August 1

Interview Mistakes You May Already Be Making


Best HR practices start from the very first contact you have with a potential employee.  Here are some topics you should avoid in order to remove any potential bias from your interview process.

When you’re interviewing a potential employee, there are some topics better left untouched. Discriminatory questions can lead to serious legal consequences – and make it harder to recruit employees. Cindy Vizzini from HR Annie Consulting — a human resources consulting firm based in Portland, OR — gave us some guidelines on the types of questions that should be avoided during an interview.

Origins of a Name
Cindy advised that hiring managers should, “Avoid questions about an applicant’s name that would indicate the applicant’s lineage, ancestry, national origin or descent.” It might be common in casual conversation to hear, “wow that’s a pretty name, where is it from?” but in an interview it’s not appropriate… probably not outside an interview either. Any question of this type could be viewed as fishing for ethnicity and could be evidence of discrimination against an applicant that doesn’t receive a job offer.

Applicants shouldn’t be asked about their age or for proof of age in an interview. The appropriate time to verify an applicant’s age is during the I-9 process. Cindy states that if a job requires someone to be of a certain age, like when serving alcohol, then the only exception is to say something like, “This position requires you to be at least 21 years of age. Do you meet this qualification?” In this type of phrasing you are not asking the applicant to state their age or for proof.

It’s common to see the question, “Are you legally eligible to work in the United States?” on applications, but it is not appropriate to ask applicants if they are citizens of any nation during the interview. Eligibility to work in the US should be verified upon hire when filing an I-9 form. If you’re concerned about ICE inspections or I-9 audits, you can always use E-Verify as an additional step in confirming your employee’s eligibility to work in the United States.

Language Skills
If a job requires someone to speak a specific language, then it’s okay to ask the applicant about their level of proficiency, but it must be listed as a requirement in the job description. You can also ask about the languages an applicant speaks, but only if they list any in their application. Under any other circumstance, it’s not appropriate to question language proficiency and could be deemed as discrimination if the applicant feels their fluency was a concern in getting the job.

As a policy, do not ask for a photograph of the applicant. If you need a photograph for an identification badge, a photograph may be obtained after an offer of employment is made and accepted. Asking for a photograph implies you may be discriminating on the basis of race, sex, age or other factors.

Overall, Cindy Vizzini advises employers to only ask questions that are, “focused around the applicant’s skills, qualifications, and the essential job functions of the position for which they are applying.” There are many city, state and federal laws that protect workers and as an owner or manager of any business, it’s your job to be aware of these laws and to give everyone a fair shot when seeking employment.

About the author


Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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