By Elizabeth Berg, eLearning Program Administrator

When interviewing a candidate, your main goal is to determine if the individual is the right fit for the available position. When interviewing an applicant, your goal is to get a clear picture of how they qualify for the role and whether they align with your company. However, in gathering information about the candidate, it is easy to fall into compliance pitfalls and put yourself or your company at risk. While some questions may seem harmless from a personal perspective, they may not be directly related to the job, and the candidate may perceive them as invasive, offensive, or discriminatory. Below are three topics to avoid when interviewing a candidate.

Current or prior pay history

How much do you currently make? What was your salary at your last job?

While salary history may seem like an appropriate way to determine a candidate’s fit for a job, it is not directly related to their ability to perform the job’s functions. States and municipalities around the country are implementing legislation that prevents interviewers from asking questions about previous or current pay. This legislation attempts to create a level playing field for all job applicants, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. While these laws do not apply on a federal level, it is still best practice to avoid them regardless of your location. The pay for a position should depend on the specific job responsibilities, compensation structure, and the candidate’s skills and experience.

Before the interview process, prepare a salary range for the job that fits your organization’s pay structure and budget. A pre-determined range eliminates the need to consider a candidate’s current or past pay. An alternative question would be “what are your salary expectations for this job?” and compare their answer to the established salary range.

Arrests and criminal records

Do you have a criminal record? Have you ever been arrested?

Like the salary history ban, the ban-the-box movement continues to gain momentum in state-level employment laws. This terminology refers to the historical practice of including a criminal history box on job applications. An interviewer should avoid this topic and save any necessary pre-employment screenings until the interview process is complete.

Only consider criminal history if it directly affects the job. If clearing a criminal background check is a condition of employment, wait until after the interview process is complete and before the official hire. Asking questions about prior arrests or convictions may lead the candidate to believe you are discriminating against them based on how they look or that you are not providing fair opportunities because of their past.

Age-related information

When do you plan on retiring? When did you graduate from college?

Avoiding age-related topics can be tricky because a candidate may misinterpret the reason for a question tied to the candidate’s age. For example, you may have the same alma mater as the candidate and start up a conversation on the topic of your college days; however, if you end up asking what year they graduated, a candidate may perceive this as an interviewer trying to figure out how old they are.

When you are asking questions related to experience or goals for the future, ensure they are unrelated to the topic of age. Education, experience, and goals are all acceptable information to cover throughout an interview, but they should be directly related to the candidate’s fit for the position you are filling.

But wait, there’s more!

The pitfalls listed above are just a few of many to avoid during the interview process. Other topics include:

  • Marital status or maiden name
  • Health history, medical conditions, or workers’ compensation history
  • Political or religious affiliations
  • Sex or sexual orientation
  • Disabilities
  • Citizenship, national origin, or ethnicity
  • Financial status or history
  • Family matters, number and ages of children, or childcare

Prepare your interviewers

The hiring process is an area of significant vulnerability for organizations. It is not uncommon for multiple employees to be interfacing directly with candidates who may or may not be aware of the legal considerations. A good rule of thumb is only to ask questions directly related to the candidate’s ability to perform the job’s functions and keep personal conversations to a minimum. If a candidate brings up personal information that should not be considered for employment, change the subject and exclude it from written notes. We recommend preparing anyone involved in the interviewing process beforehand so they know what topics to avoid. With a bit of training and preparation, organizations can minimize risk and ensure they find the best-qualified candidate for the available position.

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