There are few people, regardless of the side of the table they’re sitting on, who enjoy an interview. 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.
An interview 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/Sexual Orientation?
Asking about any of these classifications in an interview is in violation of the Equality Act 2010, which says that an employer cannot deny a person a job due to their creed, race, nationality, age, gender or sexual orientation.
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 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 in an interview to label him or herself, as these labels are often the easiest way to incite a discrimination claim.
The one exception is regarding the candidate’s right to work in the UK. Failure to ask this question in the simplest way possible can result in you or your company being levied a £20,000 fine.
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 prior convictions with the disclaimer that a conviction will not preclude the candidate from getting the job.
In cases where the candidate has previously been arrested and convicted of any crime (major or minor), it is usually against the law to refuse to employ them for this reason. The one exception is when they may be working with vulnerable people or children, and their conviction relates specifically to abuse carried out in a similar position. In some cases, financial crimes may also preclude candidates from certain types of work. If unsure, check with the government’s website.
3. Do You Belong to Any Organisations?
What you may be asking is if the candidate belongs to any professional organisations. If so, you should specifically state that you are asking about a professional or trade organisation. A broad and generic term like “organisations” can mean many things, some with hefty legal connotations. In the UK, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone who is a member of a trade union, and a poorly-phrased question could land you in very serious trouble. Be specific in your interview questions to avoid a discrimination claim.
4. Do You Plan on Having Children/Getting Married?
As UK law now recognises, this question is unfair because it was usually only asked of female candidates. 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. As noted above, asking any questionsin an interview about someone’s marriage status or plans for having children is in direct violation of UK employment law and could result in both you and your company being charged with discrimination.
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 Vans Are There in London?”
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 types of 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?”)
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