Guide to assessing candidates

  • 28-06-18
  • Geoff Balmer

The purpose of an Accounting interview is to assess a candidate’s suitability for the role. However, when trying to build rapport with a candidate, it can be easy to stray into a ‘grey’ area that may seem harmless on the face of it, yet can be deemed as discriminatory. In fact, according to a Career Builder survey, 1 in 5 employers have unknowingly asked an illegal question during an interview and at least 1 in 3 said that they were unsure about the legality of certain interview questions.

In addition to discriminatory interview questions, there are also questions that shouldn’t be asked, as they may not be effective and could be wasting valuable interview time. If you’re planning on hiring an Accounting professional in the next few months, here are some of the key questions you should avoid asking candidates in an interview.


In order to avoid unintentionally discussing a topic that could be discriminatory, it’s key to be aware of what can and can’t be asked of candidates.

For example, asking about someone’s children is normally viewed as making polite conversation in a casual situation, however in an interview setting, it isn’t appropriate or legal. Ultimately, if the person can perform the job role and would be a good addition to the company, it doesn’t matter if they have children or how they’re cared for whilst the person is at work.

Another question that is commonly asked, but actually shouldn’t be, is where a candidate is from. It’s legal to ask about ethnic backgrounds on application forms as these are generally anonymous and the data is collected for statistical purposes only. However, if the candidate isn’t hired, a seemingly innocent question such as this, could be viewed as a reason behind the decision.  

In general, questions that dig beyond what is relevant for the role aren’t appropriate and there is a danger that they could be deemed as illegal. With this in mind, steer clear of any questions that relate to age, gender, race, disability, marital status, or religious affiliations.

It’s not uncommon for a candidate to offer their information around any of the above areas and that’s perfectly fine, but don’t delve any deeper into the topic. For example, if they say they’ll need flexibility to care for their young children, just refer to company policies and whether there are any flexible working arrangements in place. Or if they say they’re an active member of their local church or like to read books on religion or politics (as examples) in their spare time, acknowledge their interests but don’t question them any further.

With this in mind, it’s important to set the right tone for an interview but be aware that if it turns into a casual chat, these questions can easily come up. This often happens outside the interview room when walking the candidate out of the office or when you’re in the lift. Remember that a candidate will still view this time as part of the interview so be mindful of your questions that may seem harmless at the time.


Asking questions such as “Tell me about a book you read recently” or “if you were an animal, what would you be?” might seem like a good test to get Accounting candidates thinking on the spot, but their answers are unlikely to aid you in the decision-making process.

If you’re thinking about asking interview questions of this nature, what will you really find out? Not only aren’t they relevant to the job in question, they don’t predict anything of value. Essentially, they have no correlation to future job performance – even Google has stopped using them! It’s also important to consider what image they portray of the company. If the candidate doesn’t view them as relevant, it might leave doubt in their mind as to how professional the company is and whether the opportunity would be right for them.

Even though you might perceive these questions to be light-hearted and an alternative method to see more of a candidate’s personality, unfortunately, they can put the candidate totally off balance. If the interview is well planned, their personality will always shine through anyway.  What really works well is structured behavioural interviews, where you have a consistent way of assessing and comparing all candidates and ultimately being able to quantify your decision.

Unless there are holes in their CV or areas which you need to probe further for clarification, also try to avoid asking questions that you already know the answers to, as it can be a waste of valuable interview time.


When interviewing candidates, every question should be relevant to the position, ensuring that valuable insights are gained into the candidate’s ability. Always plan questions in order to get the most out of your interview and ensure that you don’t find yourself discussing a topic that could get you into trouble. If you’re looking for more interview advice or for hiring support in the Sydney Accounting market, get in touch with our team.

*This article is written as a guide, however, it is not intended to replace professional legal advice.