During the interview process, you want to learn as much as possible about your top candidates before you make the very important decision of who to extend a job offer to. However, it’s important that you don’t expose yourself or your organization to a potential lawsuit. Knowing what questions to ask, and more importantly, what questions NOT to ask, is critical.
Before we dive into what questions you can ask, it’s important to understand why some questions are illegal and therefore off-limits. Both federal and state laws prevent employers/recruiters from asking questions that aren’t related to the job they’re hiring for. The rule of thumb is that unless the questions have to do with the job requirements, then they shouldn’t be mentioned during an interview, casual conversation, facility tour, etc.
Illegal interview questions concern: gender, sex, or sexual orientation, marital or family status, citizenship or nationality, age, religion, credit history, criminal record, disability, and military discharge.
To not hire someone because of any of these factors would be discriminatory.
Most interviewers have good intentions and when illegal questions crop up in an interview both the questioner and the candidate may be ignorant to their legality. Regardless of the fact that you want to learn as much as you can about a potential hire or simply make conversation, not knowing the law can’t protect you from getting in trouble.
Below are 6 examples of illegal job interview questions and a work around to gain information without breaking the law.
- Don’t ask this: Where do you live? This sounds like an innocent enough question and often times the candidate will provide this information on a resume, but if a candidate lives at an area inhabited mostly by minorities, you risk lawsuits for racial discrimination.
- Ask this instead: If you are worried about attendance due to a long commute or the candidate being able to be on call after hours, be direct and ask them relevant questions such as “ We require on-call employees to respond within 30 minutes, is that doable?” or “Are you able to be here by 8 am every morning?”.
- Don’t ask this: Are you or have you ever used drugs? This question can illegally target recovering addicts or people with health conditions who are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Ask this instead: Assuming the goal is to determine illegal drug usage, most people will always say no when asked if they use illegal drugs. The alternative is to simply ask them if they are comfortable taking a drug test and following through once an offer has been extended and accepted.
- Don’t ask this: How old are you? Questions that give you any insight into their age are off-limits, including the year they graduated from high school. It can lead to age discrimination which is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
- Ask this instead: Some jobs do require candidates to be over a certain age in order to abide by some laws. Consider asking them if they are legally allowed to perform the job or go into some of the specific demands (mental, physical, and emotional) and ask if they will have any issues performing them.
- Don’t ask this: What is your native language or is English your native language. Questions like this can lead to the interviewee feeling like they are being discriminated against based on an accent and their nationality or race.
- Ask this instead: Being fluent in different languages can be a requirement of a job especially if you are hiring for a call center or have other divisions or customers internationally whom you speak to often. If so, the law allows you to make a hiring decision based on language ability. You still can’t ask whether they’re native speakers but you’re allowed to evaluate their communication skills during the interview. You’re also allowed to ask how fluent they are in other languages. Consider asking them these instead, “Which languages can you speak fluently?” or “How would you rate your communication skills?”.
- Don’t ask this: Do you have or plan to have children? Any questions related to parenthood are off-limits, especially women who are protected by the pregnancy discrimination act. Are you asking because you are worried about attendance, overtime, or other commitments for the position and are worried a family life may take priority?
- Ask this instead: Asking direct questions about their commitment is the best option. If overtime is required, let them know and ask if they will be able to work late nights or weekends. If the job requires travel, let them know the percentage and when it may occur and ask if that is a concern. Being transparent about the job demands upfront can make the hiring process easier as well.
- Don’t ask this: Have you ever been arrested? Just because someone was arrested doesn’t mean that they were convicted of or engaged in criminal activity. The equal employment opportunity commission warns that arrest questions can have underlying racial discrimination intent since some ethnic minorities have higher arrest records than others.
- Ask this instead: If your intent is to determine how trustworthy the employee is, consider asking if they have ever been convicted of a crime, including any specific ones you are worried about or if they have ever been disciplined for violating any company policies at a previous job. If your company also conducts background searches, you can let them know that it’s a requirement of employment and ask if there is anything they may want to discuss that may pop up on the report.
Toeing the line between legal and illegal can be hard especially when some questions feel normal to ask in conversation when getting to know someone new. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a networking or social event, but an interview. No matter how likable or interesting the candidate is, resist the temptation to start a personal discussion. Don’t ask anything about their lifestyle, opinions or background that is considered personal.
A good rule of thumb is to not ask anything you can learn from a different source. Background checks are key. If you follow the legal procedure, you can learn several things without asking the candidate, such as: conviction records, bad credit, etc. References or previous employers are also good sources to find out more about the candidate through legal means. Doing a quick Google and social media search can also tell you a lot about a candidate as well.
If you are ever in doubt if your question is illegal, it’s best not to ask it. Additionally, employers need to be sure that their interview questions are the same for all candidates, and that questions relate strictly to the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to be successful in the role.
