When conducting job interviews, it’s important to give all applicants an equal chance of getting the job.

Under UK law, employers generally cannot ask about ‘protected characteristics’ in a job interview, as this could lead to discrimination.

What are protected characteristics?

Here are some examples of protected characteristics:
Age
Disabilities
Health
Marital Status
Nationality
Plans to have children
Race / Ethnicity
Religion / Beliefs
Sex & Gender Identity
Sexuality

Questions not to ask in a job interview

Legally, an employer can only ask a prospective employee about protected characteristics if it’s part of a positive action to help people with a particular characteristic (for example, an initiative to hire more LGBT workers).

In most other cases, it’s illegal to ask an interviewee questions like...
Do you have any plans to start a family?
Where is that accent from?
Are you in a relationship?
Did you grow up outside of the UK?
Are you a Christian?
These are just a few examples – generally speaking, any question that pertains to protected characteristics is off-limits. It’s illegal to make a hiring decision based on age, gender, ethnicity and other such characteristics, so you shouldn’t be asking about these things in a job interview!

A surprising number of interviewers don’t know this!

We at Hyper Recruitment Solutions conducted an online survey of over 2,000 hiring managers and other people who have been involved in interviewing candidates for their companies.

Some of our findings were truly startling!

Many interviewers admitted to asking inappropriate questions.

Acceptable
Inappropriate
Age
What year did you graduate?What year were you born?
Family & Relationships
Do you have any children?Are you in a relationship or married?Have you got any plans to start a family?Will you need flexible time for family life?Will you need time off during half term?
Health
Are you physically fit and healthy?
Place of Origin
Where is your accent from?Did you grow up outside of the UK?

And some thought that inappropriate or even illegal questions/statements were perfectly acceptable!

Acceptable
Inappropriate
Illegal
Age
What year were you born?
Beliefs
Will you need time off for religious holidays?
Family & Relationships
I noticed you are single on FacebookDo you plan to have any more children?Have you got any plans to start a family?Are you planning on maternity / paternity leave?Who do you live with?Are you in a relationship / married?Will you need time off during half term?Will you need flexible time for family life?Do you have any children?
Health
Do you often get a migraine or headache?
Interests & Personality
Our team has a great work / life balance – we always go out and get drunkDo you drink alcohol?Which social media platforms do you use?You’ll get along with xx as you are into similar thingsWe have a young culture here – does that appeal to you?You’ll fit in
Place of Origin
Are your parents from outside the UK?Where is your accent from?

Other interesting findings:

Nearly half of interviewers (47%) said they had never received official training on what illegal / inappropriate interview questions.
42% of male interviewers think it’s acceptable to ask candidates if they’re planning on taking maternity/paternity leave. Just 24% of female interviewers said it was acceptable.
We also asked over 1,000 employees for their perspectives on inappropriate interview questions. Approximately 1 in 5 (19%) said they felt they’d been mistreated in an interview.
23% of male employees and 16% of female employees said they had felt mistreated in an interview. Men (43%) were almost twice as likely as women (22%) to voice this feeling to the interviewer.

Ricky Martin on Inappropriate Interview Questions

"It's pretty shocking to unearth that such illegal practices are happening every day in the hiring process. It is imperative for British bosses to be educated on workplace practice in order to put a stop to such shocking and illegal interview practices, which lead to unprecedented inequality.
It's also really important for a light to be shone on what is and isn't acceptable in the recruitment process to give prospective employees the best possible chance of success at the interview stage.
This research isn't about suggesting the recruitment process should be made easier for interviewees, but ensuring all prospective employees are given a fair, legal and honest opportunity to secure a job based on their skills and ability - and not their gender, personal choices or maternity/paternity choices!"
Ricky Martin BSc (Hons) FIRP CertRP MRSCManaging Director, Hyper Recruitment Solutions