Ask the HR Pro
By Ashleigh Petersen

Ask the HR Pro

Human Resources Tip of the Month

Q: Do you have any advice on what to do and not to do during an in-person interview?

A: Once you have winnowed down your stack of resumes, the next step is the in-person interview. How should you use the relatively brief time to get to know — and assess — a near stranger? How can you tell if a candidate will be a good fit? And finally, what questions are you legally allowed and not allowed to ask?

Prepare your questions. Before you meet candidates face-to-face, you need to figure out exactly what you are looking for in a new hire. This knowledge will help you construct the right questions for the interview. When making this determination look to the work attributes of your top performers. How are they resourceful? What did they accomplish prior to working at your organization? What was their educational experience? Those answers will help you create criteria and enable you to construct relevant questions.

Certain interview questions are off-limits because they open the door to allegations of discrimination, even if that was not the intention. As a hiring manager, it is important for you to know where to draw the line. Here are some guidelines to help.

What to do and not do during interviews


  • Remember the general rule: If information is not necessary to determine applicant’s suitability for the position — do not ask about it.
  • Ask applicants about their previous work records, including questions regarding the names and addresses of previous employers, the types of jobs held, the duties associated with these jobs, the length of time on prior jobs, the different positions held, their performance in each position, the reasons the applicant left previous employers, gaps in work history and why the applicant is now interested in the position being offered.
  • Keep your questions focused on the candidate’s education, work experience, skills, and abilities, along with the particulars of the job sought to establish whether an applicant is sufficiently qualified to perform the job for which you are interviewing.
  • Ask all questions related to job performance in their prior roles.
  • Ask about degrees, certifications or licenses required for the job.

Do not:

  • Ask any question — directly or indirectly — that seeks an applicant’s age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, ancestry, military status or disability.
  • Ask any questions about an applicant’s salary history. Several states have made such inquiries unlawful as part of equal pay legislation.
  • Pursue an inappropriate subject, even if raised by the applicant. Move to an appropriate line of questioning immediately without response or reaction to the inappropriate subject area. You cannot rely on such information, even if volunteered by the applicant, in making the hiring decision.
  • Promise applicants who are to be hired any definite length or duration of employment.
  • Ask third parties or search other sources such as the internet — Facebook, Instagram, etc. — for answers to questions that you could not ask the applicant directly. You can review an applicant’s LinkedIn profile and postings but, again, you cannot rely on information on inappropriate subject areas even if included by him or her.

Other permissible interview inquiries

In addition to what you can do listed earlier, it is legally permissible to ask an applicant the following:

  • Perceived strengths and weaknesses of the applicant.
  • Reasons for wanting to work at this company.
  • Questions about work attitudes and work ethic of the applicant.
  • Inquiries into an applicant’s ability to meet the work hours and schedule.
  • How does the applicant deal with a difficult co-worker/supervisor/ client/customer/vendor or stressful situations at work.

Job interview questions do not need to raise legal liability. The simple rule is to avoid questions that hint at discrimination, as defined by equal employment opportunity laws. By following this guidance, your company will be positioned to make a good hire in a legally compliant manner. 

Ashleigh Petersen

Ashleigh PetersenAshleigh Petersen

Ashleigh Petersen is the digital communications manager for Rental Management. She writes news and feature articles, plus coordinates the monthly Safety Issue and several sections in the magazine. Ashleigh loves spending time with her husband and young son, baking, gardening and listening to true crime and comedy podcasts.

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