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Don't Put Off Good People by Asking Them The Wrong Questions!

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by Lisa Johnson

about 1 month ago

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What do you do when you attend an interview and the interviewer asks you really helpful questions such as....

“If you had a project with a serious deadline and your child’s school called to say that they were sick, what would you do?”

Or

“Do you have anyone who can look after your children for you whilst you are work?”

To be honest, I don’t even know if the job seeker who was asked these questions even has children.  But she is a female, so clearly has the potential to have offspring.  She was so put off by these questions, that she called us and said that she was no longer interested in the role.  Which was a shame, because apparently the hiring manager ‘loved’ her and wanted us to try and convince her to give them another go.

So (to be honest) and a bit reluctantly, we convinced her to attend a second interview.  We didn’t have really high expectations, because once a hiring manager has made an ill-considered impression on a potential employee, it’s pretty hard to come back and resurrect the kind of respect and mutual regard that is needed in a successful employer / employee relationship.  But she agreed to another meeting.

Then HR called our consultant and cancelled the second interview, saying that in their experience, if a candidate comes into a role with a negative perspective, then it never works out, so let’s not bother.  I don’t disagree with them at all, although I think it’s a bit frustrating that the candidate is being penalised here because they were put off by an ill prepared/trained hiring manager. 

Firstly, can you even ask these questions?  Ummm, no.  They may seem perfectly reasonable to you – as an employer you probably do want to know how a potential employee is going manage certain situations, but because you are not legally allowed to discriminate against someone based on their familial situation, you simply are not allowed to ask the question.  And if you do ask these kinds of questions and the candidate is subsequently not selected for the role, they are within their legal rights to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights commission or FairWork and you are going to end up having to justify your questions and WHY you didn’t select them for the role.

So if you are the employer and you are worried about a potential employee’s commitment to a role, how should you manage this?

Well firstly, make it very clear what your expectations for the role are – talk very clearly about deadlines and hours of work.  An employer is allowed to request that staff work a reasonable amount of overtime (if need be), so if you know that long hours are needed at certain times of the year or month, then explain that at the interview.  By doing this, you are giving the job seeker the information they need to make a decision as to whether or not they can commit to the role.  Believe me, very few people want to take on a job they know they can’t do.  So don’t talk the job up and try and over sell it to them – make sure that the applicant knows the role, ‘warts and all’.

Then, if the jobseeker is still keen and makes it clear that those hours or deadlines are agreeable to them – you must take them on their word.  It is not up to you to make any assumptions or judgements around their personal circumstances and ability to commit to the role.  It is up to the job seekers to reassure you that they agree to the terms which you are offering.

Yes, some people will lie to you and yes, some people are unreliable.  Believe me, the most unreliable product on the planet is people and there are times when you WILL be let down.  But you have to be careful to ensure that you are not contravening privacy and human rights laws when you recruit new staff.  Protect yourself from potential litigation by never asking a candidate about their familial situation.

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