8 surprising questions you can't ask in UK job interviews

Job interviews are the make or break factor of any job search, not just for your candidates but for your hiring teams as well. A powerful tool in assessing candidate suitability for any vacancy both on a personal and professional level, these meetings are the perfect chance for you to market your organisation to a prospective employee. In the UK, there are a number of laws and regulations that can impact your recruitment process – but what do you need to look out for?

Candidate information at the interview stage

It all comes down to what information you are and aren’t entitled to in the interview process and which types of information could lead to potential discrimination of your interviewees. For example, in the UK, you can’t ask about:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race
  • Marital status
  • Children

There are other areas that may also cause a few issues, although are acceptable under specific circumstances, for example if they are strictly relevant to the job you are interviewing for. These include:

  • Personal lifestyle choices
  • Extended periods of illness
  • Political or other affiliations
  • Physical traits including strength and height

Please note that candidates are not under any obligation to provide this information if asked.

Want to ensure your hiring teams stay on track in your next round of candidate interviews? Take a look below at our top surprising questions to avoid in UK job interviews.

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Interview questions to avoid and why

It’s not as black and white as you may think.

What does your husband/wife do for a living?

Although this may seem like harmless conversation, it goes a long way to assuming information about your candidate. Marital status and sexual orientation are strictly off limits in UK job interviews and discussions of financial situations are also worth avoiding. There is also the possibility that you could upset or deter a candidate from pursuing a role with you if you incorrectly assume any of this information.

What year of school are your children in?

This is a surprisingly loaded question. Not only does it involve directly asking about children – another subject that is completely legally off-limits – it also allows you to infer information about financial situations and potentially the age of your candidates. If your candidate offers information about their children, you should politely steer the conversation back onto topics of experience and qualifications.

Do you need time away for religious holidays?

It goes without saying that questions directly regarding a candidate’s religion are not acceptable in UK job interviews. This opens up opportunity for candidates to feel discriminated against should they not get the position. Holiday/time off required for religious holidays should have no impact on your recruitment process, nor should the religious beliefs of your interviewee, so it’s best to avoid this topic altogether.

What are your plans for Christmas?

While this may seem like general chit-chat, it opens up the interviewee to an awful lot of pressure. Answering this question could lead them to involuntarily or accidentally offer information about their family life, marital status and sexuality, religious beliefs, indications of age, and whether they have any children. This one question opens up the possibility of crossing most if not all of the lines put in place by UK employment law, so is best avoided.

What year did you graduate from school/university?

Chances are, this information will be volunteered on your candidate’s CV or possibly in your own application process. However, if this information is not required for the role there is no need to ask. Qualifications are important for many positions, but it’s worth asking yourself: is it necessary to know the year in which they graduated? This can provide indications of age as well as assumptions of educational background (if the information hasn’t already been provided) which can cause unnecessary bias in the interview process.

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Where did you grow up?

For a number of reasons, this question can be quite inappropriate. Again, this is the sort of information that may be volunteered by your interviewee. However, this will indicate the country in which they were born which opens up the door for potential discrimination. Alongside this, anecdotes of childhood can indicate age, religious and political affiliations growing up, and other personal details that you are not entitled to from your candidate.

How would you cope with a large age gap between yourself and your colleagues?

While this question may feel important to you as employers, it can cast doubt in the minds of your candidates. Ageism can be a significant problem in the workplace and this provides expectations that this is a considerable possibility in your organisation. It can also be used to infer information about your candidate’s age which once again, is not appropriate in a UK job interview.

Who do you live with/what is your living situation?

While this question doesn’t directly ask about any of the disallowed information outlined above, it does allow for information about marital status, whether or not your candidate has children, sexual orientation, and financial situation. As none of this information is relevant to your talent search or the job at hand (as well as being information you are not entitled to under UK employment law), it’s best to avoid this topic of conversation completely.

As you can see, it’s not as simple as asking if someone has children, if they are married, or what country they were born in. Simple conversational questions can lead your candidates to provide information that you do not have a legal right to.

What to do if candidates volunteer information

There is every possibility your candidate may bring up information such as their age or how many children they have. Although this information is being volunteered, it’s important to steer the conversation away rather than ask follow up questions that may direct them towards offering more information.

Something to consider:

While our team have done a great deal of research regarding this topic, it is worth considering that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t match all situations. Therefore, it could still be worth approaching a lawyer or solicitor for further legal advice before embarking on your interview process.

Top tip:

Provide your interviewers with suggested interview questions and guidelines by uploading them to your hiring manager portal within your ATS

Want to know more about how the interview stage of recruitment can impact equality and diversity in your organisation?

Download our pocket guide

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