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Interviewing: Dos and Don'ts

Your time, and the time of your candidate, is valuable. There are a few important items to keep in mind when interviewing, including what questions you should or should not ask. Following these guidelines can help you use the interview time wisely, and avoid potential legal trouble.

Questions you can ask

Using your Employment Application as a guide can help you craft relevant questions. Even if you only collected resumes and cover letters from applicants, you may still ask them to fill out your customized Employment Application before their interview. Then, look at the answers provided and come up with a list of questions based on the experience listed. Asking employees to expand on items listed on their applications and resume is a great start. Some examples include asking about:

  • Challenges they overcame at previous jobs.
  • How they handled difficult situations with customers or coworkers.
  • Significant achievements.
  • Specific skills or experience they listed.

It can also be helpful to ask about what you do not see in an application or resume, but may be important to the role you are hiring for, or a potential red flag. This may include:

  • Employment gaps.
  • Familiarity with software.
  • Relevant skills or experience needed for the position.

In addition to specific questions about prior experience, asking hypothetical questions about how they might handle a situation they will likely encounter in the role you’re hiring for can be very informative. Also, asking about their strengths and weaknesses may be cliche, but can often lead to a better understanding of an interviewee’s work ethic.

Questions you cannot ask

But there are many questions you can ask to get a clearer picture of the candidate, there are several areas of a person’s life that you cannot ask about in an interview. It is recommended to stay away from certain topics that can lead to both unintentional and intentional discrimination claims, including:

  • Age: There is a difference between making sure the applicant is old enough to work for your company, and asking for someone’s age. Asking someone their age could open legal doors to age discrimination claims.
  • Marital or family status, including children: Though employers eventually learn more personal details about employees, the interview is not the time or place to find out about spouses or children. Asking potential hires if they plan on having children, or about their sexual orientation, can also lead to claims of discrimination.
  • Religious or political affiliations: Religious or political affiliations are not the business of an employer. If you need to find out what days a prospective employee is available, you can simply ask about their availability in your application or during an interview. If they reserve days for religious practice, or another reason, employers do not need to know the reason at the interviewing stage.
  • Nationality, race, or ethnic background: Asking someone about their nationality, race, or ethnicity can be offensive and potentially viewed as discriminatory. Additionally, asking whether someone is a native speaker of a language can be misinterpreted. If speaking another language would benefit the position, ask for the interviewee to describe how fluently they speak the language.
  • Health or medical history: While physical ability to perform a job may be necessary for a specific job function, it is best to avoid asking questions about a person’s medical history to avoid discrimination. Employers can ask if applicants can lift or carry a certain amount of weight, or are able to work at a desk for prolonged periods of time, in order to confirm that an applicant can meet the physical demands of a particular job.

Avoiding these questions helps employers avoid bias when hiring. Avoiding these questions can keep you from offending a potential employee, and protect your business from potential discrimination claims.

Evaluating potential hires

Once your interviews are complete, it's time to decide who will get the job. If more than one person interviewed the potential candidates, comparing interview notes and discussing the strengths and merits of each interviewee can narrow down the decision. If there is only one interviewer, it can help to compare the candidates qualifications and interviews against each other, and the job description.

Many managers and executives may call the candidate to extend the job offer verbally, but follow-ups are still done with a written Employment Offer Letter. For the candidates that you did not select to hire, sending an Employment Rejection Letter can provide them with some closure, and avoid uncomfortable follow up calls or emails. 

Welcome your new employee

Finding your footing or comfort level in a new position can be hard, and we've all been there. It's important that, as an employer, you offer a welcoming environment, and provide new hires with your Employee Handbook or other important policies. Starting off with an orientation to allow a new worker to learn how things operate, or assigning a mentor they can turn to for answers, can help new employees hit the ground running.

If you have more questions about interviewing potential hires, or your responsibilities as an employer, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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