How Not to Conduct a Job Interview

Job candidate’s interactions with a kind potential employer and an overzealous lawyer highlight what not to do when interviewing potential employees.

A young woman sits at a table for a job interview, facing a businessman and a businesswoman.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“Mr. Beaver, recently I graduated — with top grades — from a private, one-year secretarial and office management program and was sent out on my first job interview to an IT company. It was a Friday, and they invited me to join them for a company BBQ. This was the most enjoyable job interview I could ever imagine — it was like a getting-to-know-you date with a wonderful group of people, and we had the nicest conversation about family, friends, where we all grew up, future plans, marriage, kids, the importance of religion — all the topics that touched on real-life values. These were people — and the owner in particular — who I could see myself working with, not for, it was that warm and friendly.

“The job duties included writing letters to customers, summarizing services we had performed and what the technicians recommended. The owner had me write a letter to a customer based on a typical fact situation. When he read it, his face revealed disappointment, and he said, ‘I think this so-called business college took advantage of you. Your writing skills are poor — and they are critical in our business. But you are a delightful young lady, and so I have an offer. I will pay for your tuition and books if you take a course in Business English at our community college. Complete it successfully, bring me samples of your writing, and if they are good, I will hire you then even if we don’t have a position to fill.’

“When I told my parents all that, Dad took me to see an employment lawyer, who says the company engaged in illegal discrimination by inquiring into areas of my personal life that have nothing to do with the job, and we can get a lot of money in a lawsuit. But I think that would be horrible, punishing a nice employer who just wanted to help me. Mr. Beaver, is that lawyer correct? What should I do? Thanks, ‘Karrie.’”

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The minefield of job interviews

I ran Karrie’s situation by Southern California labor law attorney Jay Rosenlieb and his HR consultants, Marinor Ifurung and Tim Moreno.

“Sadly, what was always taken for granted — getting to know a job applicant, for example, at a company BBQ as your reader described — has become an invitation to be sued for a violation of a number of state and federal laws,” Rosenlieb points out, adding, “Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, there has been a societal movement to eliminate all forms of employment discrimination — in effect, the human element beyond competence. Therefore, you can only ask about things that focus on (1) knowledge, relevant to the job; (2) skills, relevant to the job; and (3) ability, relevant to the job.”

Can they get along? Are they a good fit?

Ifurung points to the frustrating aspect of limiting a job interview to these three things: “It means that an answer to the all-important question of ‘does this person have the ability to get along?’ may not be known until the applicant is hired, and you then discover that you’ve got someone completely wrong for the job, but who met those three criteria.”

Moreno takes it one step further, asking, “How do you determine if this person is going to be the right fit if all you are interviewing on is based on knowledge, skills and ability? This is where an HR manager can be of great help who is skilled in the art of asking appropriate questions and looking for responses which will help you decide (on whether to hire this candidate) now, or should you continue to interview other applicants?”

What not to ask in a job interview

“A potential employer cannot discriminate based on characteristics that fall within protected classes,” Rosenlieb says. He adds that to remove all possible chances of discrimination, even if the questions seem logical at the time, do not ask about:

  • Race or ethnicity
  • Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity)
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Disability (employees are entitled to a reasonable accommodation)
  • Age (over 40)
  • Pregnancy status
  • Marital status
  • Genetic information

“That is not an exclusive list and is all the more reason for an employer who only occasionally conducts job interviews to either engage an HR consultant, or arrange for a consultation with one and be brought current on what not to do or ask during an interview,” Rosenlieb underscores.

What happened with Karrie?

Karrie’s attendance at the company BBQ would not be considered inappropriate as long as that event wasn’t considered the actual job interview. If it had been, then all those "do not ask" questions would have needed to be avoided. As for what the lawyer advised Karrie to do: With her permission, I arranged for a conference call with the lawyer she met who recommended that she retain his firm and sue the IT company that declined to hire her.

But before placing the call, I researched him, finding several comments along the lines of, “He virtually forced me to get involved in litigation against my employer, when I really didn’t want to.”

He agreed to speak with us, and I asked, “So tell me, how better off will the world be if this generous employer is sued for being honest with Karrie and showing her such kindness? Did you explain to her the emotional challenges of such litigation, or the consequences of her name in public records as someone who sues an employer?”

His response was to yell several four-letter words and hang up.

“Karrie,” I said, “he just answered your question. Sign up for that class. I want to see just how much your writing improves.”

The young lady replied, “I will, Mr. Beaver.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to And be sure to visit


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."