affiliations
To what clubs or social organizations do you belong?
Legal Alternative: Do you belong to any professional or trade groups or other organizations that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job?

Subject: Marital / Family status
What was your maiden name?
Legal Alternative: What is your name?

Illegal: Do you have kids?
Legal Alternative: What is your experience with “x” age group?

Illegal: What is your marital status?
Legal Alternative: Would you be willing to relocate if necessary? Would you be willing to travel as needed by the job? Would you be able and willing to work overtime as necessary?

Subject: Age
How old are you?
Legal Alternative: Are you over the age of 18?

Subject: Gender
How do you feel about supervising men/women?
Legal Alternative: Tell me about your previous experience managing teams.

Subject: Personal
How much do you weigh?
Legal Alternative: Are you able to lift 50 pounds and carry it 100 yards, as that is part of the job?

Illegal: How tall are you?
Legal Alternative: Are you able to reach items on a shelf that’s five feet tall?

Subject: Disabilities
Do you have any physical or mental disabilities or medical conditions?
Legal Alternative: What was the date of your last physical exam? Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position?

Subject: Arrest Record
Have you ever been arrested?
Legal Alternative: Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

Subject: Military
If you’ve been in the military, were you honorably discharged? In what branch of the Armed Forces did you serve?
Legal Alternative: What type of training or education did you receive in the military?

The above list gives some very broad guidelines and is not complete. Do not forget to consult your company’s HR Department to check whether your company or state or has any additional restrictions on what to ask and what not to ask. As the interview is key to the employee selection process, it is important to ask only the interview questions which may guide you to select the best candidate based on work experience, character, maturity, judgment and motivation. Any illegal questions or practices on the job application, in the interview or during the testing process may put your company in a situation facing a U.S. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit.

See you here next month for our article: “Here’s how you can cut job turnover”

Philip Kemper is Founder/President of Kemper Associates, a 33-year-old Chicago-based national executive search firm, specializing in permanent and contract staffing for tradeshows and exhibits, staging and equipment rental, business meetings and events production, video, training and incentives and more .A complete bio is on LinkedIn at . For more information, visit To contact Phil with questions, comments and employment needs, email, or call his private phone line: (312) 944-6551.

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