Job Search Tip of the Week #49 (2017)


What’s the Best Way to Ask Personal Interview Questions?

The Interview Questions You Can’t Ask

Job interviews give you the opportunity to get to know candidates and determine whether they are a good fit for your organization. You put a lot of time into developing questions that will help you determine whether a job seeker can do the job and fit into the company culture. But some questions, even simple, straightforward ones, could put your company into legal hot water.

Close isn’t good enough

The problem is that many questions aren’t obviously discriminatory. For example, you might not think anything of asking an interviewee for the name of their closest relative to notify in case of emergency. However, that question makes “assumptions about the candidate’s personal life,” according to HR World — and doing so is problematic.

You can’t ask questions regarding nationality, religion, age, family status, health, legal troubles, or military service. But of course, if candidates must have certain requirements in order to successfully complete the job, you’ll want to make sure they meet them. Just make sure your interview questions remain job-specific. For example, you can’t ask about disabilities, but you can ask whether the candidate can perform specific and necessary duties that are realistic of the job, such as lifting objects over 50 pounds for a shelf stocking position.

Have You Been Asked These Interview Questions?

As a job seeker, it is important to know about illegal interview questions that your prospective employers shouldn’t ask you. What may seem like an innocent question during small conversation could lead you to provide information that’s irrelevant to the job and could harm your candidacy.

So what do you do when a hiring manager asks you an illegal or discriminatory question? Online legal resource FindLaw recommends responding one of three ways:

  1. Point out that the question’s illegal. Be tactful: “Oh wow, I’ve never been asked that question in an interview before. This is relevant to the position…?” This response will force your interviewer to either clarify their actual (hopefully job-related) agenda, or realize their error and move on to the next question.
  2. Answer the question. Keep in mind that it’s within your rights not to do so, though you run the risk of coming across as uncooperative. If you decide to answer, determine the probable intent of the question and focus your response on addressing your ability to do the job, steering away from providing personal details. For example, an interviewer who asks “What do you do on the weekends with your family?” or “Do you go to church on Sundays?” might actually want to know your availability for after-hours support coverage. You could respond, “I like trying new things on the weekends, but understand that as a network administrator I’d have on-call responsibilities and would work around a rotation schedule or an emergency situation.”
  3. File a claim. You have every right to end the interview and contact your local U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office.

You also can’t legally ask about a candidate’s arrest record, but you can ask whether that person has ever been convicted of a specific crime which relates to a specific business concern. For instance, you can ask a candidate whether he or she has been convicted of fraud if the job entails working with money.

As you might imagine, figuring out how to phrase questions that are both legal and informative can be quite an undertaking. Interviewers need to be up to speed with the relevant laws and your company’s needs. Many organizations turn to recruiting agencies for help. Good recruiters will be experienced in all types of interviews, from traditional to case and behavioral, and will know the laws inside and out — thus finding you the best candidates for any position without draining your time or putting you in a legally precarious position.

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