Conducting a Job Interview: How To Ask Good Questions and Avoid Illegal Discrimination


Important guidance for employers on how to conduct a legally compliant job candidate interview.

There are fabulous resources expounding at length on this topic. Most of us don’t have time to read them. For those who are scratching their heads even trying to remember a basic list of dos and don’ts, I am writing to give you some brief guidance for your next employee interview.

Interview questions should help you determine whether or not the job candidate is likely to perform the job well. Design questions to elicit that information. Some questions will focus on specialized skills, so that you know whether candidates have the technical knowledge, specific computer skills or past experience with particular equipment that will allow them to do the job well. Other questions will need to help you assess personal qualities like problem-solving skills, clear communication or timeliness to help determine the job fit.

More information is not always better. Good interview questioning may be at odds with your social instinct. Some people want to get to know a candidate by talking about topics outside of work, and make a personal connection any way that they can. This approach increases the risk of treating the job applicant in a discriminatory way, or giving the impression that you are doing so. Discrimination occurs when you make hiring decisions on the basis of certain personal characteristics – like race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, veteran status, citizenship status and others — that are, in most situations, supposed to be disregarded in employment decisions. The more you know about a candidate’s personal characteristics, the more you are likely to use them – intentionally or not – in your hiring decision. Once you have the personal information, it’s also easy to give the candidate the mistaken impression that it matters. For that reason, it can actually be harmful to elicit personal information from the candidate that is irrelevant to the ultimate question of whether they will perform the job well.

Suggestions for Employers

  • Ask every candidate whether they can meet the requirements of the job. For instance: “This job requires you to arrive at work at 9am and work until 5pm Monday through Friday. Can you work those hours? Timeliness is important. Can you arrive on time and be ready to work?” Try setting the interview schedule to match the working hours, for a “real-time” assessment of timeliness.
  • To determine whether the candidate is personable and can communicate in a friendly way, assess how they interact with you. Do they listen to and respond to your comments and questions? Do they provide the information you ask for? Are they defensive? Do they express interest in what you are saying? Ask them to describe times when they have assisted people at work, or demonstrated friendly communication.
  • If you want to put them at ease, describe the hiring process so they know what to expect. Answer their questions. Show them that you are interested in what they have to say and ask follow up questions. Talk about something simple and widely-known that is happening in your industry. Traditional “small talk” topics like sports, politics or what you cooked for dinner last night may put some candidates at ease but will have the opposite effect on others.
  • Get advice from an HR Lawyer about interviewing questions and strategies for your specific position or business.

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