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.
Over the past year plus, many people who had plans to change jobs ended up staying put due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. The “Great Resignation”, coined by Anthony Lotz of Texas A&M University during an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, predicts that those employees are now ready to make their move. In fact, a recent study by Microsoft found that 41% of the global workforce would be open to leaving their current job within the next year.
These are some scary statistics from a business owner and a human resources perspective. So why the discontent? What’s propelling the Great Resignation? And can it be avoided or prepared for?
It’s important to understand why it’s happening. It comes down to three factors: generational shift, economic crisis, and a trend in how people want to work.
Generational Shift – Many millennials who were forced to work from home realized that they like working from home. With offices reopening and employees being asked to return, employees are reassessing their work-life balance and many want to remain working remote. If this isn’t an option, they will look elsewhere. The Baby Boomer generation is more eager to return to the office as they felt a loss of connection to the workplace, with fewer daily interactions and even fewer quality interactions – they feel less seen, recognized, and appreciated. If a remote or hybrid option is now the norm, they may jump ship to find work that is 100% in-person.
Economic Crisis – Many employees found themselves in uncomfortable situations during the pandemic, feeling like they didn’t have any job security. They didn’t know if they would be let go tomorrow and they had no idea how to job hunt during the current market. This led to many employees starting to put feelers out just in case… and now that things are returning to normal, that job hunt is in full swing or they are being head-hunted.
How People Want to Work – It’s not just about working remotely or working in the office. With much more time spent at home over the past year, many people had plenty of time to assess their career, their passions, and what they really want to do with their lives. This has led many people to realize that they want to make a major career shift and do something that has meaning and purpose to them. It requires them leaving their current job and even possibly working for themselves.
It’s not all doom and gloom for employers though; there are things you can do now to help prevent a mass exodus.
- Offer Flexible Working Arrangements. Companies who demand all employees work a certain way are at greater risk of losing them. Employees were asked to work remotely for a year, some want to continue working that way, others want a hybrid, and the rest want to be back in the office full time. Provide employees with choices to select the work environment that gives them the best support for both their work and personal life. Many employees don’t want to leave their current employer if given the opportunity to have more flexibility.
- Develop Your Management Team. You’ve heard the phrase that employees don’t quit companies, they quit managers/bosses. Senior leaders need to take a close look at their frontline management team who spend the most time interacting with employees. Your employees are the ones who help you reach your organization’s goals and objectives – and your management team can directly affect how well your team performs. Invest in your management team with training.
- Culture Connection. Your company should have a vision, mission, and/or values statement. It’s important for employees to understand how they fit into your culture. Share with them how they make a difference and how they contribute to the bigger picture. Employees understand that a job is trading time for money in the most simplistic terms, however when they understand the bigger outcomes, it becomes less about a paycheck and more about making a difference in the world.
If you aren’t able to prevent employees from leaving, there is something you can do until you can fill that role with the right person. Utilizing freelance talent is a great way to fill the gaps. The days of keeping employees happy with pizza parties and casual Fridays have gone by the wayside – the landscape has changed. Many employees now want to be their own bosses, and freelance talent is booming.
Having a mix of employees and independent contractors could be a win-win. You may even be able to retain some of your top talent as independent contractors. Contractors can work as many hours as they want or on a per project basis, but a mix of talent could be the perfect solution.
Organizations that support their employees and their work/life integration post-pandemic will be in a better position to retain their workforce. Keep in mind that most employees have had to completely merge their work and personal lives, and many aren’t willing to completely separate them again. Employers have the opportunity to reconfigure company culture, how employees work, and restructure their management team to best support all employees. In return, they can grow their organizations to be bigger, better, more efficient, and thereby delivering an enhanced customer experience. Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Happy Shareholders.
Change is on the horizon, if not already here. Many of my clients are bringing 100% of their remote workers back into the office over the next few months, several are creating hybrid models – some remote, some office time – while others are closing brick and mortar offices in part to embrace the “new way of working.”
It’s about who you know. The power of your network. Most business owners are only tapping into a tiny fraction of that power because by nature we feel uncomfortable admitting we have a gap and/or we have a hidden fear that it’s a sign of weakness if we need to ask for help.
Over the past 12 months, I’ve seen all the business owner emotions emerge– from panic, to doom and gloom, to “Hey, here’s an opportunity – let’s jump on it” and everything in between. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all – a new twist came into the picture.
The process in which we hire, onboard, train and retain key talent has forever changed – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it’s simply different.
I’ve noticed some commonality in the businesses that not only survived but thrived during all of this mayhem and uncertainty.
Ability to Hire & Retain the RIGHT people. Let’s just say my job got interesting in 2020! Unlike large corporations who can weather the storm of new employees not sticking, small businesses can’t sustain the disruption. Owners who were intimately connected with their day-to-day operations, understood workflows, and were able to realistically share that with new hires won the game. Just because someone has the right resume, doesn’t make them the perfect fit for the job. Digging deeper to ensure they are a cultural fit is more important than ever!
Ability to Accept Reality and be Resourceful. Business owners who accepted that Covid was here for a while and did not dwell on the negative but rather became resourceful – were able to shift their mindset and change their business models quickly. We can’t control what happens around us, but we 100% can control how we react to every single situation.
