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Avoiding Illegal Interview Questions and Practices: A Guide


Fair hiring laws exist to give every candidate an equal chance in the recruitment process. And yet, no matter how familiar some recruiters may be with the rules of the road, a surprising number get tripped up and find themselves inadvertently asking illegal questions.

And while doing so might do no greater harm than simply turning good candidates off, in the worst-case scenarios, you could be exposing your organization to a discrimination lawsuit by not following through with HR compliance requirements.

5 tips to avoid asking illegal interview questions

Here’s how to keep your interviews on the right side of the law.

1) Understand what constitutes illegal questions

Illegal interview questions are those that are not related to the applicant’s candidacy. These include interview questions about the candidate’s age, race, ethnicity or color, gender or sex, country of national origin or birthplace, religion, disability, marital and family status, or pregnancy.

If you ask a question that requires the candidate to reveal information on these topics without it being clearly related to the job, then You’ll be violating state and federal discrimination laws.

Examples of such questions include:

  • What does your wife do for a living?
  • How will you manage childcare while you work?
  • Do your religious beliefs mean You’ll need time off for certain holidays?
  • Are you planning on starting a family?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has plenty of information online to help you avoid the pitfalls and ensure your interview practices and questions abide by federal laws and rules.

2) Plan and prepare your interview questions

Determining the interview questions in advance and making sure you are familiar with the candidate’s resume will help keep you on track. A structured interview process with carefully planned questions ensures that you treat all candidates equally and Don’t veer off course.

Make sure to ask each of the candidates the same job-related questions, ensuring that they are pertinent to the essential skills and qualifications that you’ve identified as necessary for the role.

Off-the-cuff questions can easily get you into trouble, especially when the interview is friendly and both parties are relaxed. To avoid this pitfall, stick to your interview plan.

3) Train your interview panelists accordingly

Any candidate who makes it past an initial HR screening will likely go on to be interviewed by line managers and leaders who Don’t necessarily have any formal experience conducting interviews.

It’s a scenario where someone could inadvertently drop in a question that breaks anti-discrimination laws without even realizing it.

As such, you need to make sure that everyone involved in the hiring process is briefed on the law, the kinds of things they should not ask, and that they are sticking to a prepared set of questions. It’s always a good idea to provide a formal training program for non-HR employees who are regularly required to sit in on interviews and to refresh that training from time to time.

4) Always keep positional relevance in mind

When you plan your interview questions, keep their relevance to the job at the forefront of your mind.

If a question has no bearing on the person’s skills, experience, or capability to perform the role, don’t ask it. Refer back to the job description to make sure you’re always relating back to the role requirements.

5) Know how to react to “volunteered” info

Sometimes a candidate will volunteer information that you would rather not know. You can’t undo this, but it’s best to move on swiftly and not make a note of it. Don’t pursue any discussion of the subject and continue with your interview plan.

When you’re making hiring decisions, you need to ensure that this info is not a factor in your selection.

Keeping the interview process fair and legal

Too often, people involved in the hiring process ask questions that are illegal and not related to ability or job performance. It may be inexperience, a genuine mistake, or wrong-headedness, but the key to keeping your interviews legal is through education and training, keeping your interviewing processes consistent, and keeping yourself up-to-date with the law.

Not only will you make better hires, but you’ll also keep your company’s strong reputation intact.

Streamline and speed up your interviewing efforts with our complete applicant tracking system for small businesses. Speak with a JazzHR rep today to get more info on our leading recruiting software.

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