5 Interview Do’s (and Don’ts) to Keep Your Company from Legal Woes


There are a lot of rules to protect employees. A whole lot!

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor enforces more than 180 laws covering everything from wages to worker’s compensation and everything in between. And those are just the federal ones.

But what about before an employee signs an offer letter?

Some of the most forgotten legal protections for employees begin well before their hire date. Any candidate that participates in your company’s recruitment process has anti-discrimination rights guaranteed under both state and federal law.

How do you know if your recruitment process is abiding by these laws? Here are a few things you should and shouldn’t do during an interview.

Avoid these interview gaffes

1. Ask about protected characteristics
That means, race, color, national origin, age, gender (including pregnancy and sexual orientation), physical ability, religion, and marital status.

While most employers already know these questions are off-limits, be careful of indirect questions with the same results. These usually sound like these:

  • What year did you graduate high school?
  • Do you have any kids?
  • What’s your home life like?

2. Ask about arrests
Many cities and states, including California, have passed legislation that limits when an employer can ask about criminal background history and what they can ask about.

Arrests that do not result in convictions should not disqualify a candidate, and convictions that do not relate to the job at hand should be considered carefully.

3. Discuss drug or alcohol use
It’s tempting for managers to ask about drug and alcohol use. But you’ll want to stay away from asking if a candidate used illegal drugs in the past. However, you can ask if that candidate currently uses any illegal drugs. Walk this line carefully, though.

4. Ask about politics, groups, or social organizations, unless relevant to the position
Instead, ask about specific professional associations, if relevant. Avoid discussing the candidate’s involvement in church, parent-teacher associations, or political affiliations.

5. Wing it!
While some interviews will need to be less scripted, you should be thinking out your questions and the requirements of the position thoroughly before the interview. Taking time to organize will help keep you objective and fair.

What to do instead

1. Keep questions consistent between candidates (per position)
Core questions related to the position itself shouldn’t change much from interview to interview. Of course, follow-up questions can vary and will be more specific to each candidate’s ability to perform the job.

To help keep questions consistent it’s a good idea to agree to a list of questions ahead of time and distribute them to anyone participating in the interview process.

2. Link your decisions to objective criteria wherever possible
First impressions are subjective, which is part of why interviews are difficult.

When considering your candidate, try to get beyond your initial reactions and really understand why you think the candidate may not fit. If the candidate’s experience doesn’t mesh with your company culture, which aspect of your culture, specifically?

3. Take detailed notes
If you’re ever in a situation where a candidate claims they were not hired due to a discriminatory reason, having detailed notes of why you made your decision will be crucial. Remember, the burden is on the employer to disprove this allegation, and if your only answer is “they just were not a good fit,” you won’t get very far.

On the flipside, having detailed notes about what you do like about a candidate can be crucial for deciding between two (or more) qualified candidates. Relying on memory alone when it’s a close call opens the door for subjectivity and bias.

4. Identify the essential functions and requirements of the position BEFORE the interview
Have you ever been in an interview where the recruiter speaks in vague generalities about the position? Or interviewed for a job that didn’t have a description at all?

Why is this a problem? An employee’s performance is tied to job expectations. Without clearly defined job requirements set from the beginning, there’s little accountability or direction for potential candidates. Bad for the company. Bad for the employee.

5. Have specific intent for each question asked
These last two points go hand in hand. Take some time to really think about what this position actually requires. What skills, education, and experience are you looking for, and why?

While the interview portion of the recruitment process is all about narrowing down your selections and ultimately disqualifying certain candidates, employers should take extra care to ensure their decisions are objective and consistent with job necessity.

Have questions about job interviews? Ask in the comments below and we’ll find an answer.

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