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Revealing the Forbidden: 5 Interview Questions Employers Should Never Ask Candidates

Job interviews Aug 7, 2023

We’re past the time when job interviews were few and far between. More than a decade ago job seeking wasn’t primarily done online, but in person.

Thus, those looking for employment had a limited amount of opportunities to apply for. This meant they had to prepare themselves carefully for each interview round and avoid making even the slightest misstep when presenting themselves.

Today, candidates can discard potential employers just as easily as those looking to hire can move away from a candidate.

I believe that this is a good thing and that we’ve reached an equilibrium in which no side has an unfair advantage over the other. Work relationships are now more transparent from the start and both employees and employers are more likely to end up satisfied.

So, whether you represent a hiring agency or you’re an employer personally conducting interviews, now you can also make mistakes and drive candidates away from yourself for good.

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Why Are Interview Questions So Crucial?

Interviews are a two-way street. If you are a candidate, then you are revealing things about yourself and your personality. If those things aren’t up to company standards, they can reject you - even though you’ve perfectly prepared for the interview.

Likewise, as an interviewer, you’re revealing a lot about your company and the work environment you foster. Senior level candidates that have a plethora of opportunities available will be quick to back out of the recruiting process if they hear something they dislike.

Experienced hiring managers know this by heart and have a prepared list of questions to ask. However, junior HR representatives or startup founders taking up the recruitment mantle can accidentally ask a seemingly normal question that is actually a giant red flag if you’re on the other side of the recruitment desk.

To avoid this, you need to thoroughly prepare yourself and review all the questions for interview with executive assistant that you plan on asking so you won't forget them. Also, be aware of hiring dos and don'ts at all times.

1. Why Are You Currently Unemployed?

While it’s natural to be curious about this as a recruiter, think about how it would make the other person feel.

Would you make them feel inadequate because they aren’t currently employed? Would they feel you’re assuming the worst about them as soon as you met each other?

Instead - if you really must know this one - try to phrase it a bit differently. Ask them general questions about their most recent roles and see whether they decided to open up and tell you why they left on their own volition.

2. How Do You Handle Stress?

This is both a common one and one of the worst questions you can ask a potential team member. Why would you ask this? Is everyone else severely stressed out? Should they expect a toxic work environment?

Some of the more senior roles I held were not stressful at all due to proper leadership - even though there was a massive burden of responsibility on my shoulders.

On the other hand, when I just started out my career, I worked for some clients/companies that caused immense levels of stress to me simply because they were inefficient themselves or trying to bleed their employees dry.

Think about this. How do you want potential employees to perceive you after the interview?

In this scenario, be upfront with the candidate and explain some of the common high-stress situations they might come across. They can then decide if this is something they are able to deal with or not.

3. What’s Your Current Salary?

There is no abstract explanation for why this is a bad one. It’s plain rude.

Firstly, not everyone is comfortable sharing this information. Maybe they feel inadequate if they are aware that they are currently working for less than they deserve.

Would giving you an honest answer cause them to land another job with a similar salary? This means they would leave a role they are unhappy with because of financial reasons only to end up being in the same situation.

Do you want them to have to lie to you to avoid this train of thought? Nothing good can come out of a dishonest beginning to a working relationship.

If you are not able to make an offer or discuss salary ranges, the best thing you can do is ask them about their ideal salary and listen to what they have to say.

4. Do You Plan to Have Children?

Now this one is not only inappropriate but also illegal in most first-world countries. Why? Because some employers automatically reject candidates that are going to start a family soon to avoid paid time off and maternity/paternity leave.

If you were interviewing me and asked me this question I would immediately back out of the application. Regardless of whether I’m going to have a child soon or not.

There’s no “instead” here. Simply never ask this question.

5. Can We Rely on You to Be Available at All Times?


Are you going to pay me for 24 hours a day or 8?

Sadly, whether this question is asked or no, many companies still employ the toxic practice of calling on their employees outside their work hours. This can cause insurmountable amounts of stress as well as heavily disrupt their work balance.

Then, you’re both on a burnout timer which will end with the employee quitting or drastically reducing their output for a long period of time.

If the role you’re hiring for requires the employee to sometimes actually be available without prior notice, simply say that. Be transparent during the first interview round and let them decide whether they are able to deal with your requirements.

How to Absolutely Avoid Asking These & Similar Questions?

There are multiple ways to help yourself here. I’m talking about both software, education, and plain old practice.

Work Management Platforms

While this might seem like an answer that’s too obvious, I would feel wrong not to mention it.

In a more traditional sense, a work management platform is used by both teams and individuals to document progress, work on shared goals, and be in sync at all times.

However, popular solutions include tools for different roles - including recruitment - to help streamline very specific processes.

If you or your company have access to such software, you can work on a shared document discussing questions that are essential and questions that are forbidden.

Then, once the interview starts, simply open the app and glance at the checklist from time to time to avoid getting ahead of yourself during an interview.

Practice Makes Perfect

There’s a reason why even the most successful businessmen and sales people talk to themselves looking in a mirror. Yes, just like in the movies.

Imagine you’re holding an interview, stand in front of a mirror and go. You can even record yourself doing so and then listen to the recording trying to pinpoint the mistakes you made.

Working on improving your communication skills will help you go a long way no matter what career path you’re taking.

In-House Software

Both industry behemoths and top-tier recruitment agencies use custom software for their work.

These are usually apps which you can use to prepare a presentation for your candidate and then share your screen during the interview. If you’re planning on developing a web app yourself, or your company already has one, you can use this to your advantage.

From preparing questions that are shared with your candidate on-screen (no more peeking at notes) to dazzling them with your flawless web app design, sky's the limit.

In essence, this one is more about doing damage control if you’ve already accidentally asked something you shouldn’t have, but it’s vital nonetheless.


Job interviews have come a long way since two decades ago. Employers are now longer scarce and the abundance of job opportunities has balanced the scales. And it all starts with an interview.

For you to leave a decent first impression you must take care not to offend your candidate in any way nor to ask questions that would make them reconsider joining your team.

Most of these questions may seem alright to anyone who’s asking them, but would feel very wrong if they were on the other side of the table.

To avoid losing the best candidates to your competitors or being unable to fill senior roles, you have to be prepared just as much as the potential employee. Practice your interview skills, utilize available software solutions, and always think about how a question might make you feel before you ask it.


Zoi Kotsou

Copywriter - Content writer - Content Strategist

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