Most people who conduct job interviews aren't actually experts in hiring. In theory, recruiters should be (although, I've heard some horror stories about "professional" recruiters as well), but most hiring managers hire maybe one person per year. As a result, most hiring managers never become experts in hiring.
Job interviews should be designed to find people who are the most qualified for the job and who would also be the best fit for the department. You want to make sure you hire people who are reliable, talented, and will fit in. The desire to do this can sometimes lead a hiring manager to ask questions she shouldn't ask. Additionally, sometimes hiring managers have prejudices that should be set aside for hiring. Remember, the only the thing you should be concerned with is the ability to do the job. Nothing else should matter.
I asked attorney Cortney Shegerian, of Shegerian & Associates, what are some questions that people ask that they shouldn't. Here's what she said:
- "Will you need time off for personal reasons?"
- "Is anyone in your family disabled?"
- "Do you have any serious health conditions or disabilities?"
- "How old are you? How many more years do you plan on working?" (Basically, any age question should be avoided unless you are making sure the person is not a minor)
- "Are you religious? What do you believe in?"
- "What race do you identify with?"
- "What gender are you? Are you transgender?"
- "What's your sexual orientation?"
Basically, these are questions which give you information you can't use to make your decision. (Technically, sexual orientation/transgender status isn't a protected class in all states, but the EEOC is arguing it is and most likely the federal courts will agree. Regardless, it's irrelevant to someone's ability to do a job and legal or not, you're a jerk if you use this as part of your decision-making process.)
The first question, "Will you need time off for personal reasons?" seems like a reasonable question at first. You need to know if someone is going to reliably there. However, it can elicit responses which are illegal to consider. For example, "I'm going to need to take time off in six months because I'm pregnant." Ooops, now if you reject the candidate, you've got to prove that you didn't reject her because of the pregnancy. If you didn't ask, you wouldn't know and can't be accused of pregnancy discrimination.
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), you have to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled employee, so you might think it makes sense to find out before you hire. However, like the question above, if the person says yes, then you're in the uncomfortable position of having to prove that you didn't consider their disabilities if you don't hire the person. Instead, let the person say what accommodations she may need during the negotiation phase of the hiring process. If she doesn't bring it up, you don't need to ask.
Race, gender, age, religion, are all irrelevant in the hiring process (except for making sure someone is over 18). You may be shocked at this as the job applications you've filled out have asked you for your race. This is for reporting to the federal government, and the data should be separated from the application.
Remember, when you interview someone, keep to things that are relevant to the actual job. Save the chit-chat for after the person is hired. Don't ask anything that you don't want to use in your hiring decision.