Do’s and Don’ts: Are You Asking the Right Interview Questions?

Have you ever made a bad hire? You’re not alone. While asking thoughtful interview questions can help determine if a candidate is a good fit for your work (or not), there’s one thing you have to watch out for: illegal interview questions.

The good news is you can get the information you need while staying within the law, and protecting the rights of everyone involved. Keep reading to get four tips on what to ask—and what NOT to ask—when interviewing candidates. Or get the complete tip list here.

1. Legal Status

Citizenship, nationality, and ancestry are protected classes, so avoid any questions that touch on these issues. Focus instead on what’s required for the job. The exception is for positions that specifically require someone to be a U.S. citizen. If that’s the case, be sure the requirement is stated up-front in the job description.

DO: Ask, “Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?” DON’T: Ask about the person’s citizenship, where they were born, or where their parents came from.

2. Availability

It’s illegal to use a person’s marital or family status as a reason for hiring. As in other cases, their availability is what really matters, so if the position involves a lot of overtime, weekend shifts, or late evenings, focus on that.

DO: Ask, “Are you available for travel?” or “Will you be able to work outside of regular business hours?” Whatever it is, be as clear and as specific as possible and then ask, “Are you able to meet these requirements? DON’T: Ask if the person has children, or about their child-care situation.


3. Ability to Do the Job

People with mental or physical disabilities are protected classes under federal law, and Hawaii law prohibits discrimination against pregnant women. Be specific about requirements—does the position require heavy lifting? Long hours on your feet?—and keep interview questions focused on the job itself. After all, it’s the person’s ability to do the work that matters.

DO: Ask, “Are you able to perform the essential duties of this position, as listed in the job description?” DON’T: Ask about the person’s disabilities, medical conditions, or whether they are pregnant.

4. Pay

The goal of Hawaii’s Salary History Ban is to end the cycle of pay discriminations. Employers aren’t allowed to base a worker’s pay on their past salary, so it’s a topic you want to avoid asking about in interviews. Instead, look at what other companies are paying for similar jobs, and come up with a pay range based on objective criteria like experience, education, and skills.

DO: State the pay range for the role. DON’T: Ask about how much someone was paid in their last job.

Final Thoughts

As an employer, your goal is to get the right person for the job—and that can be tough to do in Hawaii with our record-low unemployment. The important thing to remember is that all candidates deserve a fair opportunity (and that diversity can be good for business too).

So be sure to:

Did you find this helpful? To read the full list of interview questions do’s and don’ts, visit

Categories: Human Resources