Interviewing skills are important, because you need to be sure to ask the right questions, but not ask any questions you should not, by law, ask. There is a fine line between what is an acceptable question to gain useful information for making a decision and asking inappropriate questions that might even lead to a lawsuit. Additionally, you want to make sure you get enough information to make an informed decision about who is best to hire for the job, and you have a very limited amount of time to determine this.
Because of this, you need to get all the preliminary stuff out of the way either prior to or immediately after the interview. If you have an application or a resume from the potential candidate, you have a wealth of information from which to start.
Call and check references, ask questions that pertain to the information given on the resume. Doing reference checks prior to an interview might actually help you decide if you even want to waste your time interviewing the candidate, or it might give you a good set of questions to ask during the interview.
Make a list of questions you want to ask the potential candidates, and stick to the list and ask the same questions of all candidates. This is the only way you can compare and contrast the same qualities in each candidate. If you ask different questions of every applicant, you can’t compare their answers and determine who satisfies the requirements best. That doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from the list if the candidate answers a question that leads you to wanting additional information, but it’s important to ask all candidates at least the same base questions.
Interview questions should focus mostly on the candidate’s ability to perform the job duties required of them should you hire them for the position. Secondly, you can focus on education and experience from the past to help determine if they are qualified to fulfill those duties. And lastly, you will want references or information about work ethic, responsibility, and performance by using their past work history as a guide.
There is nothing else that should be included in an interview, and if you step outside of these areas, you may find yourself in choppy water legally. For example, here is a list of things that is currently illegal to ask an employee during a job interview:
- Whether the candidate has children, wants children, or is pregnant
- Age (except to verify eligibility to work, because certain jobs have age restrictions/requirements by law)
- Marital status
- Disability status (it is acceptable to ask if there is a disability that would prevent the candidate from performing any of the proposed job duties, but short of that, disability status is not acceptable to ask)
- Religion, ethnicity, creed, national origin (some employers may have a survey they use for equal employment verification, but this information is optional and choosing to answer or not answer cannot affect the decision in hiring, and typically, the hiring manager is not allowed to have access to this information prior to the interview and job offer)
You want to stay away from any questions that might possibly be considered illegal, and focus only on the interview questions necessary to determine if a person is able and qualified to perform the job.
Below is a list of some potential generic questions that are good for asking during the interview process:
What makes you uniquely qualified to perform the job duties of the job for which you are applying?
Tell me about a time you had a dispute with a fellow employee and how you resolved the dispute for the good of the company?
What are your strengths that you feel will benefit you for the job for which you are applying?
What are your weaknesses, and how do you overcome them?
What does being a ‘team player’ mean to you in the workplace?
How has your experience and / or education prepared you for the job for which you are applying?
And of course, you can always ask the one question that seems to terrify a potential applicant the most:
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
And then you listen, truly listen to the responses, and gauge how the answers relate to the job and the job duties for which the applicant is being considered.
Things to watch out for:
An applicant that talks too much about their personal life:
If the applicant is very open about sharing their personal life, and volunteers personal information that does not relate to the job, then you may have a candidate who doesn’t know how to separate business and personal. It’s one thing to mention their husband or wife, children or parents in an interview, but it’s another to tell you they’ve been divorced three times or been in rehab, or that they don’t get along well with their mom.
An applicant who badmouths or talks negatively about previous employers, colleagues or job duties:
This is a huge warning sign. Though a rare few of these types of complaints might be legitimate and not the fault of the applicant, it is bad professional ethics to speak negatively about former employers. And most of the complaints won’t be legitimate, but rather, will have been the fault of the employee.
An applicant who does not dress appropriately for the interview:
Flip flops and shorts have their place, and it’s not in a job interview.
An applicant who shows up late:
If they can’t make it to the first impression – the interview – on time, then chances are they won’t make it to work on time often either.
An applicant who curses, uses excessive slang, or uses religious or racial slurs:
It takes all kinds in a workplace, but professionalism has no place for bad language or negativity and racism.
This article is by no means exhaustive, but is rather meant as a guide to help you get started on the path of setting up job interviews and preparing for hiring the best candidate. You need to look at the company policies, the job they are applying for, and the skill set required to perform the job, and tailor the questions you ask and the hiring process to your employer and the needs for the job.
Remember, always stay in control of the interview and keep it professional. Being friendly is great, but an interview is not a place to talk about personal issues. It’s okay to let the applicant ask questions, but don’t let them lead you off track. Stick to your questions, and be sure to get answers to all of them. An application and resume and a short interview isn’t much time to make an important decision like this, so be sure to get all the information you can, in the most professional way possible.