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Questions you shouldn’t ask at an interview

Some topics are simply off limits at interviews…

Whilst most interview questions are asked as a genuine way to test a candidate’s ability to do the job, some may delve a little too deep when it comes to personal information – and could even indicate discrimination as a result. Whether it’s being done intentionally or not.

To make sure you know exactly what you should and shouldn’t ask, here’s a list of questions you should always avoid:


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

Although you have a legal obligation to check that applicants are eligible to work in the UK – you shouldn’t need to ask any questions about their race, religion or native language.

Because although many jobs may require employees to speak fluently, none of them will need it to be their first language. And if candidates can speak and write in English to the required standard, and can provide proof of legal right to work in the UK, they’re well within their rights to be considered.

In fact, implying that their nationality would affect their ability to do the job could indicate discrimination.

What you could ask instead: ‘What languages do you fluently write or speak?’


Are you married?

Any questions about marital status, children or future family plans should not be asked at an interview.

Not only are these questions of a personal and potentially discriminatory nature, this particular line of questioning could also be used to determine a person’s sexual orientation – something which has no bearing on a candidate’s ability to do the job.

So, no matter what the context, questions like these should be strictly off limits.

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


How old are you?

Although this seems like quite an innocent question on the surface, there are very few reasons you need to ask for a candidate’s age.

Aside from needing to be over 18 to sell certain products (e.g. alcohol) – their age shouldn’t affect their ability to do a job effectively. This means that you have no right to ask about their exact age, or to let it influence your decision to hire them.

You should also steer clear of any other variants of this question, whether it’s asking for a date of birth for your records, when they graduated, or their potential retirement plans.

However, you can ask for date of birth on a separate equality monitoring form – but the person selecting candidates should not be allowed to see this.

What you could ask instead: ‘Are you over 18?’


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

Subjects such as sickness, health, or disabilities should always be avoided at an interview.

The only time you can ask about this is if it’s to establish whether an applicant needs an assessment to determine their suitability for the job, or to determine whether adjustments need to be made in order to accommodate a candidate’s needs (e.g. fitting a disabled toilet).

Once a position has been offered, you can make enquiries into health, but only if these relate to their ability to carry out the role effectively.

For more information, you can refer to the Equality Act (2010).

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


Do you have any previous criminal convictions?

There is no obligation for a candidate to disclose criminal convictions if the sentence has already been spent.

For this reason, you should not refuse employment to an individual because of a previous crime, unless it relates to the role in question (e.g. teaching, childminding, a senior banking or financial role).

Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that criminal records checks are carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for certain roles (e.g. working with children, healthcare etc.), but this should be undertaken by employers before the interview stage. These were formerly known as CRB checks.

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

Other questions you can’t ask: ‘What religion are you?’, ‘what are your sexual preferences?’ ‘are you in debt?’, ‘do you have children?’, ‘do you smoke?’, ‘are you a trade union member?’


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