There are few people, regardless of the side of the table they’re sitting on, who enjoy interviewing. It can be a nerve-racking experience for the candidate and a tedious one for the employer. However, an interview is still one of the best ways to assess a job candidate and determine if he or she has the skill set and professional acumen to perform a job.
Interviews can be tricky. Theories abound on the best ways to interview candidates, but there are also pitfalls to avoid, including asking questions that could be construed as discriminatory or unfair, and asking those that are simply ineffective when evaluating a candidate. Follow along as we explore these questions.
1. What Is Your Race/Religion/Nationality?
Asking about any of these classifications is in violation of the Equal Opportunity Employment Act, which says that an employer cannot deny a person a job due to their creed, race, nationality, age or gender.
Similarly, you should avoid asking:
- How old are you?
- Do you have any disabilities?
If you’re looking to find out if the candidate is authorized to work in the United States, is of legal age to perform the job or is physically capable of performing the job, ask them with this specific phrasing. Refrain from asking the candidate to label him or herself, as these labels are often the easiest way to incite a discrimination claim.
2. Have You Ever Been Arrested?
Being arrested is a standalone event that does not equate to being accused or convicted of a crime. People are innocent until proven guilty, so a candidate’s arrest record should have no bearing on his or her job status. Many job applications include a standard question asking about any felony convictions with the disclaimer that a conviction will not preclude the candidate from getting the job.
3. Do You Belong to Any Organizations?
What you may be asking is if the candidate belongs to any professional organizations, such as the American Bar Association, the American Nurses Association or the Society for Human Resources Management. If so, you need to specifically state that you are asking about a professional or trade organization. A broad and generic term like “organizations” can mean many things, and candidates do not need to disclose if they are members of the local Parent-Teacher Association or any other associations. Again, disclosing membership into these organizations could provide you with a way to label a candidate, and this can lead to an actionable claim of discrimination.
4. Do You Plan on Having Children/Getting Married?
At its roots, this question is unfair because it is often only asked of female candidates. Additionally, the details of someone’s personal life should have no bearing on whether he or she can perform a job.
If you are concerned because the job requires long hours or extra work on holidays or weekends, specifically ask if the candidate views an extra commitment to be an issue. Additionally, don’t assume that, just because the last person to hold the position was a parent and didn’t work out, another parent might not be an excellent choice. Everyone’s situation is different and should be evaluated as such.
5. What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
This is actually one of the oldest interview questions still making the rounds. It doesn’t tell you anything about the candidate except how well he or she has been coached or how experienced he or she is with interviewing. Anyone who recently searched for a job can probably rattle off his or her answer to this question, proving that it’s pretty useless.
6. Any Esoteric Logic Question, Like “How Many White Cars Are There in Florida?”
Insert whatever strange logic question you want. Questions like this were drafted to either elicit some “creative” response or to make certain candidates squirm. Some companies have become famous—or infamous—for their oddball interview techniques (e.g. Google), asking candidates to take logic tests, solve math equations or debate the worthiness of different colors of American cheese.
If you need to evaluate a candidate’s skills, like math, logic or critical thinking, then provide him or her with tests designed to do just that. Spending time with candidates venturing down these strange rabbit holes may seem like a fun way to whittle away an afternoon, but in the end, it leaves you with very little actionable information needed to make a hiring decision.
In the end, there are two basic rules when asking interview questions:
- Don’t ask questions that can lead to labels (e.g. race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.)
- Don’t ask questions that seem like a trap (i.e. “What three things would you bring to a desert island?”)
You want your interviews to be as straightforward as possible while continuing to focus on the specific job, the job’s tasks and the type of candidate you want to join your team. An interview is the time you get to evaluate a candidate and his or her ability to speak articulately, present him or herself professionally and verify the experience on his or her resume. By making the interview a pleasant, non-threatening experience for yourself and the interviewee, you’ll find it even easier to make hiring decisions at the end of the day.