Job interviews are really nerve-wracking for job seekers. They’re super important because they greatly affect who gets hired. Biased interview questions can also make this even more stressful.
And they present the greatest risk for biases in the hiring process. Research shows that 59.9 % of hiring decisions are made within the first 15 minutes of the interview (less than halfway through the scheduled interview duration). Research also shows that 69.6% of decisions occurred sometime after the first 5 minutes.
If you are serious about your diversity hiring efforts, not only should you create diverse interview panels, but you also need to avoid biased interview questions.
Avoiding Biased Interview Questions
Don’t ask questions about things like race, religion, age, who someone loves, or their abilities in an interview. These topics don’t relate to how well someone can do the job they’re applying for.
Instead, look at the unbiased alternative questions below that could make your job interview process more fair and inclusive. Here are some biased interview question examples, with alternatives and explanations:
|Biased Question||Unbiased Alternative||Explanation|
|Where are you originally from? What is your country of origin? What’s your nationality/ethnicity?||Can you share some of your cultural background or heritage? Are there any cultural traditions or practices that are important to you?||The biased question focuses on the race or ethnicity of the candidate. The unbiased alternatives focus on understanding and respecting the candidate’s cultural background without implying any particular origin.|
|Are you married? Are you in a relationship? Do you have a husband/wife? What does he/she do for a living?||Are you in a relationship? Can you tell me about your partner’s occupation? Are you currently in a partnership? Can you share some details about your partner’s career?||The biased question assumes gender or relationship status. The unbiased alternatives avoid making gender or relationship assumptions while allowing you to inquire about the candidate’s partner and occupation. Handling these conversations with sensitivity and openness to diverse relationship dynamics is critical.|
|Are you pregnant? Do you have plans on having children?||Are there any family milestones or personal aspirations you’re looking forward to? Is family expansion something you’ve thought about as part of your life journey?||The biased question is unethical, but you could also be guilty of violating Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The unbiased alternatives encourage candidates to share their thoughts and plans on family without assuming any particular situation or putting them on the spot. Keep in mind to approach these conversations with empathy and understanding.|
|Do you have a disability or any medical condition? Do you have any health issues that might affect your work?||Do you have any preferences or requests related to workplace accommodations that you’d like to discuss? Are there any specific tools, resources, or adjustments you find helpful for your work that we should know?||The biased question can be offensive for candidates with medical conditions. The unbiased alternatives allow the candidate to communicate their needs or preferences without the discomfort of disclosing medical conditions or disabilities. Remember to approach the topic of disabilities and medical conditions in a more considerate and open manner.|
|When did you graduate from university/college? How old are you?||Please tell me about your educational background and any relevant degrees you’ve earned. What academic experiences have contributed to your skillset and prepared you for this role? What educational qualifications do you hold that have equipped you for the responsibilities of this position?||This is an example of an age-biased question. The unbiased alternatives can help you gain information about the candidate’s educational history without directly asking about their graduation, so as a recruiter, you focus more on their abilities than their age. |
|Are you a U.S. citizen?||Are you legally authorized to work in the U.S.? Are you eligible to work for any employer in the U.S.?||The biased question shows prejudice against the candidate’s citizenship. The unbiased alternatives help you determine whether the candidate has the necessary work authorization to fulfill the role without explicitly asking about their citizenship status, which can be potentially discriminatory. Always ensure that your questions align with relevant employment laws and regulations.|
|What are you doing for Christmas/Eid/Hannukah this year?||Are there any special plans or traditions you’re looking forward to celebrating this year? Are there any special holidays or events you want to celebrate this year? ||The biased question shows partiality towards the candidate’s religion. The unbiased alternatives allow candidates to share their holiday plans, whether related to Christmas, Eid, Hannukah, or any other special event they observe. Take into consideration the different cultural and religious backgrounds of candidates when interviewing.|
|What’s your sexual orientation?||N/A||There is no unbiased alternative for this question that shows prejudice against the person’s sexual orientation. Instead, ask a question about the applicant’s skills and experiences.|
|Do you have any political affiliations?||Can you describe how you handle situations where personal beliefs might intersect with professional responsibilities?||The unbiased question highlights the person’s political preferences that do not indicate how well they will do their jobs. The neutral alternative allows candidates to discuss maintaining objectivity and professionalism where personal beliefs or affiliations (including political opinions or affiliations) could potentially arise. Another option would be not to ask the question at all.|
Why I wrote this:
At Ongig, we support workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion by helping recruiters write inclusive job descriptions and conduct bias-free job interviews. Book a demo to learn more.
- Here’s how quickly interviewers decide whether or not to hire you – Quartz
- Illegal Interview Questions and Female Applicants – Findlaw
- Hiring for Diversity: The Guide to Building an Inclusive and Equitable Organization – Arthur Woods and Susanna Tharakan