Best Practices in Interviewing

Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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We all know how litigious our society has become in the area of employment-related issues. Every recruiter, hiring manager, executive and department manager must realize that asking the wrong interview questions or making improper inquiries can lead to discrimination or wrongful-discharge lawsuits -- and these suits can be won or lost based on statements made during the interview process.

Thus, it is important to incorporate risk management into your organization's interviewing process to help minimize exposure to employment-practices liability.

In addition to questions that might indicate discrimination or bias -- such as asking a female applicant detailed questions about her husband, children and family plans or asking an older applicant about his or her ability to take instructions from younger supervisors -- it is also possible that the interviewing process could include the offering of assurances or promises that could be interpreted as binding contracts -- such as describing the job using terms such as "permanent," "career job opportunity" or "long term."

Because most companies have at least two people responsible for interviewing and hiring applicants, it's critical for HR leaders to create procedures to ensure consistency. Therefore, develop interviewing forms containing objective criteria to serve as checklists.

This will ensure consistency among interviewers as well as create documentation in the event a discrimination charge is later filed by an unsuccessful applicant.

Illegal Interview Questions

The following are examples of rather simple and seemingly non-threatening interview questions that should be avoided in interviews because they may be alleged to show illegal bias.

* Are you a U.S. citizen? (adversely impacts national origin)

* Do you have a visual, speech or hearing disability?

* Are you planning to have a family? When?

* Have you ever filed a workers' compensation claim?

* How many days of work did you miss last year due to illness?

* What off-the-job activities do you participate in?

* Would you have a problem working with a female partner?

* Where did you grow up?

* Do you have children? How old are they?

* What year did you graduate from high school? (reveals age)

Companies that use best practices in interviewing and that are extremely effective in consistently hiring top performers, use customized or standard behavioral-based interview guides with interview questions to remain consistent in their line of questioning.

These companies conduct job-analysis audits for every position within their companies to objectively identify the competencies, behaviors, thinking and decision-making styles, as well as the technical skills that are common among their top performers and required for the positions in question.

This process -- via interviews, surveys, and testing (both hard skills and soft skills) -- establishes hiring "benchmarks" or interviewing "guides" for their executives, department managers and hiring managers to follow.

Here are a few examples of legally defensible behavioral interview questions that will assist in uncovering core competencies:

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* What has been a particularly demanding goal for you to achieve? (This interview question taps into the candidate's achievement orientation and requires them to explain the obstacle and their thought process and actions to overcoming the obstacle.)

* Can you think of a situation in which an innovative course of action was needed? What did you do in this situation? (This interview question allows you to uncover whether the candidate can develop innovative solutions to work-related problems, and identify potential opportunities and ways to capitalize on them.)

* What are the typical customer interactions you have in your present position? Can you think of a recent example of one of these? (This interview question focuses on the candidate's customer-service orientation.)

* Have you ever been in a situation where you have had to take on new tasks or roles? Describe this situation and what you did. (This interview question allows you to probe into the candidate's degree of flexibility.)

* In your present position, what standards have you set for doing a good job? How did you determine them? (This interview question allows you to uncover if the candidate has high work standards.)

Conducting a job-analysis audit to objectively identify the core competencies required for a given job and then customizing a list of behavioral-based interview questions can significantly reduce an organization's exposure to employment-practices claims and increase the potential for hiring top performers.

Mike is Vice President of ZERORISK HR, Inc., a Dallas-based human resources risk management firm and exclusive provider of ZERORISK Hiring System. For more information, visit the Web site or email Mike at

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