Have you ever commented on a social media post of someone looking for a recommendation for a plumber, pet sitter, accountant, etc. and recommended your favorite and most trusted people? If so, you’ve given a referral to someone. Whether solicited or not, you’ve just recommended someone to another person to consult, review, or take further action on because you think they would be a good fit for their need. From a business perspective, getting referrals from satisfied customers is one of the best ways to attract new customers.
For many businesses, word of mouth advertising can say a lot about the quality of your products/services and can help you grow your business organically vs. paid marketing and advertising. Referrals offer the most effective return on investment and carry more weight for most potential customers vs. an online or print ad.
A referral is the ultimate compliment you can get from a customer. In fact, a Nielsen study found that 92% of people trusted recommendations from people they know, and 70% trusted consumer opinions posted online – think Google, Yelp, Facebook, Glass Door, etc. When it comes to choosing the right company/product/service, most people have several options to choose from and a plethora of information online to do their research. At the end of the day, people want to know that their decision is informed, they are getting value, and that their decision is validated by someone’s prior experience.
It doesn’t matter what type of business you own; referrals can still be your best marketing tool. Here’s 5 ways to gain more referrals:
- Have a WOW factor. What sets you apart from your competition and makes your clients say Wow, I need to work with Mr. Smith. Showcase that WOW.
- Give the people what they want. Make sure you are promoting the products/services that your customers want vs. what you think they want. If you are a financial institution that keeps promoting savings accounts when people really want to learn more about mortgages or home equity loans, then you’ve missed a huge opportunity with your customers.
- Make referrals easy. Don’t make people jump through hoops to get to you. If a current client wants to copy you on an email to a potential client, let them. Don’t force them to fill out a form or contact you via your website first. Keep it simple.
- Just ask. If you’ve just done an amazing job for a customer and they are showering you with compliments and thank you’s, ask them to spread the word if they are willing to anyone who might need your product/services. Even in this digital world, people still like human connection, and a direct word of mouth referral from someone can go a long way.
- Utilize social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – all great places to connect with your customers and interact with them via your business. By having a business page, people can easily tag you when making referrals on social media. You can also enable reviews on some social platforms so customers can leave feedback on their experiences. You can add some of these testimonials to your website as well.
Referrals can be for so much more than just product/services as well. It’s also one of the best ways to find a new job if you are a job seeker or find employees as a business. Happy employees LOVE to talk about how great their job and their company are. They will go out of their way to recommend it as a place to work to people they know who may be job hunting. From the employer perspective, it’s a great way to find potential qualified candidates who are vouched for by a current employee.
Have a product or service that you highly recommend? Let me know, it might come in handy!
With some companies continuing to let their employees work virtually to increase safety and social distancing measures, many have found themselves in new and uncertain territory when it comes to the virtual hiring process.
The good news? There are myriad virtual recruiting tools that can help you safely source high-quality talent. After all, hiring the right employees is still a vital part of the success of your organization.
Identifying the RIGHT prospective employee is a journey that goes beyond simply finding resumes that boast high GPAs from highly ranked schools or impressive professional credentials. In fact, I cringe when I think of all the truly qualified people who are overlooked by “black box” online hiring filters just because they are missing a key word in their resume. Technology is great…until it isn’t.
For me, the credentials are important, but they are secondary to the “person.”
On behalf of my clients I phone screen prospective candidates for IQ (Intelligence Quotient) – hard skills, professional experience, job transitions – basically, reviewing what is in black and white on their resume. I am focusing on topics and skills that are teachable, learnable, measurable, and quantifiable. Yes, I need to know that they have the capacity to do the job, but I don’t overlook someone who has never held the position I’m hiring for. It’s about their overall skillset – I’m looking macro, not micro for most searches.
I’d like to think I’m a moderate risk taker – I’m one for taking some good calculated chances here and there. I’m NOT one for even thinking of attempting a free solo climb of El Capitan like Alex Honnold (check out this documentary if you want to bite all your nails off and sit on the edge of your seat with one hand over your eyes and the other hand gripping the arm rest).
Two highly qualified AND likeable job candidate resumes are sitting in front of you. You’ve gone through extensive interviews, background checks, and reference checks on both and now it’s decision time. Enough waffling, enough “Pro and Con” back and forth in your brain – you must choose one or the other.
Let’s be honest, building out A-Teams for your business isn’t easy. Great talent, great culture, profitable business – we all want it! The issue arises when business owners get impatient with the process. They have a talent gap, they want it filled… yesterday. Unfortunately, when hasty hiring decisions are made to fill a role, a lot of proverbial rocks are left unturned. The result is high turnover and employee morale takes a nose dive.
In my line of work, I speak with a lot of potential hires on behalf of client organizations, so it’s not surprising that I’ve learned quite a bit about what candidates want and don’t want from me and the companies I represent. We believe that what makes KMR’s search process different from every other firms is our focus on becoming an extension of your business. We learn the ins and outs of your company, what makes you different and unique, so that we can represent your brand and your culture in the candidate marketplace. Beyond the job functions and expectations, we consult with a client organization to fully understand their marketplace, their culture, their pain points so we can provide to you a short list of the highest quality candidates for the role, not a long list of possibilities.