Interviews are crucial when it comes to finding the best candidates for your business.  The key is to make the most of the time you have with each applicant, so asking the right questions is of utmost importance.

So, good preparation is key. You’ll undoubtedly be just as well organised as your candidates, ready with a list of questions to test relevant experience during the selection process.

But what questions can’t you ask?  The Equality Act 2010 means it’s illegal to ask a candidate a question that refers to a protected characteristic:

  • Age
  • Being or becoming a transsexual person
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Disability
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • Religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

It is incredibly easy to be caught out by some seemingly innocent, conversational questions, so here are some questions you can’t ask in your interview:

What year did you graduate?

Any question that could refer to a candidate’s age can be seen as discriminatory and therefore can’t be asked.

 Do you have children/How old are your children?

Often the subject of children comes up in conversation – but if it doesn’t relate to a candidate’s experience or skills then it’s an irrelevant question to ask.

Is English your first language?

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to check that candidates are eligible to work in the UK.  What you don’t have the right to ask is any questions about race or native language.

What religion do you practice?

This question can be a sign of religious discrimination.  It also associates a person with a particular religious group or belief.  It is however acceptable for an employee to explain requirements of the role and business need, so for example availability to work weekends. However once in employment, there may be opportunity for reasonable adjustments to suit time off for religious holidays.

Your accent is unusual, where are you originally from? 

A candidate’s national origin is a protected characteristic, and therefore cannot be asked.

The selection of a candidate for any role should be on the basis of factual evidence; experience, skills, knowledge and qualifications.

Finally, consistency in your questions is paramount; ensure you ask every candidate the same set of questions so that your recruitment decisions are based fairly, and on factual evidence.

Kate Scott is Recruitment & HR Consultant at Reality HR and manages recruitment projects for our clients with the help of her team.

You can contact Kate via email at or by calling on 01256 328 428.