Six years ago, posts about layoffs were in vogue. But it’s been a long while since we focused on posts about hiring.
With the economy generally stable (or shall we dare say improving?), it seems appropriate to talk about job interview questions.
There are lots of posts about the “best” job interview questions you can pose as an employer. (Where do you want to be in five years?)
So are there any questions that are off limits?
Yes, plenty of them. And I’m not talking about ridiculous hard ones like the ones posed by Google. Rather, the questions that have the potential to get you and your company into hot water. Are they always illegal? Not necessarily. But there are just better ways to frame your question.
But first, a caveat: These types of lists have been done before. It’s hard to be original because the so-called “banned” questions don’t really change over time. So I’m going to pick five that I think are among the trickiest but commend you to posts like this that have much more detail.
1) Do you belong to a club or social organization? Ok, perhaps this isn’t fair to start with this one. After all, it’s a fairly innocuous question. However, ask yourself how the information you receive will be relevant to whether the applicant is qualified to do the job. It has the potential of revealing information that you shouldn’t be considering about a person’s religious affiliation or sexual orientation.
What can you ask instead? Are there any professional or trade association groups you belong to?
2) Do you have or plan to have children? This falls into the “just trying to make conversation” trap. Most of the time, it’s not done for nefarious reasons. But it could be viewed that way. And so long as the applicant does the job, his or her family obligations should not be a consideration. If overtime is a consideration, ask specifically about that. Or travel.
What can you ask instead? Can you work overtime? Have you worked overtime in the past? And if the job requires travel, are you comfortable with traveling several days a month for business?
3) Do you smoke? You may want a healthy workplace, but with limited exceptions, Connecticut law actually prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their outside-the-workplace smoking habits. If the concern is that it will interfere with a job or that employees have been violating company policies, be more specific. Ultimately, these types of questions probably won’t give you the answers you are seeking.
What can you ask instead? Have you ever been disciplined for violating employer policies on smoking in the workplace?
4) Do you have a disability? Perhaps the applicant has a visible disability. Don’t get carried away by your curiousity. Focus on the job qualifications.
What can you ask instead? Can you perform the job and, based on what you know about the position, how would you do so?
5) How much longer do you plan to work before you retire? I understand why you would want to know this information: You’re trying to stay away from hiring an older worker who will want to leave in a few years. But the law says you can’t do so.
What can you ask instead? What are your long-term career goals?
And avoid word association tests.
One final cautionary note: It should be obvious, but don’t ever give Word Association tests. A classic late-night skit demonstrates that point.
(Caution: Even though it’s just from Saturday Night Live the language is now generally considered NSFW in this clip.)