Pit Stop: You Can't Ask That

Sept. 22, 2020

The dos and don’ts of interviewing.

Claudia St. John doesn’t mince words when speaking about discrimination in the hiring process.

“You can’t adversely impact a woman in the hiring process because she’s pregnant, or a man because he’s black, or her because she’s over the age of forty, or him because he’s disabled,” she says.

St. John is the President of Affinity HR Group, an organization of human resource professionals that give expert advice on compliance, headhunting, and different aspects of professional development.

Her 30 years in the HR industry have made her very knowledgeable in the job interviewing process and what you can—and can’t—do in an interview.   

Be a law-abiding interviewer.

In the workplace, non-discrimination laws have been set up by the federal government’s legislature and courts.

There are many firmly established laws that prohibit interviewers from asking a number of questions. St. John bring up that these laws include asking about a person’s:

  • age
  • national origin
  • religion
  • race
  • family status
  • disability status
  • military status

So why are these laws set in place? 

“When we think about these laws,” says St. John, “they protect against discrimination in employment, and by definition, that extends to when hiring.”

Don’t ask this.  

Though not mandated by federal law, St. John recommends not asking questions that tell an employer too much about who the applicant is outside of work. 

Your interview questions should be based on the job. A good interviewer should avoid asking questions about the applicant’s personal life that doesn’t relate to the job. Although you may want to get to know them on a personal basis, that is not the most important thing in an interview.

St. John says these types of questions show up everywhere, but harmless questions like asking what the interviewee’s favorite sports team is or where they went to high school can lead to inherent discrimination of that person.

She encourages employers to shy away from asking these types of questions because they can unintentionally put a person at a disadvantage before the employer even knows how he or she will perform the job being interviewed for. 

This is what you can—and should—ask.

Though there are many restrictions on interview questions, there are still questions that St. John recommends you do ask. 

“You want to ask open-ended behavioral questions. For example, ‘Tell me about a time that you had to deal with a conflict in your previous job. How did you deal with the situation? What was successful? What would you do differently? What did you learn from it?’” St. John says.

These types of prepared questions are good because they give you an idea of how the applicant will behave in situations under pressure. However, she also recommends that you have everyone take a behavioral assessment,

“The bottom line is, you can structure [your questions] beautifully, but in the end, you will only assess whether that person is good at interviewing...the behavioral testing is the only way you can get enough data to know if this person is a good fit,” St. John says.

The Ideal Interview

To hire the best possible candidate, St. John mentions it is best to have a panel interview. Having two to three people doing the interview allows one person to ask the questions, while the others focus on the answer and body language of the interviewee.

St. John also recommends the “rule of thirds.” One-third of the hiring decision should be based on the applicant’s resume and experience and one-third on if they impressed you in the interview, and one-third on the results of the behavioral testing.

With these tips, you should be able to hire the best candidate for a job.