When you’re part of a search committee, it feels like you’ve got the green light to dig deep into a candidate's qualifications and fit for your nonprofit. But hold your horses! There are some questions that are totally off-limits, not just because they're tactless, but because they're downright illegal. Steering clear of these no-go zones is crucial to keep your organization in the clear and ensure a fair, unbiased selection process.

The Legal Lowdown
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s lay down the law. Asking about age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability status during an interview can violate equal employment opportunity laws and open up your organization to legal battles. Stick to questions that relate directly to the candidate's ability to perform job-specific tasks.

Age Ain't Nothing But a Number
- Avoid asking: "How old are you?" or "What year did you graduate from high school?"
- Why it’s a problem: These questions can be used to calculate a candidate's age, which should never be a factor in hiring decisions.
- Instead, try asking: "Are you over the age of 18?" if age is relevant to job requirements (like complying with labor laws).

Family and Marital Status – None of Your Business
- Avoid asking: "Do you have children?" or "Are you planning to start a family?"
- Why it’s a problem: Such questions can lead to discrimination against candidates based on their family responsibilities.
- Instead, try asking: "Are you available to work our required schedule?" if job duties include specific hours or travel.

Religious Beliefs Shouldn't Make or Break the Deal
- Avoid asking: "What religious holidays do you observe?" or "Do you attend church regularly?"
- Why it’s a problem: Employment decisions cannot be influenced by a candidate's religious practices.
- Instead, try asking: "Are you able to work on our operating schedule?" Be sure to state what that entails without assuming availability based on potential religious commitments.

Health and Disability: Handle with Care
- Avoid asking: "Do you have any health issues?" or "Have you ever filed a workers' compensation claim?"
- Why it’s a problem: Questions about health and disability are not only invasive but potentially discriminatory.
- Instead, try asking: "Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodation?" This way, you focus on the job requirements and the candidate's ability to fulfill them.

The Gender and Orientation Off-Limits Zone
- Avoid asking: "Are you male or female?" or "How do you identify?" and "Who do you live with?"
- Why it’s a problem: A candidate’s gender or sexual orientation has no bearing on their ability to perform a job.
- Instead, try asking: Stick to questions that relate to the candidate’s qualifications and experiences relevant to the job.

Financial History and Location – Irrelevant and Invasive
- Avoid asking: "What was your salary in your last job?" or "Where do you currently live?"
- Why it’s a problem: Salary history can perpetuate wage discrimination, and location can imply socioeconomic status or be used to discriminate based on urban versus rural residency.
- Instead, try asking: "What are your salary expectations?" and for location-based concerns, "Are you able to reliably commute to our office or location where the job is performed?" if applicable.

Being on a search committee means you've got a big responsibility to pick the best candidate without bias or prejudice. Steering clear of these question minefields isn’t just about keeping your interviews lawful—it’s about ensuring that every candidate has a fair shot based on their merits and their merits alone.

Got questions about what’s safe to ask in an interview? Looking for more guidance on conducting lawful and effective candidate assessments? Reach out to the Envision Team! Let's ensure our interviews remain fair and centered on discovering the ideal match for your nonprofit's mission, without inadvertently deterring great candidates through unfair judgements.