Off-Limits Interview Questions | 2021-02-15

Interviews are nerve-wracking for both candidates and employers. Candidates want to present themselves in the best light, while employers want to find the right person for the job.

It can be difficult to cross the line between finding the right fit and asking the right questions. Karen Young is one of the foremost experts in helping companies ethically find the right match for their roles.

Young is President and Founder of HR Resolutions and the best-selling author of Stop Knocking on My Door: Drama-Free Human Resources To Grow Your Business. She has over 30 years of experience in the field, helping employers keep track of people management and the hiring process.

In this guide, you’ll find topics Young wants to avoid, navigating difficult questions, and helpful ideas for redirecting conversations.

red light

Any question relating to a candidate’s race, creed, country of origin, age, disability, marital status, marital status, gender expression, or sexuality.

“Tell me about yourself.” While this might be a suitable icebreaker in a restaurant or dinner party, Young cautions that this is not an appropriate question before an interview. The vagueness of this question often leads to candidates revealing things about themselves that are not only irrelevant to the position, but can unconsciously influence the interviewer before the interview even begins.

“Have you set up day-care centers?” Young adds, if your company offers childcare or other family-related benefits, this information should be presented to all candidates regardless of gender, but it should not affect the interview or assessment of the candidate’s skills.

“Oh, was that interview for today?” Interviewers should be prepared. You should write down your questions before the interview and have them carefully examined. You should bring a note taking device to the location of the interview that should be easily accessible to the candidates.

Yellow light

Questions about the COVID-19 vaccination. Although the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that employers may require workers to be vaccinated, Young does not recommend starting this interview during an interview, as this is a “rabbit hole” for potential exposure to applicants’ information regarding declared or perceived disabilities opened. If your company has a mask mandate or other disinfection procedures in place, clearly state them and direct any questions the candidate may have to the appropriate department.

“What are your professional goals for the next 2-5 years?” “I used to shy away from such questions,” says Young, “but now I see real value for employers in the candidates’ answers.” Young recommends looking for candidates’ confidence and motivation in their responses. All answers are valid and she encourages employers to identify answers that match the position and needs of the company.

“Do you expect any challenges commuting to this place or working these hours?” This question is more helpful than asking where a person lives, whether they have a car, or other questions that have some level of bias or that others might find potentially discriminatory. It is also more appropriate than asking the candidate about any religious conflict, family obligations, or other personal information that the company does not need to know. Young explains, “If it doesn’t affect an individual’s ability to get the job done, it shouldn’t be asked in the interview.”

Green light

Ask each candidate the same questions. Young identifies this as one of the top five strategies for a successful interview. “Having all candidates ask the same questions ensures that everyone is judged on the same pitch,” she adds. It also helps the interviewer closely compare the candidates’ skills and objectively select the best match for the position.

“Are you concerned about your ability to perform any of the key functions listed in the job posting?” Young identified this as one of four key strategies for successful interviews. Each question should be aimed at identifying their ability to do their job and be successful in your company.

“It’s totally understandable if you’re a little nervous this morning, so am I.” This statement allows for a moment of empathetic connection and can help reassure candidates.

If in the course of an interview you discover that you asked a question that is not allowed or inappropriate, Young says it is best to own your mistake first.

“A great thing immediately afterward,” says Young, “is to say,“ I apologize, this question does not affect my interpretation of your ability to perform these tasks. I’m nervous today too. Please forgive me.'”

Make a note of what happened, write down what you asked if the candidate answered and how you dealt with the situation afterwards. When the interview is over, go to the HR department to explain what happened in full. Even minor incidents shouldn’t be swept under the rug or ignored.

Interviewers should be well trained to avoid unconscious bias and comply with federal and state laws, including, but not limited to:

-Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
-Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
– Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978
-Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993
-Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) 2008
– Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSH) of 1970
-Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs)

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