The HR department at my company is concerned about what can and cannot be asked in a technical interview for a software position. We are being told that under Title VII we cannot do the following:

  1. Have candidates perform a simple coding exercise where they write some code to solve a general problem we provide
  2. Ask technical questions on a phone screening (e.g. ask the candidate to explain what a particular technical term means or how that technology is used), without the questions being vetted by an IO psychologist and administered by a trained professional

I have been a part of hundreds of interviews as both the interviewer and interviewee at many different companies. Technical questions and tasks have always been a part of the process. I have spoken with friends about technical interview questions they were asked when interviewing at Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.. If these large companies are able to ask technical questions, I feel that our company must be mis-applying the law somehow.

Can we legally ask technical questions of candidates and/or ask them to complete a coding exercise?

  • What are you left to ask them, then? HR usually tries to assure that interviewers are only asking questions related to job performance. They want you to avoid inquiring about gender, age, marital status, etc. As long as the questions are related to the job and are generally consistent across all candidates for a job I don't see how these can be a problem.
    – Dave D
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 20:24
  • I did have a national origin issue with a coding exercise once. I had a long, evolving, OO-design question that was based on a deck of cards. It was a great question until I started getting Asian candidates who had no idea what a deck of cards was. Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 16:01
  • If your HR department is right, then I can sue about every employer that I ever had!
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 22:35

1 Answer 1


Your HR department is wrong.

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination"because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."

It is difficult to see how the questions and tasks you are considering could lead to this sort of discrimination.

I do not think asking them would break the law; it seems clear that it would break your company's policies. You are obliged to follow the policy even if it is misguided - "Into the valley of death rode the 600".

  • 2
    With this answer given, you probably have a question now that would belong to workplace.stackexchange.com. Like how to prevent nonsense like this from happening again.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 1:05

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