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Are you keeping your interviews ‘legal’?

Businesses are besieged by a mountain of state and federal laws, rules and regulations when it comes to employees, starting before they even become employees. And while most of us know the obvious questions not to ask (or to ask with care and caution), such as age, race, religion, criminal record, where exactly is the line? At what point does “casual conversation” intersect with pre-employment interview questioning? Four important questions are considered below – and we know the answers will be valuable to you in future interviews.

Here are four “do not ask” questions that you may not have considered:

1. “Where were you born?”

Seems innocuous enough, right? However, since the question would undoubtedly elicit an answer which identifies the candidate by national origin – a “member of a protected category” – it might lead a candidate to believe he or she had been denied a job due to his or her national origin, which constitutes discrimination in employment.

Here’s a better way to address your need for certain information: “Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?”

2. “Do you have children?”

While perfectly acceptable at a dinner party, this “getting to know you” question is also one to stay away from in an interview. Even if it seems obvious to you that a job requiring long hours or extensive travel could be a burden on a parent, it’s not your place to make the connection.

Instead, if you need to be sure a job applicant is up to the demands of the position, ask specific questions regarding that position, such as “Are you able to travel?,” “Work late on a regular basis?,” “Work weekends?”. These are legitimate questions and should be enough of a red flag to any applicant (regardless of family status) before the hiring process proceeds further.

3. “What year did you graduate from college?”

Whether or not it is your intention, the answer to this question often reveals an applicant’s age, and as such, cannot be asked. If you want or need to know the applicant’s educational background, ask just that: “What college did you attend? Did you graduate?”

4. “Do you have any job-related disabilities that would prevent you from doing the job?”

Nowadays, this is a real minefield (particularly for small business owners without HR personnel on staff), and comes under the category of “handle with extreme care.” Employers need to balance a legitimate need to know whether or not the applicant can satisfactorily perform the requirements of the job with the legitimate right of applicants with a variety of disabilities to work – it’s as simple and as complicated as that. And, since not all disabilities are immediately obvious to the interviewing employer, there is a temptation to short-circuit the process and ask this question. Under today’s current laws, it’s prohibited.

Instead, try “Can you perform all of these specific tasks required for the job?” or “Can you meet the job attendance requirements?” (And of course, if you’re going to ask, make sure you ask all candidates, not just those who have a visible disability.)

Interviewing can and should be an enjoyable process for both parties, and there’s nothing wrong with getting to know the person behind the resume. Just make sure you don’t unwittingly cross over the legal boundaries. For any interview question, keep it relevant, keep it legitimate and be sure the question is related to a candidate’s ability to do the job.

Philip Kemper is Founder/President of Kemper Associates, a 36-year-old Chicago-based national executive search firm, specializing in Permanent and Contract staffing for Trade Shows and Exhibits, Staging and Equipment Rental, Business Meetings and Events Production, Video, Training and Incentives and more. His more complete bio is on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/philip-kemper/2/795/308/. You may view Kemper Associates’ website at: www.Kemperassociates.net, and contact Phil with questions or comments, and employment needs at: Kemperassoc@hotmail.com, or his private phone line: (312) 944-6551.

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Posted in Columns, Employment Corner
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