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6 interview questions employers can't ask you

By Ben Madden


If you’re preparing for your next job search, or you’re getting ready for an important interview, then you’ll no doubt be looking into the kinds of questions that a prospective employer may have.

However, there are questions that they can’t ask you, and it’s important to be aware of these, as they may be a potential red flag. Read on to learn more about the types of interview questions that are off-limits and learn why they cannot be asked. 

What is an example of an illegal interview question?

It is illegal for employers to ask questions that could be used to discriminate against a candidate based on their answers. For example, in Victoria, the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) ensures that an interviewer (or anyone) cannot request information that could be then used to discriminate against a potential candidate.

Asking questions about characteristics like age, sexuality, ethnicity, physical/mental ability and marital/family status is illegal because this information could then be used to decide whether to hire or not hire someone, which is considered discrimination.
 
A 2019 article from InHerSight reported that 25% of female respondents to a survey about job interview questions said that they had been asked whether they have children, while 14% were asked whether they were planning on having children. It’s illegal for employers to ask about parental status, because this information can potentially influence the hiring process - even if this is isn't always the employer's intentions when asking such questions.

If you’re an employer, it’s advised that to stay away from these questions, and if you’re an employee, you are not required to answer questions about your personal situation/characteristics if they are asked during an interview.

What questions cannot be asked during an interview?

Looking for some examples of illegal interview questions? We’ve put together a list of some of the questions that you cannot legally be asked during an interview. Some examples of illegal questions include:
 
  1. How old are you?
  2. What is your sexuality?
  3. Do you suffer from any disabilities?
  4. Are you planning to start a family?
  5. Who would you vote for in an upcoming election?
  6. Do you experience any mental health issues?

These questions are all illegal as they could then be used to remove a candidate from the selection process, even if they are the most qualified candidate.

It is important to note that employers can ask questions about a candidate’s situation if it directly relates to their ability to perform a role. For example, if someone is being hired for a role that may require significant manual activity, then employers are permitted to ask about a candidate’s ability to conduct repetitive movements, as well as whether they have any injuries that may prevent them from carrying out their responsibilities to the best of their ability.

It’s important for jobseekers to understand the requirements of any role and determine whether the questions being asked by an employer are relevant to understanding their suitability for the role, or whether the answers could be used to choose a candidate in a way that is unlawful.

What questions are illegal to ask on a job application?

Much like in a job interview, it’s illegal for businesses to ask any questions in a job application that could be used to discriminate against potential candidates. A job application should ask questions about an applicant’s work experience and skillset, not their personal characteristics - as these shouldn’t factor into the hiring process.
 
Discrimination as a result of information provided on job applications is a very real thing. In 2021, Economists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago conducted a discrimination audit of some large U.S companies, starting in late 2019. They submitted 83,000 fake job applications for entry-level positions at 108 companies. The majority of those companies feature in the top 100 of the Fortune 500 list, with applications submitted to some of their subsidiaries. They found that on average, applications from candidates with a “Black name” received fewer responses from employers than similar applications with a “white name”. You can read more about the research here, as well as The New York Times’ article on the study here.
 
Whether it’s in an interview or on a job application, discrimination is an issue that many people face. Companies that discriminate will get left behind, as they refuse to look at the best talent available, but it’s also important for job seekers to be able to recognise the signs of discrimination during the hiring process. Chances are, if a company displays toxic characteristics during a job interview or in the position description, then tits workplace environment will not be a healthy one.
 
If you’re looking for your dream career, or simply want to learn more about the world of work, then Upskilled’s SkillsTalk blog is the place for you.

SkillsTalk provides a range of articles about different aspects of the professional world, providing you with the knowledge you need to climb the career ladder. You can check out SkillsTalk here – and if you are looking for a job in the near future, happy job hunting!

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