The dos and don’ts of job interviews

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As part of our series of articles about recruitment, in this article we will focus on getting the interview stage of recruitment right. We will look at the kind of questions you should and shouldn’t ask in job interviews, along with some top tips to ensure your interview process delivers the best person for the job, rather than a costly tribunal.

Tribunal? At interview stage?

Yes.  There is no qualifying service required for a discrimination claim, nor do they even have to be on your payroll. The awards are uncapped too!

Questions to avoid in interviews:

The below are questions that could leave you exposed to allegations of discrimination. This is because the questions below are not linked to the skills a person can bring to the role, they are personal questions which (depending on the answer) place someone in a position where they are being asked to reveal protected characteristics. For information on protected characteristics please see our discrimination article (here).

The below is not an exhaustive list by any means but it illustrates the type of questions to avoid and why:

  1. How old are you?

Unless the role has some form of age requirement, such as the sale of alcohol, this question serves no purpose.

  1. Do you have a family?

This question tends to be aimed at women, which is problematic because as soon as you start asking questions of one gender and not another, its clear that the interviewer’s question has no link to skills or ability.

What you are really trying to assess here is whether this person may need time off to care for dependents. Unpaid time off to care for dependents doesn’t just apply to those with children, and it is statutory right.

The best way of making sure someone can do the hours is to make all your candidates aware of the requirements of the role and the hours it involves.

  1. Are you planning to start a family?

This pre-supposes you’ve asked the above question and received a ‘no’ in response.

Again, this question is usually geared towards women, and what you are trying to ascertain is whether you may have to stump up for maternity pay at some point in the future.

If the candidate does answer this question in the affirmative and doesn’t get the job, how will you prove your decision was not linked to their answer to this question? You won’t, so they will likely succeed in a discrimination claim. This question is an absolute no-no.

  1. Are you married?

Again, you are trying to ascertain information that has no bearing on the role or the person’s ability to carry out the role.

You may just be trying to ‘break the ice’ but remember, you are conducting an interview. If you want to break the ice, talk about the weather.

  1. Do you have any health conditions? Are you registered disabled?

When inviting all candidates to interview ask them to make known to you if they need any particular adjustments to assist them in attending or carrying out the interview. However, asking someone outright if they have any health conditions or if they are disabled, is not permitted at this stage.

You can ask someone to complete a health questionnaire once an offer of employment is made but not at interview.

I realise that sickness absence can be a huge problem for employers, and you may want to ‘nip this in the bud’ with a new employee but you are breaking the law.

There are steps an employer can take to assess someone’s medical capability, but the interview stage is not the time to do it.

Please see our 3-part guide to absence management and medical capability for more information (here).

  1. Are you a member of a trade union?

Again, no relevance at all to someone’s ability to carry out a role. Whether you recognise a trade union or not, a question to avoid.

  1. Are you religious?

This question tends to get asked because an employer wants to know if someone may need time off for religious observance, whether that is time to pray or time off around religious festivals.

However, if you ask it in an interview setting the underlying impression is that you will be using the answer as a basis for assessing the suitableness of the candidate, which you do not want to do.

  1. Where is your place of birth?

You may think this is a fairly innocuous, small talk, ‘getting to know someone’ kind of question and down the local pub it probably is but in an interview situation, it’s a direct question to establish someone’s ethnicity, which will lead you straight into a discrimination claim.

So, what questions can we ask?

The key thing to remember is that the interview is a 2-way process. It is for you to select the best candidate for the job, and it is for the candidate to assess whether they want to work for you.

Let the job description and application form be your guide and ask questions related specifically to the role and the candidates experience.

For example:

  • For each part of the job description, you could ask the candidate how they can demonstrate their skills by asking them to outline how they have demonstrated their skills in that area previously.
  • You could ask scenario-based questions or use role play to allow the candidate to demonstrate how their skills meet the various aspects of the role.

Ensure that you have a set of key questions you intend to ask all candidates that are specifically related to the role. You will of course need to adapt questions relating to the candidates experience and the responses they give but aim to be as consistent as possible.

Remember- You are recruiting on merit and skill. If you keep your focus on this during an interview, you should avoid falling into any discrimination traps.

And finally……some dos and don’ts:

  • DO ensure the person conducting interviews knows what they are doing
  • DO invest time in setting out a clear and detailed job description- they are an invaluable tool in interviews
  • DO allow the candidate to ask you questions. Remember they are assessing you too!
  • DON’T ask personal questions which are not related to the job. If they are personal, chances are they are linked to a protected characteristic.
  • DO keep records. Make notes of interviews, the questions asked and the responses. Not only with this help jog your memory when making your final decision but they will serve as evidence if you do face legal challenge.
  • DO seek our advice. If you are in doubt as to whether a particular question is appropriate or would like us to look over job descriptions or interview questions, we can do this for you.

Next week– ‘no jab, no job’- we look at the legal requirement coming into force on 11th Nov 2021 for care staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and what steps employers in the care sector will need to take.