by Dee Pumphrey
Posted: March 26, 2012
No matter if you are a small or large company, you will at some time need to add talent to your team. Whether you are just beginning to build your team or expanding due to growth, interviewing approaches and techniques are critical for you to know – what candidate information you should know to ensure the individual can accomplish the job, and what you should not ask to ensure you avoid potential litigation.
Interviewing is easy, right? You can ask a candidate to tell you about their educational background, work experience, and other areas of interest. Have you ever asked one of these questions: Tell me about yourself—do you have a family, children? What do you like to do outside of your work (i.e., hobbies)? Are you a member of any organizations or groups? Do you have any disabilities? (For a pregnant candidate) when are you due? These are obvious questions that would come up in the course of talking with candidates that are mundane and provides an opportunity to get to know someone better, right? Wrong!!!
Getting to know a candidate is important, but within certain boundaries. Certainly, any information that is relevant to the job for which you are interviewing is open for discussion. This would include educational background and work experience, as well as trying to determine if the candidate is a cultural fit. You should have a description of the job for which you are hiring and develop questions that are focused on identifying the requisite skills and experience for the position. Take time to plan out the questions you will ask each candidate to ensure the interviewing process is consistent, fair, and non-discriminatory. KEY: All questions should be relevant to the requirements of the job as outlined in the job description, including relevance to the company culture and environment, and should be asked of all candidates being interviewed.
Deviating from the job description requirements by asking personal questions as mentioned above could be an issue. For example, what happens if the candidate tells you for a hobby they collect weapons and participate in shooting competitions? And, coupled with that, he/she is a member of a non-violent activist group for reducing gun legislation? What if your candidate is a single mother with three children? And, if you ask and are told the candidate has a learning disability? None of this information is relevant to the job. If you decide not to hire based on any of these questions – you are personally against weapons and activist organizations, you believe the candidate might have a problem getting to work because of being a single parent, or you are afraid a learning disability will inhibit their ability to do the job – you could open yourself up for potential litigation. KEY: Avoid questions that could be perceived as discriminatory in nature or also evoke personal biases not related to the requirements of the job. Keep the questions and discussions job related.
If a candidate isn’t the successful candidate and you give them your thoughts on the interview, that information can be used against you if and when they file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A pregnant woman can allege you didn’t hire her because she was pregnant based on your question about her due date, and she would have the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 in her corner. A candidate can allege discrimination based on their learning disability because of the question you asked on disabilities, and he/she would have the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to leverage. And, the fact that you asked personal questions that were not relevant to the job responsibilities, such as hobbies, children and memberships, you may have opened yourself up for additional litigation if the candidate believes you did not select them because of their answers. Candidates do not have to prove anything to file a suit or complaint – that will happen during the review process – but any action will negatively hit your bottom line because of the cost of time and money to defend. It also can hurt your brand or reputation if it hits the media or social networks. KEY: Avoid any potential for litigation or complaints by asking questions only related to the job responsibilities, required skills, and how their background and experience will meet the requirements of the posted position.
You may have a real need to determine if the candidate has any disabilities to determine if you can accommodate their needs. So, instead of asking “do you have any disabilities?” you reword the question and ask “are you able to perform this job with or without reasonable accommodations?” Instead of asking “are you a member of any organizations or groups?” you can ask “what organizations or groups do you belong to that you consider relevant to being able to perform the job”? Instead of asking “do you have a family and children?” you can ask “can you meet the requirements of the work schedule”? All of these reworded questions are legitimate and acceptable, and are focused on the job requirements.
Take the time to think about what information you need, construct appropriate questions, and plan the interview process. Questions primarily are structured in four different formats:
- Closed – simply a “yes” or “no” answer. (Have you ever managed before?)
- Open-Ended – allows for a little elaboration from the candidate. (Where have you managed people before?)
- Hypothetical – what would the candidate do given a scenario. (If you supervised one employee who couldn’t get to work on time but otherwise was a good worker, how would you handle it?)
- Behavioral – allows the candidate to give a specific example of when they experienced something similar to your question. (Give me an example of a time when you had to address an employee’s inability to get to work on time. What happened and how did you approach it?)
And finally, under no circumstances tell the candidate why you did not select them! You are under no legal obligation to do so, and anything you say can (and most likely will) be used against you. You simply say, “we had a lot of good candidates, and we selected another person” and then wish them the best of luck in their job search endeavors. If asked what the selected candidate had that he/she didn’t, don’t get into a discussion about another candidate’s qualifications. You can simply state “we don’t discuss other candidates’ qualifications.” KEY: Interviewing candidates for a job posting is not making friends—it is a business process to meet business needs. Keep conversations with candidates as a business interaction, not a personal one. This will ensure boundaries stay in place and limit any misunderstandings and potential legal action.
Dee Pumphrey is President of Pumphrey Consulting, LLC and can reached at email@example.com