Five questions you should not hear in job interviews


It’s a sad fact that illegal questions are still asked in job interviews. Even though we live in fairly enlightened times, there may still be some reliance on stereotypes related to gender, ethnicity and other aspects of identity when making decisions. Most of the time, employers and their HR representatives are careful to avoid such questions, but occasionally, often with a small employer, inappropriate questions arise, sometimes blurted out because of inexperience or lack of knowledge of the law. Here are five questions that you should never hear in a job interview in Canada:

  • How old are you?

Age shouldn’t be a factor when deciding about employment for most adults. The minimum age to work is 12 and children between 12 and 14 face some restrictions, including a requirement for parental permission for employment. Once a person has turned 19, though, he or she is protected from age discrimination in hiring. At the other end of the life span, there is no mandatory retirement in Canada, so a worker can never be fired or rejected in hiring for being too old, as long as he or she can successfully do the job. After getting the job, workers are asked for their date of birth and Social Insurance Number for payroll purposes. The threat of discrimination in hiring has passed by that point.

  • Where are you from?

Ethnicity and country of origin should not be used as factors in determining fit for work. Similarly, identification of race is not essential to deciding whether a candidate can perform the requirements of a job. Of course, employers are also considering their teams and which candidates fit best with existing teams. As a result, a Canadian value is the goal of diversity: celebrating our differences and ensuring everyone feels accepted because of her/his work contribution regardless of ethnic origin. Sometimes, employers are just curious about your country of origin. However, the job interview is not the place to explore that curiosity.

  • What’s your religion?

Yikes! This is a question that strikes fear into most interviewers so they mostly avoid it like the rest of us avoid trans-fat laden hot dogs. In Canada, lawmakers have made big efforts to accept diverse religions and the practices that accompany them. As a topic, religion shouldn’t come up in job interview questions. Furthermore, you shouldn’t be asked any sneaky questions about religion such as what holidays you celebrate.

  • Do you have any disabilities or health conditions that we should be aware of?

Employers should not ask about physical or mental disabilities. This normally does not raise eyebrows, until the discussion centres on higher profile health issues. The law protects people from discrimination related to Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, heart attack, drug and alcohol dependency, and even obesity. Employers have a reasonable “duty to accommodate” workers with physical or mental disabilities. Accommodation questions, such as what supports are needed to do the work, can be asked after a candidate has been hired.

  • Are you married? Do you have children? Do you plan to have children?

Usually women, rather than men, experience these questions as employers decide whether to hire a woman who they fear will not stay with the company beyond marriage or child birth. Employers may also be trying to avoid the legal requirement of maternity leave, which is available to mothers regardless of marital status. If asked this question, you should try not to answer it. Instead, get to the heart of the underlying issue, which is whether you will commit to work with the organization for a lengthy amount of time. Usually employers hope for a commitment of at least a year.

These are a few of the questions that should not be asked in job interviews. If you find yourself facing one of these, try to avoid answering. One strategy is to target the motivation for the question in this way, “I’m not sure why you are asking that question, but if you are concerned about <insert issue, such as, long term commitment to the job, ability to fulfil the physical requirements of the job, or likelihood of fitting with the existing team>, I would be happy to discuss that.”

Gwen PawlikowskiAbout the Author:
Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.

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