Things employers should (and shouldn’t) ask during a job interview

Mar 31, 2022

Things employers should (and shouldn’t) ask during a job interview

Filling a vacancy can be a turbulent time for employers. The desire to find the best possible candidate needs to be balanced with the pragmatic fact you want to find that person before their predecessor leaves, to avoid potential stress on your team and financial implications.

An efficient interview process is key to any successful recruitment drive. So when putting together interview questions it is really important to know what you can ask, what you have to ask and what you must not ask. Otherwise, you could end up breaking the law.

Do ask about language proficiencies / Don’t ask ‘is English your first language?’           

A huge number of jobs here in the UK will require applicants to have a firm grasp of spoken English, and many will require candidates to have written fluency as well.

You are therefore allowed to ask candidates about their fluency in English (or any other language), but you cannot ask them if English is their first language as this contravenes the Equality act of 2010. If you are recruiting for a job that requires a high level of English competency you can ask applicants for their IELTS (International English Language Testing System) scores.

Do ask if someone ‘has the right to work in the UK?’ / Don’t ask if they were born in the UK

All employers are legally required under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 to check that anyone they offer employment to has the right to work in the UK. You must therefore ask any employee for proof of their right to work.

However, nationality is a protected characteristic and therefore you cannot ask someone, for example, if they were born in the United Kingdom, as this may be considered discriminatory. There are certain exceptions to this rule, such as when citizenship is a legal requirement for the role, like jobs within the British Security Services.

Do ask about interests / Don’t ask ‘are you married?’

Getting to know a bit more about the candidate and asking them questions about their interests and passions outside of work can be a great way to break the ice with a potential employee and will also make the interview process less monotonous.

You could ask them what they like to do in their free time, or what their biggest achievements are outside of their job. You should, however, avoid asking personal questions such as ‘are you married’? as this again, is a protected characteristic.

Do ask about availability to work overseas or stay away from home for work / Don’t ask ‘do you have, or are you planning to have, any children?’

In a YouGov Poll for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 36% of respondents believed it was reasonable to ask a woman about her family plans and 46% thought it was reasonable to ask women if they have young children when recruiting.

Yet, doing so could land you in very hot water. Not employing someone because they have childcare commitments is unlawful. If an unsuccessful candidate bought you to a tribunal, with proof you asked this question, there is a good chance that the judges will draw inference that the reason you didn’t employ them was because of their childcare commitments.

You may ask candidates questions like ‘are you able to stay away with work/travel abroad?’, providing that you ask all candidates this and it is a genuine requirement of the job.

Do ask ‘are there any adjustments we need to make for you to fulfil this role?’ / Don’t ask ‘how many sick days did you take in your last period of employment?’

Generally, questions like this should always be avoided. An employer may ask health-related questions to determine if the candidate needs an assessment to find out their suitability for the role, or if they would need to adjust for them so that they could do the job.

You can’t ask questions about sick days, though, as again this could be seen as discrimination.

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