The no. 1 question you should NEVER ask when interviewing someone (plus free cheatsheet)

5th February 2018

If you’re a business owner, it’s likely that you interview people, as part of your hiring process. But if you’re asking this question, either to make conversation or because you’re curious, it could get you into trouble…   It’s pretty well known now that during job interviews some topics are off limits, such as asking their age, if they have children, or health questions etc. This is because it’s unfair and illegal to penalise people because of their personal characters. It should solely be about their skill to do the job and if their personality / style is the right fit for you culture. However, when trying to build a friendly rapport during an interview, it’s very easy to ask questions which are completely innocent, however could be perceived by the interviewee as being discriminatory. As a result, you do open yourself up to risk of being sued, because job applicants can take legal action against you if they feel they have not got the job on the grounds of their age, gender, religious beliefs etc. Because of Brexit, and a lot in the press about people working illegally in the UK, it’s completely understandable for a business owner to want to check the individual has the right to work in the UK before extending a job offer. Therefore, I’ve started to see the question “Do you come from the UK” become more popular when planning what questions to ask, with my clients. However, this question is up there with asking someone their age, or asking a female candidate about her childcare arrangements.

Why you shouldn’t ask this question 

In this scenario, if the person ends up not getting the job, the issue is they might think they weren’t successful because of the colour of their skin, or perhaps because English is their second language. This could then leave you open to a possible claim for race discrimination.

What you can say instead

Of course, no one sets out to discriminate at interview, and most employers know they can’t hire someone who isn’t allowed to work in the UK. In fact, it’s a legal requirement to check that anyone about to start work for you is entitled to work in the UK. Knowing what you can ask to find out this information though can be tricky. There is actually a simple question that you can, and should, use as part of your interview process. Asking candidates ‘Are you eligible to work in the UK?’ is a legitimate question. Asking this of ALL your candidates means you’re being fair and treating everyone the same rather than making judgements.

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Find out 10 questions you should avoid asking during an interview, and what you can ask instead!


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Let’s look at a real example of discrimination in the recruitment process

Aurelie Fhima, a 23 year old Jewish woman, was rejected for a job at a car rental firm because she couldn’t work Saturdays. She sent her CV to Manchester-based Travel Jigsaw and was invited to a face-to-face interview. But her application was turned down after she revealed she observes Shabbat or Sabbath – the Jewish day of rest which lasts from sundown on Friday until sunset on Saturday. The day of rest prevents work of any kind for people who adhere to the faith. Bosses at Travel Jigsaw sent her a letter after the interview which said: “After careful consideration we cannot offer you a position at this time. “We are still looking for people who are flexible enough to work Saturdays.” She asked the firm to review its decision and launched legal action when it refused, claiming indirect discrimination on grounds of religion. Employment tribunal judges found in her favour, and she was awarded £16,000 in damages, which the company had to pay her.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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