HR Management & Compliance

Train Hiring Managers to Avoid Ugly Preemployment Inquiries

Yesterday’s Advisor reviewed the good and the bad of preemployment inquiries that all of the people who interview at your organization should be aware of; today, we present a few of the just plain ugly questions that hiring managers must be trained to avoid at all costs.

Avoiding discriminatory practices in hiring should be a top priority, and hiring managers must be trained appropriately. While some of the bad inquiries may be subtle (as we saw in yesterday’s Advisor), there are others so overtly hideous that they practically demand that an applicant file a lawsuit.

The Ugly … Just Don’t Ask!

While these preemployment pitfalls should be obvious to the seasoned HR professional, it never hurts to stay on point and review. Avoid the following topics (and questions):

  • Age, height, or weight. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination in employment against persons who are 40 years old or older, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines cite the example of a minimum height requirement of at least 6 feet having an adverse impact on Asian Americans because of average height differences.
  • Medical conditions or disabilities. Don’t ask, “Why are you in a wheelchair?” or “How many sick days did you use last year?” Stick to the applicant’s ability to perform the essential functions of a specific position—appropriate health-related questions may be asked after a conditional offer of employment (but must be asked of ALL employees). Do note, however, that you may NEVER inquire about genetic information under federal law.
  • Gender, family status, or family plans. Never ask, “Do you have child care in place” or “Are you pregnant?” On a side note, this topic also has ramifications for that old interview standby, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
  • Race or religion. Aside from voluntary information collected for affirmative action reporting requirements, these topics should never come up on an application or during a job interview.


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They Asked What?

An article by Shlomo Sprung posted on businessinsider.com asked LinkedIn users to share some of the most ridiculous interview questions they’ve ever been asked. Here are some of the more terrible—we shouldn’t have to explain why these are ugly!

  • “Are you old enough to have this job? I was 35 at the time.”
  • “Did you know this company is very much against the military?”
  • “If I looked in your bedroom closet at home … what would I find?”
  • “Would you feel comfortable attending functions in the all-white section of the city?”
  • “I only brought you in because we need to interview some women for this position. Oh, and can you fill out that EEOC form on the way out?”


Off-the-wall interview questions, lengthy printed job descriptions and rounds of repetitive interviews are a very 1989 – or even 2003 – way of recruiting. Gerry Crispin, Principal of CareerXroads, says it’s high time for a change. Click here to download his advice now!


Some of these may seem obvious, but complacency can be a powerful enemy of success (not to mention a useful ally of plaintiffs’ attorneys). And we all know what the solution to complacency is—effective training!