Asking appropriate interview questions should not be left up to chance, but that seems to be happening more often than we’d expect. Over the years, I have conducted a plethora of workshops on hiring practices. I usually start the sessions with an activity. I divide the participants into two groups: the job candidate group and the hiring manager group. Then, I ask each group to brainstorm and list the concerns they have had when preparing for interviews as either candidates or hiring managers. In all the years I have used this activity, without fail, the hiring manager group has always written a concern about asking inappropriate or illegal questions during the interview.
To me, this illustrates that there are far too many hiring managers conducting interviews without a good knowledge of local, state and federal guidelines. There are hiring managers who are rolling the dice when it comes to deciding what interview questions to ask candidates.
Once I had a senior leader approach me after a workshop. He said: “I have a problem with female employees quitting after being hired.” He then went on to ask: “How do I find out if they plan to have children before I hire them? How can I legally ask them that question? It’s a real problem for me.”
I told him that the question is unlawful. Federal law requires that hiring decisions be based solely on the candidate’s job qualifications; a woman’s current or future pregnancy plans are not relevant to her qualifications. I gave him my best advice: if the question does not relate to the job, don’t ask it.
Court rulings and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have prohibited hiring practices (such as job applications and interview questions) that disproportionately screen out applicants based on their race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or over), and disability or genetic information. Individuals who fall within these categories are members of a “protected class,” as defined by federal law.
Appropriate interview questions should not elicit information about any protected class. Appropriate questions should focus on the candidate’s skills, knowledge, External experience, and work behavior as they relate to the job for which he or she has applied. Your questions will likely be considered inappropriate by the job candidate—and may be illegal—if they are unrelated to his or her qualifications and do not assess ability to perform the job. Asking inappropriate questions during the hiring process could form the basis for a discrimination claim against your organization.
As a hiring manager, you must be familiar with local, state and federal guidelines related to the hiring process. Knowledge of these guidelines will equip you to ask appropriate questions during an interview and helps safeguard hiring managers from rolling the dice.