The Art of Interviewing: Do's and Don'ts

Interviewing and selecting candidates poses one of the more difficult challenges employers' face. A skillfully conducted interview is an integral tool in the hiring process. On the other hand, a poorly conducted interview not only wastes the time of all involved, but can have serious legal consequences. What can employers do to avoid some common pitfalls?

Interview Guidelines and Training

Employers should understand that the quality and nature of the information gained during the interview is a product of the skill and training of the person conducting the interview. Preexisting biases, ignorance of the law, and lack of consistency can taint the interviewing process. Accordingly, employers should establish interviewing guidelines and procedures for all employees involved in the interviewing process in order to ensure that hiring decisions are based upon objective job criteria. Such guidelines could include a formal policy statement setting forth the company's equal employment opportunity philosophy, and rules with respect to screening, preparation, and conducting the interview. Employees should also receive specific training concerning the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and other related employment laws.

Permissible Interview Questions

One of the more troublesome areas of the interviewing process involves the permissible scope of inquiry during the interview. To the extent possible, interview questions should be tailored to determine whether the applicant meets objective job criteria, such as education, expertise, training and work experience. In this regard, employers should consider preparing written job descriptions setting forth requirements in terms of education and experience, duties, responsibilities and essential functions of each position within the company. Most importantly, employers must be in a position to articulate an objective basis for hiring decisions. In terms of inappropriate areas of inquiry, the following questions should be strictly avoided during the interview process:

  • Direct or indirect inquiries relating to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability and sexual orientation.
  • Inquiries concerning marital status, number and age of children, future childbearing plans, and plans for childcare. Information needed for tax, insurance or other related purposes can be obtained after the individual is hired.
  • Inquiries concerning an applicant's history of alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Direct or indirect inquiries concerning an applicant's disability, health or medical condition, or any question that may elicit such information.
  • Inquiries concerning an applicant's worker's compensation history.
  • Inquiries concerning medications. Other inquiries, while not overtly discriminatory, are also considered inappropriate.

The following inquiries should also be avoided during the application and interviewing process:

  • Requesting a maiden name, or whether the applicant has legally changed his or her name.
  • Questions concerning an applicant's birthplace.
  • Questions concerning an applicant's relatives.
  • Questions concerning an applicant's physical characteristics, such as height and weight.
  • Inquiries' concerning where an applicant attends church or what religious holidays the applicant observes.
  • Inquiries concerning retirement plans.
  • Questions concerning U.S. citizenship (or citizenship of any other country).
  • Questions concerning an applicant's native language.
  • Inquiries concerning previous health problems or past hospitalizations.
  • Questions concerning memberships in organizations identified with a particular religious, racial or ethnic group.
  • Inquiries concerning previous arrests.
  • Questions concerning an applicant's financial status, including home ownership or previous garnishments.
  • Questions concerning graduation dates for primary and secondary educational institutions

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