Ability to Pivot Quickly. I’ve seen restaurants close, and I’ve seen restaurants explode. The difference was their willingness to pivot quickly and recognize that people were willing to PAY for the convenience and pay well. Servers shifted to production line, curb-side pick-up, and even at home delivery workers. Business owners needed to pay them more, incentivize, and encourage – and many employees were grateful for the work, they stepped up.
Ability to Step up as a True Leader. Where the leader shines, the team will follow. Business owners who rolled up their sleeves and got dirty with the team not only showed initiative but showed hope. Business owners who showed true leadership skills were able to pull the troops together easily – in other words, the teams WANTED to be a part of the process to help – they didn’t feel obligated.
Ability to Show Empathy. If our Emotional I.Q.s were ever challenged, it was during the past year. Work from home realities, caring for sick family members, and perhaps the hardest – remote education pushed many employees and teams to the limits. Business owners who showed empathy, and stepped up to shift priorities, reorganize teams and communicate with customers about delays and the reality of life at their company were able to keep employees AND customers.
Over and over again, I saw these traits in businesses that were able to survive and thrive over the past year. What will 2021 bring? No one knows but heeding the lessons from those who navigated the past 12 months well, will surely serve many business owners through the choppy waters ahead.
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!
It’s no secret that COVID has completely changed how some companies and their employees are working right now. For many, requiring employees to work from home has become the status quo – at least for the foreseeable future. But eventually we’ll return to in-person interactions – interviews, meetings, and for some, returning to the office full time. The question remains – how will your company shift?
Some employees LOVE working from home, while others are really struggling – missing the in-person office interactions with their coworkers and clients. Then there are others who enjoy the flexibility of being able to choose where they work – a hybrid model if you will. As we move closer to fully reopening and getting some sort of normalcy back, employers are going to be faced with the decision to choose how their business will operate – which way will they shift?
Work from Home. Many companies are seeing the benefit to a remote workforce. Not only are businesses saving thousands on operating costs and overhead, but many employees are much happier being able to work from a home office. In a recent article by the Hartford Business Journal, workers who once commuted by car but now work from home are saving a total of $758 million per day, according to research from freelancing platform Upwork. The savings comprise gas, car maintenance and repairs, as well as the costs that driving imposes on society, such as congestion and pollution.
The biggest savings however is actually time. Every hour of commuting by car costs Americans $12.50. That adds up, given Americans’ long commutes. We spent an average of 54.2 minutes commuting daily in 2018. So, in addition to saving money on commuting, employees are able to spend more time with their friends, families and yes even their pets! A few other perks include being able to handle some of your personal affairs more easily, such as scheduling a plumber to fix that leaky faucet or being able to toss a load of laundry in between calls, and even being able to walk your dog at lunch time or monitor your kids if they are doing online learning.
Returning to the Office. Many extroverts are itching to get into their traditional office routine. They miss seeing coworkers, clients, vendors, etc. face to face. Phone calls and video conferences just don’t cut it for some employees, and they need the camaraderie and collaboration that being in the office provides. For some people, it’s going to be awhile before they feel comfortable being in an office, but others need that type of environment to be productive and happy.
Not everyone can manage the distractions that also come from working from home. Being in an office environment keeps them focused and on task. They can separate their work life from their home life. Additionally, returning to the office is a boost to the economy, workers who commute spend money on transportation, morning coffee, lunch or other conveniences that are in the vicinity of the office.
Hybrid Model. Offering employees the flexibility to choose their schedule may be a great shift for many employers. Not only will it allow you to stagger the number of employees reporting to the office each day, but it will make easing back into face to face interactions easier for some people. Some employees may choose to work more days in the office or more days from home, but it offers them the choice and freedom to set their schedule. If you need to hold an in-person meeting, you can set certain days of the week where meeting can be scheduled while other days are off limits. There are a lot of options and flexibility that come with the hybrid model, but in order for businesses to do this effectively they will need to have some serious planning sessions around it. Employees will need to make a decision and stick to it. Imagine having an office for 400 employees – one day 50 people show up and then Sue & John decide they would rather be in the office. Will it have to be all or nothing? Will employees need to commit to being all remote, in the office on Mondays only or full on office dwellers? If I were a betting man, HR teams are already hashing out these details in anticipation!
However your business chooses to shift, there is no right or wrong answer. In fact, at KMR Executive Search, I’ve just started doing in person interviews again, but I don’t hold it against anyone who isn’t comfortable meeting face to face just yet.
Will continuing to work remote require some changes to how you conduct interviews (see my previous blog on the topic) or how you onboard new employees? – Of course! But for many it’s also a great opportunity for Human Resources to dust off the employee handbook and make some updates (sorry HR). If you want to attract top talent, honoring how they want to work should be a top priority.
How is your business planning to shift in 2021- work from home, hybrid, or in office?
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.
With the myriad regulations and laws in place, we shouldn’t still be talking about Gender Equality in the workplace, but we are. Pay equality is vital, and while that’s a big part of the big picture, it’s not the only issue at play. Poor maternity leave policies, sexual harassment, and unconscious bias also top the list of disadvantages preventing women from succeeding and thriving in the workplace. It’s not just a US problem, it’s a global problem.