“She asked me if I planned to have any more children.”
Oh dear. These are the things that make me cringe as a recruiter. This week we’re talking about questions you shouldn’t ask in an interview, and they’re not always as overt as the above example. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself and your company out of hot water.
The Obvious No-Nos
Discriminating against candidates due to their age, gender or family status is illegal. You should avoid any questions related to:
• Race, ethnicity, national origin
• Marital, family status or pregnancy
Most of us know better. It’s when we’re trying to build a rapport or assess the candidate’s ability to meet job requirements that we suddenly stray into dangerous territory. The following questions are the most frequent offenders:
• Are you a U.S. citizen?
• Do you have children? How old are they?
• What child care arrangements do you have?
• Would you have a problem reporting to a young supervisor?
• Will you need personal time for religious holidays?
• What does your spouse do for a living?
• How long do you plan to work until you have kids/retire?
What You Can Ask
To avoid bias, keep your questions focused on the job requirements. We get into trouble when we try to sleuth out someone’s ability to travel or work late, their flexibility or earning needs, etc. Forget the detective work. It’s better to be direct: State what’s required and ask if they can accommodate, E.g.
• This job requires about 25% travel, both domestic and international. We anticipate that 1-2x/month, you may be on the road for 3-4 days. Is that level of travel acceptable to you?
• Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?
• Since we’re gearing up for a launch, there may night and weekend work. We don’t anticipate this will be a long-term thing, but can you accommodate an occasional late night?
What if a candidate volunteers personal information about themselves? E.g. “Since I have young children, it’s hard to me to organize coverage for overnight travel. How much travel will be required?” Answer the question, but avoid eliciting additional information that could later be taken out of context. Keep focused on the job requirements.
Pre-planning with your HR Manager and interview team can help. Figure out the criteria you want to screen for, then agree on the best ways to phrase your questions. Whenever I’m in danger of channeling my inner doofus , it helps to have some scripted questions ready to go.
What to Do if You’re Asked an Illegal or Inappropriate Question
First, you want to consider the intent of your interviewer. If they’re just being clumsy, you could rephrase what you believe they’re asking and respond to it. Use humor to defray the situation or gently change the topic.
If it’s truly a red-faced, you’ve-to-be-kidding-me kind of moment, then say you’re uncomfortable answering or ask how this question is relevant to the job requirements. Sincere attempts to clarify will help avoid misinterpretation.