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Interviewing Dos and Don'ts for New Managers

I have 20 years of management experience and have run my own business for nearly 10 years.

What Can (and Can't) You Ask in a Job Interview

Selecting the right person for the job is an important responsibility and one that can significantly influence how a team functions and works together as well as the overall success of your business or organization. Knowing how to screen applications and/or resumes is the first step, but once you are meeting face-to-face, the do's and don'ts of personal interviews become critical.

Here I will focus on the types of questions you want to ask and those that you want to avoid.

Avoiding Discrimination

After taking the time to put a job applicant at ease, it's time to begin the formal interview. In general, interviewers want to stick with questions that pertain to the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform the job.

The reason most of the questions I list here are ones to avoid has to do with the rights of the applicants you interview.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 all speak to protecting applicants in various protected classes. Discrimination is prohibited in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment, on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin or ancestry
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Veteran status
  • Genetic information
  • Citizenship

Those who are new to the process of interviewing and hiring employees should become generally aware of these protections through the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

9 Questions to Avoid in a Job Interview

Certainly you want to know if the person you are interviewing has the skills required for the job but there are some things that simply shouldn't be a factor in your decision making process. We will discuss those first.

1. How old are you?

A person's age does not qualify or disqualify them from performing a job. The only time this line of questioning is permissible is if there is concern about child labor and potential violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act or if it is a job requirement (for instance, applicant must be 21 to serve beer). For this reason alone, you are allowed to ask for proof of age to assure the individual is old enough to work.

Because you don't want to ask anything that will reveal age, interviewers also need to be careful about what small talk they engage in. Anything that potentially reflects the candidates age is off limits.

2. Are you a citizen?

While employers are not allowed to hire individuals they know not to be authorized to work in the US, under the Immigration Reform and Control Act they are prohibited from asking a candidate to prove citizenship. On the other hand, they may ask about whether or not candidates are "authorized" or legally eligible to work in the US.

Immediately after hiring, it is common practice to have the new employees complete an IRS Form I-9 to assure eligibility.

Job recruiters also screen for this and most applications will notify applicants that eligibility to work in the US, identity, and so forth are checked upon hire. Further questioning on the topic by managers and supervisors is not recommended.

3. Are you disabled?

The focus of your questioning should be about the ability to perform the job in question and disability often isn't related to that. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act it is not legal to question applicants about any perceived disability. Potential candidates should also not be asked about surgeries, medical history, or workers compensation claims. It is permissible however to ask if the applicant feels they can perform the job duties described.

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4. Do you have an arrest record?

Only if it is directly relevant to a specific job, you may ask about convictions.

5. What country are you from?

Don't ask about national origin. Any question that would reveal an applicant's national origin can end up appearing to be discriminatory. Asking about where the person is from, their accent, their primary language, the origins of their name, English language skills (unless required by the job), and so forth could reveal national origin. This line of questioning is allowed only when very directly related to the job for which they have applied.

6. Do you have good credit or have you ever been bankrupt?

Federal Bankruptcy Law makes it illegal to discriminate based on this information. In most instances, a human resources department can make inquiries that comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act if necessary.

7. Avoid discriminatory questions.

Avoid asking questions that aren't directly related to the performance of the job in question and could appear to be discriminatory toward candidates in minority groups, women, and so forth. Therefore, don't ask about:

  • a driver's licenses (unless it is a specific requirement for the job)
  • height and weight
  • organization or club membership (this might reveal religion, disability, etc.)
  • marital status, children, or future plans regarding family (potentially discriminatory toward women)
  • educational attainment except as it pertains to a specific job (questions can be asked of academic, professional, vocational training)
  • union affiliation
  • the ability to work weekend shifts (might reveal religion)
  • veteran status/military records (you can ask about any specific training in the military)

8. Are you religious?

An individuals religion has nothing to do with the ability to perform a job. The interviewer can provide information about the specific job duties and inquire if the applicant can perform them as described.

9. What race are you?

As above, race has nothing to do with the skills, abilities, or knowledge required to perform a job.

Many of the above questions are not illegal to ask, however they may potentially reflect a discriminatory process in candidate selection. If a job applicant is not selected, such questions may lead them to believe they were discriminated against.

General Tips About The Questions You Will Ask

Of course there are many questions an interviewer needs and will want to ask. A couple of things are important to understand when determining your line of questioning during an interview with a job applicant.

