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July 15, 2010 | HR Compliance | Posted by Ascentis Thought Leadership

Interview Questions: What You Need to Know

As hiring begins to rebound, many small businesses may once again be thinking about recruitment and candidate selection. And, of course, one of the most important parts of the process is conducting the interview.

Whether you are a small business owner who conducts your own interviews, manager of a department or experienced HR professional, the following is a quick “refresher” on the do’s and don’ts related to interview questions.

Questions you may ask

Interview questions should be job-related, and provide insight into the candidate’s ability to perform the essential functions of the position you are filling. They can also provide certain information about the interviewee. Some examples of acceptable job-related inquiries include:

  • Job Requirements: desired position, salary, full time or part time, date of availability to start.
  • Essential functions of the job: Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that the employee must be able to perform on his or her own or, in the case of a person with a disability, with the help of a reasonable accommodation.
  • Willingness to travel.
  • Educational background.
  • Skills: word processing, computer languages, etc.
  • References.
  • Eligibility to in the United States

Questions to avoid

Because of the numerous federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws that govern the employment process, direct and indirect inquiries concerning an interviewee's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, military service, or any other protected class status should be avoided. In addition, some states have strict limitations on pre-employment inquiries about criminal backgrounds, in particular, arrests not leading to convictions. Questions to avoid include:

  • How old are you?
  • What is your nationality? Or what is the origin of your name?
  • What is your race?
  • Were you or are you currently disabled?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • What is your religion?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Do you have a drinking problem?

Interviewing in Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) goes one step further than the traditional civil rights laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, age, or other protected classes. Under the ADA, it is not enough that an employer simply does not discriminate. Employers must, under certain situations, also take steps to make "reasonable accommodations" for individuals with disabilities. To avoid charges of discrimination, employers should also adhere to the following guidelines when interviewing applicants with disabilities:

  • Prepare for the interview by clearly understanding the essential job functions of the position in question.
  • Employers may ask about an applicant's ability to perform specific job functions. For example, an employer may state the physical requirements of a job (such as the ability to lift a certain amount of weight, or the ability to climb ladders), and ask if an applicant can satisfy these requirements.
  • Employers may ask about an applicant's non-medical qualifications and skills, such as the applicant's education, work history, and required certifications and licenses
  • Don't ask questions about an applicant's disabilities.

Additionally, many state civil rights agencies have their own guidelines on pre-employment inquiries based on both federal and state nondiscrimination laws. Be sure to check on any additional restrictions your state may impose on job interview questions.

For more information on the ADA compliant interview, please click here. To view a list of state labor offices, please click here.

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