Ed Zalewski is an editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. Zalewski specializes in employment law issues such as discrimination and harassment, overtime, exemptions, and labor relations. He is the author of three guidance manuals (Employment Law Essentials, Employee Relations Essentials and Fair Labor Standards Act Essentials). For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com and www.prospera.com.
It’s sometimes confusing to know just what employers can or cannot ask during a job interview, and what firms should do with sensitive information that a candidate offers.
There are some questions that are never acceptable for employers to ask before making a job offer (and in some cases, even after). These include questions on marital status, religion, nationality, union membership, political affiliations, if the candidate has ever filed a workers’ compensation claim or a lawsuit, whether the candidate has children, and so on. These questions have nothing to do with the candidate’s ability to perform the job.
If the candidate offers information that the interview is not supposed to ask about or use in the hiring decision (such as the person’s daycare arrangements, recent divorce, or back injury), the interviewer must simply tell the candidate that the information isn’t relative to the job and won’t be used in the hiring decision, and should get the interview back on track.
Companies also should be wary of offering promises. It is not unheard of for an interviewer to tell a candidate, “If you work out, within a year or two, you’ll be promoted.” If the candidate takes the job based on that promise of advancement and it doesn’t happen, he or she could sue for breach of an oral contract, and could very well win.
Interviews done right
With those thoughts in mind, here are some guidelines that employers should follow (and job candidates should be aware of) in order to keep the interview process not only legal, but successful:
- For each interview, employers should use a prescripted list of questions designed to help judge the applicant’s qualifications, skill levels, and overall competence.
- To avoid discrimination issues, employers should ask the same questions of each candidate, but prepare specific questions for individuals that will explore their work history and education.
- During the interview, employers should verify the information that was provided on the application or résumé. They should make sure applicants explain any gaps in their employment history, and ask the applicant to explain instances of excessive job hopping.
- Employers need to thoroughly describe the company and the position. They should stress the good points about the job, but don’t mislead. Also, they should explain any aspects of the position that may have presented problems in the past. Some candidates welcome a challenge or may have dealt successfully with such issues in the past, and are not intimidated by the prospect. For others, it won’t be a good fit, but it’s best to know that at the outset before making a bad hire.
- Employers should let the applicant do most of the talking. The interview should follow the 80/20 rule. The candidate should do 80 percent of the talking and the interviewer should do 20 percent. Employers shouldn’t feel the need to ask a question every time the candidate pauses. Silence will often encourage the candidate to offer more explanation.
- It’s OK for the interviewer to take notes after each interview to remember who said what, but be careful that what is written down won’t create liability for discrimination. For example, the interviewer should not write down a physical description based on an inherent physical trait such as race, national origin, or age to remember a candidate.