Asking the Right Questions During an Interview

Whether you are new to the hiring process or have been interviewing candidates for years, it is always helpful to refresh yourself on some of the questions that can and cannot be asked during an interview.  With the large number of discrimination lawsuits filed, it can be easy to catch a lawsuit without even realizing it.  With some new types of questions, you may also gain some new perspectives and methods in your current hiring practices.

Before you start, remember the categories that are illegal to discriminate against.  This will help you phrase all of your questions properly.  These categories include: Disabilities, Marital/Family Status, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Ethnic Group/Race, Nationality, Age, Gender, Arrest Record, Outside Affiliations, and other miscellaneous items such as the ability to drive.  Remember to never ask any questions that involve these categories as it can be interpreted as discriminatory.  Any questions that you ask must pertain to the job that is being interviewed for and the skills and abilities required for that position.  If you are unsure about a question that you would like to pose, consider making the question as general and open-ended as possible.

For a very simple example, suppose that you are concerned about working schedules and would like to ask the question, “What religious holidays do you observe?”  To raise this question legally, ask, “Are you able to work our required work schedule?”  Remember that if the applicants themselves bring up any information that is in the “do not discriminate” categories, do not elaborate on or continue down that path of conversation.  Simply move on to another topic.  The following includes some more examples of how to turn some questions around.

Instead of:  “Do you plan to start a family or have children soon?”

Ask:  “What are your long-term career goals?”

Instead of:  “Have you ever been arrested?”

Ask:  “Have you ever been convicted of a felony or a crime that would pertain to the position (fraud, theft, etc)?”

Instead of:  “Do you have a car?

Ask:  “Do you have reliable transportation to and from work?”

Instead of:  “How much do you weigh or How tall are you?”

Ask:  “Are you able to lift 50 pounds on a regular basis?”

To improve your interview and candidate selection process, consider putting some new types of questions into your repertoire.   Especially in the hospitality industry, interviews should be more like conversations with prospective candidates.  Your employees must interact with your valuable guests and fellow employees on a daily basis.  If only generic, yes/no questions are asked during the interview process, you will gain no insight on the applicant’s personality and how well he/she might get along with other people.  Consider some of the following questions to help bring out some personality.

“Tell me a little bit about yourself”

“Tell me about your last boss”

“Tell me about a weakness that you have”

“What is your ideal working environment?”

“How did you feel about this interview?”

There are some other tips that can help safeguard against possible lawsuits.  First, try to have another person in the room during an interview.  This can be a witness in case any claims arise.  Second, take a good look over your applications, especially if you do not have a human resources department.  Those applications may be unknowingly asking some discriminatory questions.  Lastly, make all of your job descriptions and requirements official.  Put them on paper and easily accessible.  If you are interviewing for a shuttle driver, then the question of whether the candidate has a valid driver’s license is legal in that interview.  Just like the interviewee, becoming a good interviewer takes practice.  Taking interviews even when you may not need to hire can help maintain and improve your interview skills.  Just remember to abide by the rules.