Interview Best Practices: Avoid the Pitfalls

In a casual environment, it may seem perfectly okay to ask someone if they are married or how many kids they have. But not in a job interview.
To make your job interviews legal, follow a slightly modified version of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule of thumb:
  • Don’t ask any questions that address the EEOC’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or genetic information subjects, along with anything remotely lifestyle-oriented, such as marital status, political beliefs, or personal habits.
  • Don’t tell the applicant anything false or misleading, such as saying, “You’re the best person I’ve spoken to about this job,” or, “If you work hard, you’ll have a job for life.”
It can get tricky since it’s also good interview practice to start with some non-job related small talk to help break the ice to put the applicant at ease. This is why you need to prepare questions for your interviews. Even seasoned interviewers avoid “winging it” or using an off-the-cuff approach. It’s too easy to step on the legal rights of the job applicant with a seemingly innocent, yet possibly discriminatory question or statement. The results of a misstep like that could be, at best, the loss of an otherwise qualified candidate, or, at worst, an expensive lawsuit.

Game Plan

  • Of all the anti-discrimination laws, employers may be most confused by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers want to ensure their applicants are physically and mentally able to perform the job responsibilities but are often unsure how to ask the proper questions without running afoul of the law. There are many questions you can’t ask, such as, “Have you ever been hospitalized?” and “Are you taking any prescribed drugs?” For a more comprehensive list of off-limits ADA-related questions, visit this page.
  • Make a point to ask every applicant the exact same questions. Write down their answers, but avoid making notes about information the applicant may volunteer. If the applicant tells you something that might be over the line from a legal standpoint, and you document the statement, you may have to prove later that you didn’t ask for that information, which might be difficult.
  • For general tips on conducting effective interviews of prospective employees, see this article.
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