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The Practical EmployerLessons From a Job Interview

Unless you are certain that an interview question is 100 percent job-related, don’t ask it.

Last week, Steven Colbert conducted a mock job interview for President Obama. During the course of the interview, he asked the president questions that referred both to his age and the national origin of his birth.

Oops.

What lessons can employers learn from these few moments of late-night frivolity?WF_WebSite_BlogHeaders-11

Many interview questions may seem innocuous enough, but create serious discrimination problems.

The following is just a sample of some exemplar questions that are problematic, as compared to legitimate questions to extract lawful information:

Age discrimination
  • When did you graduate high school?
  • How old are you?
  • How many years until you plan to retire?
  • How many years seniority did you have at your prior company?

-Versus-

  • Can you submit a birth certificate or other proof of age if you are hired?
  • Are you over 18? [work eligibility]

National origin discrimination

  • What county are you from?
  • That is an interesting accent, where were you born?
  • Where were you or your parents born?

-Versus-

  • Are you eligible to work in the United States? [work eligibility]
The bottom line? Unless you are certain that an interview question is 100 percent job-related, don’t ask it. Stick to the job requirements and how a candidate’s work-related background fits with those requirements. Educating your job interviewers about these issues will go a long way toward preventing unconscious biases from tainting an interview and making what could have been an otherwise lawful hiring decision appear unlawful.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. To comment, email editors@workforce.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.

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