Interviewing job applicants

27 August 2004
Interviewing job applicants

The problem Your manager is recruiting and decides to ask female candidates if they are single, when they plan to start a family, and if they can realistically combine the role with family responsibilities.

Such questions may have been "normal" 10 years ago but now unsuccessful female candidates can claim sexual discrimination. Similarly, if your interviewer asks questions relating to race and religion, this can result in discrimination claims being brought by unsuccessful applicants.

Ignorance of disability discrimination can also cost you dearly. Andrew Watkiss applied for the job of company secretary with construction firm JD Laing. Following the interview, he was offered the £60,000-a-year job and proceeded to the medical, which revealed that he was schizophrenic. The job offer was promptly withdrawn and JD Laing had to pay Watkiss substantial compensation.

And under data protection law, for a fee of no more than £10, a job applicant has the right to see a copy of the notes made about him or her at the interview.

Expert Advice
Different interviewers will, if left to their own devices, apply different standards, resulting in good candidates being turned away by an overly rigorous interviewer and weaker candidates being offered a job by a more forgiving one. Applying inconsistent standards and relying on such unstructured approaches as "gut reactions" will give you a headache in the context of discrimination claims on the grounds of race, religion, belief, disability or sexual orientation.

Interviewers in such situations often recruit in their own image, choosing people with similar backgrounds or personal outlook rather than more suitable, but dissimilar, applicants. And they are sometimes overly influenced by the "halo effect", wrongly believing that an applicant who has good interpersonal skills will also be good at the job itself.

To protect your business from claims of discrimination, and to improve your recruitment practices generally, you should move away from the traditional interview.

Many employers now use assessment centres to recruit staff. They use several methods to give a thorough picture of the strengths and weaknesses of a job applicant, such as an interview, written exercises, psychometric tests, case studies, group discussions and simulations. In addition, there are normally several assessors. The problem is that they are expensive.

Another approach is to use competencies and work sample tests.

Competencies are statements about the characteristics that result in effective, superior performance in a job. By focusing on skills such as leadership, innovation and change management, they force an employer to identify the criteria that should be applied equally to every job applicant.

Work sample tests are among the best methods of predicting whether an applicant will perform successfully on the job or not. Such tests ask every applicant to do one or more of the tasks that will be required in the job.

Check list - Apply consistent standards.

  • Be careful what you write about applicants in the interview.
  • Don't say any of the following:

"Who looks after your children while you are at work?"
"I like to shake the hands of foreigners."
"Where do you pray?"
"We are a family business and like to employ family-orientated people."
"How do you expect to get your wheelchair around our kitchen?"

Each of the above raises a presumption of discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability, respectively.

Beware! There is no limit on the amount of compensation an employer can be ordered to pay to an individual where a claim of discrimination is successful - and all after one interview. It is not uncommon for awards of £10,000 to be made just in respect of injury to feelings, in addition to compensation for loss of earnings.

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