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Conducting Job Interviews: What Questions to Avoid

On Behalf of | Feb 10, 2020 | Employment Law |

Good employees are the backbone of a business’s success. Therefore, honing the ability to find candidates who are a good fit for the company or organization is crucial. When executed well, it becomes a win-win. When done in a haphazard manner, however, it can prove to be a minefield of potential exposure to costly litigation. One such minefield is the job interview.

Interviewing potential hires can be a tricky endeavor as it relates to state and federal discrimination law, such as Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Although you are asking question to determine  if the application is able to meet the specific needs for the position, you are also asking questions to figure out if the application is a good fit with the company’s or organization’s culture. An unorganized process, therefore, lends itself to asking questions that may inadvertently give the applicant reason to believe that a hiring decision is related to an employee’s protected status.

The following is a brief list of topic areas that should be avoided. Although discussing these topic areas may seem like casual conversation, and even though the company, or organization has no intention of basing a decision off the response, exploring them in an interview process could result in a government agency charge, or a court lawsuit:

  • Asking a candidate when they graduated from high school or college.
  • Asking a candidate about their country of origin.
  • Asking if a candidate is married.
  • Asking if a candidate has kids.
  • Asking if a candidate is pregnant.
  • Asking about a candidate’s religion.
  • Asking a candidate when they plan to retire.
  • Asking if a candidate has had any illnesses in the past year.

What should the company or organization do if the applicant initiates the discussion on a prohibited topic area? In these instances, it still is not ok for the interviewer to engage the applicant on that issue. Rather, the interviewer should thank the applicant for their insight or comment, do not directly respond, and move on to the next question relevant to the position.

As noted above, preparation is key for a successful and lawful interview. When conducting a job interview, it’s important to focus on the candidate’s experience, skillset and ability to carry out the required duties. That way, employers can make sure they’re picking the most qualified candidates while avoiding discriminatory hiring practices. For more information about hiring practices, or to have your on-boarding procedures reviewed, please contact the knowledgeable employment attorneys at Quinlivan & Hughes.