Job Interview Questions: What You Can and Can’t Ask


What kind of job interview questions can you ask? During the interview process, you’re trying to find out everything you can about potential employees. Each employee you hire represents a major investment of time, money, and trust, so you will naturally be looking for every possible angle.

You need to be aware, though, that there are limits to what you are allowed to ask in an interview. While there are many questions you are allowed to ask in the job interview process, there are also many questions that are out of bounds. Many employers have run into problems with these kinds of job interview questions, and you need to know what these dangerous categories are.

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Frame It Carefully

During the interview, there are some topics you are allowed to ask general questions about, usually regarding whether a candidate fits a category, but cannot ask for specific details. For example, you are not allowed to ask someone’s age. You are only allowed to ask if they are 18 or older. Another field to avoid is asking a question about someone’s national origin. You can ask whether a candidate is a U.S. citizen and whether they have a green card or work visa, but not about specific origin. And while learning about a candidate’s education is certainly part of the process, you cannot ask specifically if a person has graduated from high school or college; you can only ask about their general educational background. Finally, when inquiring into a person’s criminal history, you can only ask about convictions, not arrests.

Only If It’s Relevant

Some job interview questions can only be asked if they are relevant to the position you are interviewing a person for, and even then you might only be able to ask it indirectly. You can never ask a person about their religion. However, if the job requires someone to work on Saturdays or Sundays, you may ask if that would be a problem, without specifically mentioning religion. If you’re asking about military background, you can only do so if the experience is necessary for the position, and even then you cannot ask about what type of discharge the individual received. As well, be wary of any questions about height and weight. You cannot ask unless it is relevant to the job. A good example is that the fire department needs to know the physical characteristics of firemen, but those questions are not permissible for many fields.

Don’t Do It

Finally, some categories are completely off limits no matter what. You can never ask about race or marital status, for instance. Another off-limits topic is disability. You cannot ask about a disability. However, the candidate is supposed to tell you if there is anything that is not obvious that would require job accommodations to perform the necessary duties. One the candidate discloses that to you, you are allowed to ask the applicant whether they would be able to perform the functions of the position.

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Angela Cordle

Angela Cordle

Angela Cordle is the EVP of GoSmallBiz and Tarkenton Financial. In this role, she serves as the Human Resources Director, overseeing the provision of HR services, policies, and programs for the company. She brings practical and experiential knowledge of HR best practices to small businesses. Angela is also an Investment Advisor Representative and Executive Vice President of Tarkenton Financial, LLC. In addition to working with advisors throughout the United States, Angela works with clients exclusively in the Atlanta area to educate and assist them in preparing for retirement. Angela holds a BBA from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, her Series 65 investment license as well as being insurance licensed in all 50 states.