  • Remember to stay focused on the skills, abilities, and knowledge required to do the job. A thorough understanding of the soft skills, technical skills, knowledge, experience, and behavioral/inter-personal attributes needed will help to assure a successful selection process.
  • The interviewer should not do most of the talking. Listening is critical if you are to walk away with a good picture of what a candidate offers.
  • After listening to an applicant's response, it's good to paraphrase or summarize what they said to clarify and assure you understood what they meant.
  • To get the most information, it's best to use open-ended questions, not queries that require only yes, no, or single word responses.
  • It's acceptable to ask an applicant to elaborate to gain more detailed information.

Specifics About the Questions You Should Ask

Here are just a few important points to include during an interview with a potential job candidate.

  • In most instances, the interviewer will have a copy of either an application or a resume to which they can refer. From here, they can ask for clarification regarding any questions about the content of that document, elaboration regarding the training or experience, or for more information to fill in any gaps.
  • It's important at this stage to discuss and provide detailed information about the required or essential job functions. Then the job candidate can be asked if they feel they will or will not be able to perform those essential functions or if perhaps they will need any accommodations.
  • An interviewer should have a list of job-specific questions that is used consistently among all candidates for the same job. These questions can cover how they would handle specific technical, clinical, or other job-specific issues, their experience with job-specific issues, equipment, software, etc., or their achievements in regards to these types of things.
  • Certainly, not every question has to be technical or clinical. It is expected that the interviewer will also ask open-ended questions about behavioral and interpersonal topics. Questions about how a candidate would handle a particular team situation, how they handle stress or conflict, what former team members see as their greatest strength, how they learn best, or how they prefer to be managed are just a few examples of questions that can yield good information.
  • Learning more about a job applicants aspirations can also help in determining if they are a good fit for the role. What do they want to accomplish? Why are they interested in this position? What are their career path interests? What do they feel they would bring to this business, organization, or team?

A Few Other Details

Certainly, during the process, an interviewer should assure that the applicant is aware of the work hours, any overtime requirement, and any other selection requirements such as a pre-placement physical, drug screening, or criminal history check. As mentioned earlier, any other documentation they will need to complete should also be mentioned (such as the IRS I-9 form).

Of course, it is also appropriate to ask about the applicant's salary requirements.

Before they leave, a job candidate should be aware of who they would report to if they are selected and know what the next step in the hiring process will be: when they can expect to hear something or whether or not additional interviews should be expected. If appropriate, benefits information should also be provided.

In the final moments, certainly, the interviewer should also thank the candidate for their time interviewing and provide contact information if desired.

The Test: Which Questions Are Acceptable During an Employment Interview?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. When did you attend high school?
    • This is acceptable to ask
    • This isn't a good question to ask
  2. Would your religious beliefs prevent you from working on Sundays?
    • This is acceptable to ask
    • This is not a good question to ask
  3. What was your degree and major at Iowa State?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  4. Do you have child care arrangements?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  5. Can you perform the tasks required by this job (with or without accommodations)?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask
  6. Was your discharge from the army honorable?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  7. What is your age?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  8. What training in the armed forces do you think will serve you well in working in our organization?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  9. Describe a situation in your previous job where you had to handle a customer complaint, how did you handle it?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  10. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a team member on how to proceed with a project, how did you work that out?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  11. Do you prefer to be addressed as Ms., Mrs., or Miss?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  12. I see on your resume you "had responsibility for customer service", can you describe your duties related to this?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  13. Do you own or rent your home?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  14. Will you continue to work full time after your child is born?
    • This is acceptable to ask.
    • This is not a good question to ask.
  15. Where is your wife from?
    • This is acceptable to ask
    • This is not a good question to ask.

Answer Key

  1. This isn't a good question to ask
  2. This is not a good question to ask
  3. This is acceptable to ask.
  4. This is not a good question to ask.
  5. This is acceptable to ask.
  6. This is not a good question to ask.
  7. This is not a good question to ask.
  8. This is acceptable to ask.
  9. This is acceptable to ask.
  10. This is acceptable to ask.
  11. This is acceptable to ask.
  12. This is acceptable to ask.
  13. This is not a good question to ask.
  14. This is not a good question to ask.
  15. This is not a good question to ask.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Christine Mulberry

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