Friday, December 10, 2021

Biased, (and Even Illegal) Interview Questions You Are Probably Asking in Every Interview

The job interview. One of the best tools in a hiring manager’s toolbox, it’s the time that is set aside for a conversation with a job candidate. For some, it is the time to put the candidate on the hot seat to see how they answer a list of pre-structured questions—sometimes even with a group of interviewers. For others it is a time to get the candidate to relax and chat. In this setting the questions are unrehearsed with the hopes of getting the candidate to let their hair down. Though the motive in the latter scenario is good, unstructured interviews using biased and illegal questions can put the interviewers and the organization in jeopardy.

Remove Biases

But we all do it. We use an unstructured interview to explore almost everything we think we need to know about a job candidate. And usually, once the candidate answers one of our questions, we take some side roads to dive deeper into that particular topic. We go down certain paths in hopes of learning more about the character of the candidate. We ask questions like, “What are some of your hobbies?,” and “Do you enjoy living in the city?” to get to know the candidate. 

Some hiring managers believe they are capable of “reading between the lines” to determine whether someone is suitable to hire. Unfortunately not even seasoned hiring managers are that good all the time. That is why various tools like structured interview questions are helpful in not only making the right hiring decisions, but also keeping interviewers out of trouble. 

Even with the tools that are available, businesses still make wrong hiring decisions. A study conducted by Scott Highhouse of Bowling Green State University concluded that, “People are not very predictable, but selection decision aids help.” Some of these aids available today include software that provides job-specific questions that are both legal and unbiased. These include Spark Hire, Kira Talent and Breezy that can help in most interview situations including:    

  • Panel interviews-This format allows different stakeholders to get to know candidates
  • Case interviews-Often used to assess how a candidate would manage a particular problem or situation
  • Competency-based interviews-These seek to evaluate the skills and abilities candidates have used in the past as a way to predict how they will perform in the future
  • Behavioral-based interviews-This style assesses the soft skills and behaviors of a candidate
  • Remote interviews-This format became more common during the Covid-19 pandemic. It uses Zoom or other sources to get to know the candidate remotely.
  • Lunch interviews-Basically helps the candidate to relax and allows the interviewer to get to know the candidate when they are most likely to be themselves. 

Asking the Right Questions

Although some of the questions you ask in an interview might seem harmless on the surface, they may be setting you up for trouble down the road. To ensure you are getting the best results from your interview, (and avoid litigation), consider the following five steps to interview success:

  1. Prepare for the interview-A recent Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) article provides a list of to-dos to prepare for your next interview. This includes making a list of qualifications for the job, review the job description and the candidate’s resume, and plan the interview process and the follow-up.
  2. Frame the questions-Use open-ended questions for the best results. These encourage candidates to expand on their answers.
  3. Avoid certain questions-Particularly questions relating either directly or indirectly to age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, genetics or disabilities. 
  4. Ask only one question at a time-Listen carefully to the answers and make sure the candidate has finished speaking before going to the next question.
  5. Use follow-up questions- Questions such as, “Can you give me an example of…?” “What I hear you saying is…

Questions to Avoid

The list of questions not to ask continually grows. The best rule of thumb is to plan your questions in advance and run them by a interview committee or group of employees to test them out. Though not an exhaustive list, here are some of the commonly used interview questions you should always avoid: 

  • “Where Were You Born?”

While this question seems innocent enough on the surface, it could be used to gather information illegally about national origin. 

  • “Are you a U.S. citizen?” 

Employers may ask whether you are authorized to work in the United States but not specifically about citizenship. Your I-9s or E-Verify will handle this too.

  • “Are You Married?”

Employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of marital status, so this question is not allowed.

  • “What Is Your Native Language?”

The problem is that this question could be used to determine national origin. The employer can ask whether you know a particular language only if it is required for the job.

  • “Do You Observe Yom Kippur, Christmas, or Whatever?”

You can’t discriminate on the basis of religion, so this question is illegal. However, you  can ask whether the candidate can work on holidays and weekends if it’s a job requirement.

  • “Do You Have Children?”

Seems like a friendly question, but it’s covered by a general prohibition about discrimination over parental status.

  • “Do You Plan to Get Pregnant?”

This question is illegal because it discriminates on the basis of gender and on the basis of pregnancy.

  • “Do You Smoke or Use Alcohol?”

This question opens a can of worms because you can’t discriminate on the basis of the use of a legal product when the employee is not on the premises and not on the job.

  • “Are You in the National Guard?”

Since it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because they belong to the National Guard or a reserve unit don’t ask this question.

Question Your Questions

A good job interview is a chance to connect the dots and determine whether a candidate is really qualified for a job. And it’s not just the questions you ask but also how you conduct the interview that increases the odds of a successful hire. Consider your questions carefully, write them out and say them out loud to yourself and then to others prior to the interview. Examine how the questions could be received and consider using a structured interview process to help eliminate biased and illegal questions.

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