Q: During a recent interview, I was asked some unusual questions. I was asked about “what country I was from” and “if I liked children.” These questions were not relevant to the job. I never received a job offer from the company, but I can’t help but think they didn’t want to hire me in the first place.
A: Thanks for sharing this concern. It sounds like these questions were illegal, which is unfortunate.
Employers are struggling with hiring and retaining talent. Many leaders within organizations have not been trained on what to ask and what not to ask. Hiring talent effectively includes asking appropriate, job-related and legal questions during the interview process.
Questions about country of origin and/or ancestry should be avoided. Additional questions about children should be avoided. It sounds like the interviewer was trying to get you to talk about children, without actually asking if you had children. Sneaky, unethical or ignorant, or a combination! If a hiring manager is concerned about scheduling and time off issues, questions about the scheduling and/or anticipated time off requests are permissible. For example, it is acceptable to ask: “Are you able to work Saturdays in December since that is our busiest month?” Or, “Do you have any planned time off between now and the end of the year?” The focus should be on the business, productivity issues and scheduling challenges. It is permissible to ask you about your ability to travel. Questions about the number of sick days or illnesses in the past year are also illegal. All candidates should be asked these questions if these are concerns.
Candidates should not be asked about US citizenship unless it is a requirement of the job. Some government jobs (or government sub-contractor jobs) require US citizenship. Most jobs don’t require US citizenship though. Instead, an interviewer can ask whether you can work legally in the US or not. There are many candidates who can work legally in the US but may not be US citizens. Companies need to make sure that candidates are able to work in the US legally but they should not demonstrate a preference one way or another.
Sometimes companies don’t realize that their hiring managers are representing the company so poorly and unprofessionally. It sounds like you would not have been happy there even if you had been offered a job. Some times it makes sense for a candidate to discontinue the interview process with a company, if the company is incompatible with a candidate’s values.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.