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The Questions Employers Should NEVER Ask in an Interview

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by Lisa Johnson

over 2 years ago

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As much as we prepare candidates for interview, all too often it seems we forget to prepare the line manager or interviewer.  Candidates (and sometimes recruiters) assume that the interviewer knows what he/she is doing. Actually, they probably assume they know what they are doing!  Firstly, let me say that not every interview goes to plan, and you should expect the unexpected.  But in preparing to meet candidates, it is important that interviewers realise that there are some things you are NOT allowed to ask at interview and some you should just avoid, because they are stupid. So here are some questions you should avoid:

Are you married?

I cringe whenever I hear of someone asking this question.  To keep it simple: you are not allowed to discriminate against a person based on their marital situation.  It doesn't matter if you don't intend to rule someone in or out based on their marital status; simply asking the question raises the possibility that someone could accuse you of discriminating against/for a person on this basis.

Do you have kids?

Danger Will Robinson!  You are not allowed to discriminate against a person based on their family situation, which means you can't not employ someone because they have children.  If you ask this question, you are indicating that you will give their answer some weight in the decision making process.  It is illegal under EEO legislation.  Don't ask this question (and yes, people still do...sigh).

Do you have a criminal record?

Okay, let's be fair – there are some grey areas here, and criminal record discrimination is not unlawful under federal law.  However, discrimination in employment is prohibited by the International Labour Organisation Convention 111, which is a schedule to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, and if a person believes that they have been discriminated against due to their criminal record, they can still take you to court. So when can you discriminate against someone who has a criminal record?  Basically, you can discriminate against a person if they have a criminal record that means that he or she is unable to perform the inherent requirements of a particular job.  It's easier to think of it the other way around – you cannot discriminate against a person based on his or her criminal record if the crime has no relation to the job for which you are recruiting. For example, say you are recruiting for a customer service officer role (desk bound role) and the candidate has a conviction for speeding.  You cannot discriminate against the candidate based on this conviction, as the role on offer does not require the candidate to use a motor vehicle.

  criminal-records

I suggest you be very careful with criminal records – there are privacy rules on who should have access to the information and how the information is used.  Regardless, I wouldn't ask the question at interview – you are putting the candidate on the spot, and they may feel forced to confess to something that you really don't need to know.  If you want to have a criminal background check added into your recruitment process, I would suggest this is managed by HR rather than a hiring manager.  Contact fadv.com.au to find out how you can implement a criminal background check to your recruitment process.

What are your greatest weaknesses?

There is nothing illegal with this question (hooray!), but, quite frankly, it's crap (official recruitment term).  For a start, everyone asks it, so the candidate has a prepared answer where they look you in the eye and eloquently describe how their 'weakness' is actually a strength.  Only a gibbering idiot would actually confess to being a procrastinator with a passion for online gambling.  The question has no real worth. If you want to find out the candidate's weaknesses (or areas for improvement), ask it of their referee.  A current or previous employer is in the best position to tell you where the areas for improvement are with this potential employee.

What can you bring to this job?

I have added this, as it is a personal favourite of mine.  I was asked this question in 1997 when applying for my first job in recruitment.  Given that we had spent time talking about my practical experience and the requirements of the job in some detail, I was a little bemused by the question.  So I said, 'Well, I can bring my cat if you want me to.' She laughed, and eventually I got the job. A better question is, 'Why should I offer this role to you?' This will encourage the candidate to promote themselves, to tell you why they are best person for the job.  Of course, they will still over elaborate, but at least they are not likely to offer to bring along their cat! The world is filled with crazy interview questions and crazy answers.  I will make it a point in 2015 to highlight the best of the worst.  Hopefully this will help you avoid risking litigation and ridicule AND be more attractive to the best potential employees!

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