How Effective Hiring Practices Can Propel Business Growth

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There are ways to probe a job candidate, obtain essential information to make an informed decision, and not violate the law in the process. This article will help your company find the perfect candidate legally.

  1. Know the law before conducting any job interview. Know what kinds of questions are legal and illegal. Employers are allowed to ask questions about a candidate's motivation, personality, skills, previous work experience and interests. But that's where the law draws the line.

    Years ago, employers could ask almost any question they wanted of an applicant, including specific inquiries into a person's marital status, past arrests, credit history, childbearing plans and age. Such questions now violate Title VII; employers cannot use any application process that screens out a disproportionate number of women, minorities or people over 40.

    All inquiries concerning an applicant's race, color, age, religion or gender, either directly or indirectly, are regarded as evidence of discrimination.

    An example follows.

    Illegal: "Joy, given the fact that you've got one child entering kindergarten and another in junior high school, do you really want to take a job with so much overtime?"

    Legal: "Joy, this job involves a lot of overtime. Do you have any problem working more than 40 hours each week?"

    Tip: On sensitive issues, be sure that you ask all applicants — male and female the same question.

  2. Take preventive steps. Train your personnel as to what questions are not legal. If you don't know, contact a regional Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office. Prepare a standard questionnaire that lists legal questions for interviewers. By referring to such a list, you could demonstrate at a hearing that an applicant's testimony was incorrect (discriminatory questions are never asked because the interviewer only asks questions prepared from the list and is instructed not to deviate from those questions). This document may convince a hearing examiner to dismiss the charges.

  3. Don't ask illegal questions after the interview ends. Illegal inquiries are often made after the formal interview — at lunch, for instance — but before the decision to hire is made. The ramifications of asking such questions in an informal setting are just as serious.

  4. Ask general questions. How do savvy employers correctly probe a candidate?

    They begin the interview process with simple, general statements such as: "Tell us about yourself." If the applicant offers personal information, such as explaining that she is mother of two young children, is married to a doctor, but is bored and wishes to return to the work force, you will have received personal information legally.

    Trap: Once this occurs, do not ask specific, illegal follow-up questions. Rather, continue to ask general questions such as, "Why do you feel the information you just provided to be important in our decision?" or "Based on what you've told us, do you believe you can properly perform the job?"

  5. Avoid documenting your decision except for legal reasons. Never document a refusal to hire based on an answer to an illegal question. All hiring decisions must be based on objective criteria (due to more real job experience, education or better references). While all valid decisions should be documented, avoid creating a paper trail.

Writer: Steven Mitchell Sack maintains a private law practice in New York City devoted to labor and employment matters. He is the author of 17 books, including "From Hiring to Firing: The Legal Survival Guide for Employers in the 90s."

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