published July 6, 2015

By Maria Laus, Author - LawCrossing

Balancing Family and Work: A Practical Guide to Nondiscriminatory Interviewing

Updated November 21, 2022
Learn how to avoid off-limits questions in a law firm interview.
Hiring is hard enough without the added worry of legal liability. This is why it's so important to be prepared when posting job advertisements and interviewing candidates since Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against potential employees during the hiring process--including both advertising jobs available or conducting interviews with applicants in order for them to feel welcome when applying for the job opportunity.

A job description made by a Canadian staffing services firm has been questioned because it implied that "men and women would be given different salaries." And it even specified that only Asian and European in national origin would be considered."

employer sorting candidate resumes

This job advertisement illustrated how job descriptions and job advertisements could lead to incidents like discrimination in interviews, which could be in violation of Federal laws. Thus, careful consideration of how you craft your job advertisements and even later on while conducting job interviews could help avoid legal liabilities.

This blog will discuss how to navigate the challenging hiring process and avoid discriminatory interview questions.

job candidate

Improper questioning and illegal job interview questions during the hiring process could be very costly to companies if proven violations of human rights. One company paid off an applicant because of impertinent questions during the hiring process. According to the tribunal investigation, the job candidate was first assured she would get the job because she passed the initial screening but later on as she was interviewed, she was asked personal questions, which she thought her answers led to her not being hired. The company paid the candidate $4,500 in compensation because of workers' discrimination.

Another female candidate was asked inappropriate questions when she applied for an auto bodywork repair assistant. She was asked by the owner if she "really wanted to get her hands dirty." Upon her start at the job, she was given clerical work although she originally applied for the auto bodywork position. She filed a complaint and won $7,000 for a worker's compensation claim on the basis of gender discrimination.

job interview questions

How to Avoid Illegal Interview Questions

Age Discrimination

Avoid questions about age, date of birth, and graduation date. Focus on the substance of a candidate's experience rather than on the number of years of experience. Telling older candidates they are "overqualified" can be perceived as a discriminatory preference for younger candidates.

National origin/ancestry

If language skills are relevant to a position, the hiring manager should ask what languages the candidate speaks during the interview process. Do not ask where the candidate's parents are from or how language skills were acquired.

interview process

Marital or family status

Avoid questions about marital status, spouse, number of children, and child care on job seekers. If a job requires travel or relocation, explain what is required and ask whether the candidate can fulfill these requirements. Avoid questions that seem to presume married women will be less likely to travel or relocate – or that request details of child care arrangements. Avoid asking women whether they prefer to be called "Miss", "Mrs." or "Ms." Questions about spouses may be viewed as discriminatory, not only by women; but also by gay and lesbian candidates. This sensitive issue of gender could also lead to discriminatory sexual orientation questions that should be avoided.


Open-ended questions about whether an interviewee has a disability are discriminatory. Those are illegal interview questions. Employers are permitted to ask whether an interviewee is able to perform the essential functions of a job. However, according to current interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, questions about the provision of accommodations should be raised only when an offer is extended.


Asking what professional organizations and community activities have influenced a candidate's professional development is very relevant to assessing a potential hire. But avoid asking candidates to list all of their organizational affiliations.

Social interests and home life

Questions about home life, social interests, and hobbies are inappropriate and raise numerous red flags. Some interviewers craft their questions with care but alienate candidates through small talk. Initiating a sports conversation with a minority male candidate is an example of small talk that is likely to be perceived as based on racial stereotypes.

Effective Interviewing

interview questions

Focusing on job-related issues not only avoids discrimination but also results in more productive, effective interviews. Additionally, as an interviewer, you can enhance your role if you:  

  • Know the hiring objectives of your organization. Understand the skills required for positions being filled. Be able to describe the responsibilities of entry-level attorneys.

  • Know your organization. Be able to discuss key marketing points and highlights of practice areas for which you are interviewing.

  • Prepare by reviewing résumés thoroughly. Your knowledge of a résumé will sharpen your questions and communicate your organization's sincere interest in the candidate.

  • Listen. Experienced, effective interviewers tend to talk only about 20% of the time during an interview. Eighty percent of the time they listen to the candidate. Novice interviewers tend to talk 80% of the time and emerge from interviews knowing little more than they learned from résumés.

  • Know the law. Review equal employment law, and identify ways in which interview questions can reveal subtle biases.

  • Get training. Help ensure that others in your organization who are involved in the callback, and in-office interviews are trained in the principles of nondiscriminatory interviewing.

  • Know your importance. Recognize that interviewing is a specialized skill and that an effective interviewer makes a tremendous contribution to the future of an organization.




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