10 Sensitive Interview Questions That Face Employers

With unemployment at historic lows, employers are looking for new ways to find the most qualified candidates. This often shifts the focus of recruiting to sourcing.


Not to take anything away from sourcing, it’s important to remember the role that interviewing plays in the hiring process. Interviews are one of the first interactions organizations have with candidates. It’s where workplace relationships start. It’s where trust begins.

That means the interview needs to go well. Interviews are designed to be two-way conversations between the recruiter or hiring manager and the candidate. Just because it’s a conversation doesn’t mean it can’t dive into some critical issues. After all, organizations do want to hire the best talent.

Here are ten questions that organizations might want to consider in their interview process and the rationale behind each: 

  1. Tell me about yourself. Let’s face it, we want to know a little bit about the candidates we’re considering. But we can’t ask personal questions during the interview. By asking, “Tell me a little bit about you.”, the organization allows the candidate to decide what they’re ready to share. Keep in mind that protected information cannot be used in employment related decisions.


  2. What’s your salary requirement? Many states are passing laws that make it illegal to ask candidates their salary history. The better question to ask is what a candidate’s salary requirements are. That way, both parties can decide if the salary budgeted and desired are in the same range.


  3. How would you rate your communication skills? Organizations cannot ask candidates if they speak English. The real question is whether the candidate will be able to effectively communicate with customers and co-workers. It’s okay to ask candidates about their ability to communicate with others.


  4. Tell me about a time when you worked with someone you didn’t like. It’s not realistic to think we like everyone and they like us all the time. Workplace conflicts happen. Candidates should be able to talk about a challenging relationship and how they’ve worked through it. This will help the organization understand how the candidate gets things done.


  5. Have you ever been disciplined for violating a company policy? In many states, it’s illegal to ask candidates if they have a criminal history. Organizations are really trying to determine if employees can follow company policies and rules. It’s okay to ask employees if they’ve ever broken a company rule or been disciplined for breaking a rule, and who knows, you might just get a truly entertaining story out of it.


  6. Why is there a gap in your work history? In some industries, especially safety sensitive ones, having a work history free of long gaps in employment is necessary for badging purposes. That being said, candidates should be able to explain a gap in employment. Keep in mind the candidate’s response could be personal and shouldn’t be considered in an employment decision.


  7. Why did you leave your last job? Organizations hope that the candidates they hire will stay. Managers will want to understand what things potentially disengage a candidate. So, candidates should be able to discuss the reasons they left a job or the reasons that they’re looking for a new opportunity. This can also shed light on personality questions that you just can't ask. 


  8. Will the work schedule be a problem for you? It’s not legal to ask candidates if they have a car. What organizations really want to know is whether a candidate will show up to work on time. The best way to find out if attendance and punctuality are going to be an issue is to discuss the work schedule with candidates. This will get to the root of what you actually want to know - will they show up for you.


  9. This position requires travel and overtime. Will you be able to do this when necessary? Don’t even think about asking candidates their family situation. Just don't. But, organizations do want to know that employees can do what’s expected of them. Similar to the last question when we ask about work schedules, it’s okay to confirm that employees are able to work the schedule if it includes travel.


  10. This position requires a drug screen, criminal background, and credit check. Are you comfortable with this? It’s not legal to ask a candidate if they take drugs or write bad checks. Besides the fact that, if you did, who is really going to answer “yes”? Organizations want to know that the candidates they are considering will be able to pass the background check, so finding sensitive ways to dance around the subject is pertinent. 


Today’s job candidates are doing research on companies before they apply. And they are coming to interviews prepared to ask tough questions. Organizations should do the same.

But keep in mind that the goal isn’t to obtain illegal information or be sneaky. That should never be the goal. Organizations should develop interview questions that help them select the best candidates who will do good work for the company.

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