Knowing how to conduct a job interview means knowing which questions you can or should ask — as well as which questions you shouldn't ask. Check out our job interview tips for employers below to find out more about how to get great information without alienating candidates or falling on the wrong side of regulations.

questions you can't ask in a job interview

By law, you can't ask any questions that fall into a protected class. That includes questions about age, gender or gender identity, sex, race, marital or family status, pregnancy or country of origin. 

That means you can't ask even a simple question like "Where are you from?" Avoid any question that steps into these protected areas. For example, don't ask someone what their maiden name is — this is ultimately asking if someone is married. But you could ask if someone has ever worked under another name, because it's possible someone used a different name unrelated to marriage. 

It's a good idea to avoid anything too personal in a job interview. If the candidate volunteers information, that's one thing, but you're not there to dig into their personal history. You want to know whether they're a fit for the job.

questions you shouldn't ask in a job interview (and better alternatives)

Some questions you could ask, but you shouldn't. They're not illegal — they're just not effective. 

what is your greatest weakness?

No one answers this question honestly. Imagine you're sitting in a room (or in front a video conference screen) with people you don't know. Are you going to reveal your deepest secrets or vulnerabilities? Chances are you're not. Plus, this question is so cliche that most people have an acceptable canned response that won't tell you anything important.

Instead, ask "What skills are you interested in learning?" This clues you in to where the candidate might be lacking in knowledge or skills but frames it in a positive way.  

what makes you the best candidate for this role?

It's your job to determine who is the best candidate for a role. Asking individuals this question sets them up for failure because they don't have the right data. They don't know who else applied and how they stack up against the competition.

Instead, ask, "What skills do you think set you apart from others in this field?" In reality, this is what most employers are going for when they ask the best candidate question. 

where do you see yourself in 5 years?

This question doesn't do you or the candidate much good, and there's not a great response. If a candidate is honest that they're looking at growing their career and don't plan on sticking around in this position forever, they could be seen as a job hopper. But if someone says they just want to stick with the same position forever, employers may not think they're motivated or ambitious enough. It's a no-win question, so candidates usually have a canned response that they think will do the least damage to their chances.

Instead, ask, "What motivates you in your workplace?" This question helps you understand what a person's goals and objectives might be as well as whether they may be likely to stick with your company.  

tell me about a time you failed.

This question feels like a trap to candidates, and it's extremely hard to answer it in a positive way. Most people don't answer it honestly or come up with a "failure" that's not really a failure. You probably won't learn anything of importance.

Instead, ask, "Tell me about an achievement you’re really proud of." A candidate is much more likely to talk openly about something positive, and you can learn as much about what they're proud of achieving as you can about something they failed at.

why do you want this job?

Employers know why candidates are there. They want a paycheck, opportunities for the future or even solid benefits. But no one is going to say those things, because they don't think those are the answers you want to hear. 

Instead, ask, "What aspects of this role are you most interested in tackling?" This lets you learn what someone is excited about with regard to the job but leaves room for the knowledge that a top reason the applicant wants the job may be to feed their family.

get better job interview questions

want more pro job interview tips for employers? download our guide to great interviews, which includes more questions you should be asking and tips on assessing job, boss and company fit.

get the guide now