What Not to Do: Illegal Interview Questions to Avoid

Job interviews play an important role in identifying the right candidates for your open jobs because they provide the opportunity to ask probing questions and gain valuable insight into what each applicant has to offer. But ask the wrong question and you could find your veterinary practice in hot water. In fact, there are certain questions that are off-limits from a legal perspective. To avoid going down the wrong path with your interviews, here are some illegal questions to steer clear of.

What constitutes an “illegal” interview question?

First, let’s clarify that the term “illegal” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be breaking a specific law by asking them, but since these types of questions could result in a costly discrimination lawsuit, they’re generally referred to as illegal. These may include any questions that are related to an applicant’s:

  • Age
  • Race, ethnicity or color
  • Gender or sex
  • Birthplace or country of national origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Marital or family status or pregnancy

Problems often arise when the interviewer and interviewee become a little too comfortable and allow the process to turn more personal. In these instances, sometimes a question that seems innocuous on the surface can actually result in a veterinary recruiting disaster.

Sample Illegal Interview Questions

To break things down, let’s take a look at a few questions that might lead your interview on a path you don’t want to travel down:

  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • What does your spouse do for a living?
  • How old are your children?
  • What arrangements do you make for child care while you work?
  • How long do you plan to work until you retire?
  • Have you experienced any serious illnesses recently?
  • Will you need time off or accommodations for religious reasons?

To avoid these types of questions, keep your veterinary recruiting process focused primarily on the skills, experience and behaviors that are needed to perform the job in question. If you find the discussion beginning to stray off course toward topics that could be discriminatory, bring the conversation back on track by asking another job-related interview question.

Sample Legal Interview Questions

Of course, in addition to knowing what you shouldn’t ask, it can be helpful to know what questions pass the sniff test for keeping your interviews on the up-and-up. Here are a few such examples:

  • Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy.
  • What are the positive aspects of your current job and work environment?
  • Describe the management style that will bring forth your best work and efforts.
  • When you work as part of a team, describe the role that you are most likely to play.
  • How would your co-workers describe your work style and contributions in your current or former job?
  • What are the biggest expectations that you have of senior leaders?
  • Tell me about an occasion when you believe that you delighted a client.

Of course, these questions are just meant to serve as a guide or foundation. You will want to add more based on the specific role and the needs/culture of your practice.

Again, the goal is to keep all questions and answers focused primarily on the job you’re trying to recruit for and the skills and experience needed to succeed in that role. For best results, we recommend preparing a list of questions in advance so that you can refer back to it should the conversation begin to go off track.

What to Do if the Candidate Offers Answers to Questions You Want to Avoid

Should a candidate you’re interviewing offer potentially discriminating information, such as saying they need a flexible schedule due to their child care needs, you’re free to respond in a way that demonstrates your practice’s flexibility or other accommodations, just don’t pursue the topic further. And, remember, you cannot use such identifying information in your hiring decision.

During your veterinary recruiting activities, it’s important to be mindful of best practices as well as what not to do. By recognizing which types of questions to avoid, you can ensure that your interviews are carried out in a way that won’t place your practice or your reputation in harm’s way.